Bridging Racial Divides: Social Constructionist (vs. Essentialist) Beliefs Facilitate Trust in Intergroup Contexts

Published: 25-07-2017| Version 1 | DOI: 10.17632/38tgxm37fc.1
Franki Kung


Trust serves as the foundation for social harmony and prosperity, but it is not always easy to build. When people see other groups as different, e.g., members of a different race or ethnicity, the perceived boundary often obstructs people from extending trust. This may result in interracial conflicts. The current research argues that individual differences in the lay theory of race can systematically influence the degree to which people extend trust to a racial outgroup in conflict situations. The lay theory of race refers to the extent to which people believe race is a malleable social construct that can change over time (i.e., social constructionist beliefs) versus a fixed essence that differentiates people into meaningful social categories (i.e., essentialist beliefs). In our three studies, we found evidence that social constructionist (vs. essentialist) beliefs promoted interracial trust in intergroup contexts, and such effect held regardless of whether the lay theory of race was measured (Studies 1 and 3) or manipulated (Study 2), and whether the conflict was presented in a team conflict scenario (Study 1), social dilemma (Study 2), or a face-to-face dyadic negotiation (Study 3). In addition, results revealed that the lay theory’s effect on interracial trust could have critical downstream consequences in conflict, namely cooperation and mutually beneficial negotiation outcomes. The findings together reveal that the lay theory of race can reliably influence interracial trust and presents a promising direction for understanding interracial relations and improving intergroup harmony in society.