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Is there a relationship between age and ethnic prejudice?

Friday, May 17, 2013
posted by Douglas Keene

left_right_political_spectrum_011As you have probably noticed, we read a lot of research here at The Jury Room. We are looking for nuggets of knowledge or pearls of wisdom we can apply to our day-to-day practice of litigation advocacy. If you’ve read our work on generations you likely already know there is a relationship between age and ethnic prejudice, with the multiculturally-immersed Millennials being the most open-minded among us. But here’s an interesting study that looks at the relationship between ethnic prejudice, age and right-wing authoritarianism.

Right wing authoritarianism had a research heyday some decades ago and has enjoyed a sort of resurgence in the current work of researchers. Fortunately (or unfortunately) questions like these, from a 2005 update of the Right Wing Authoritarianism Scale, are rarely heard in voir dire (even in the most conservative venues):

Our country needs a powerful leader, in order to destroy the radical and immoral currents prevailing in society today. 

God’s laws about abortion, pornography and marriage must be strictly followed before it is too late, violations must be punished. 

It would be best if newspapers were censored so that people would not be able to get hold of destructive and disgusting material. 

If the society so wants, it is the duty of every true citizen to help eliminate the evil that poisons our country from within. 

But they appear routinely in research and we try to learn what we can. Sample 1 was collected in the Dutch-speaking region of Belgium by “aggregating data from six subsamples” collected between 2000 and 2010. The researchers used data from 577 men and 644 women with an average age of 43.9 years. Sample 2 was collected in the Netherlands in 2010 by an online survey company. This sample included 426 men and 374 women with an average age of 49.5 years.

Participants completed the Right-Wing Authoritarian Scale, a cultural conservatism scale, and the 8-item Subtle and Blatant Prejudice Scale. (How blatant you ask? Here’s a sample question: “We have to keep our race pure and fight mixture with other races”.  Again, not a likely question for voir dire.)

There was a relationship between age and prejudice (both subtle and blatant)  with older age resulting in higher levels of prejudice as well as stronger endorsement of right-wing attitudes.

Interestingly enough, the strength of right-wing attitudes increase with age. The researchers think as we age, we may derogate outgroup members to affirm our own self-worth. It calls to mind the [in]famous quote falsely attributed to Winston Churchill: “If you are not a liberal at 25, you have no heart. If you are not Conservative by 35, you have no brain.

While we can’t use these measures themselves (or items from them) in voir dire–the findings of this research important. There is a tendency for us to become less tolerant of others as we age. However, that may have little to nothing to do with the senior citizen potential juror in your venue. Instead, your task is to glean what you can from their responses and what you know about them as individuals.

Do they sit quietly, isolated from others or are they chatty with diverse others? Do they appear stern and angry and bitter? Do they proudly wear a Confederate Flag pin, a Daughters of the American Revolution scarf, or an ACLU tee shirt? You may think that sort of comparison is ridiculous. So, we think, is assuming your senior citizen can’t be fair in deliberating, can’t keep up in a high tech trial, and can’t relate to/understand complex case narratives. It isn’t about the statistical aggregate. It’s about the individual when it comes to voir dire. And you know what assuming does…

Franssen, V Dhont, K Van Hiel, A 2013 Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology, 23: 252-257.

Franssen, V., Dhont, K., & Hiel, A. (2013). Age-Related Differences in Ethnic Prejudice: Evidence of the Mediating Effect of Right-Wing Attitudes Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 23 (3), 252-257 DOI: 10.1002/casp.2109

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