Ascribed Versus Acquired Representations of Social Class and Their Relation to Anti-Poor Prejudice

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Prejudice based on a person’s low socioeconomic status (SES) has been largely understudied in social psychology. In my dissertation research, I argue that understanding a perceiver’s mental model of SES is crucial to explaining anti-poor prejudice. I borrow from work in anthropology to characterize two main mental models of SES—ascribed and acquired models (Berreman, 1972). In short, an ascribed model holds that SES is generationally transmitted; that all members of an SES group are culturally similar; and that group membership determines attitudes and behaviors. In contrast, an acquired model posits that ancestry is irrelevant for group membership; that members of an SES group are culturally heterogeneous; and that group membership is determined by the extent to which a person displays group-consistent attitudes and behaviors. Across five studies, I explore the relationship between these mental models of SES and anti-poor prejudice. First, I examine whether there is variation across individuals in mental models of SES and whether it is related to different forms of anti-poor prejudice (Studies 1 and 2). Second, I investigate whether different SES indicators activate different representations (Studies 3 and 4). specifically, I examine whether income activates a more acquired representation and social class a more ascribed one. Finally, I consider motivational forces that might influence SES-representation. Specifically, I test whether a person’s sense of status-based identity uncertainty (Destin, Rheinschmidt-Same, & Richeson, 2017b) is related to mental models of SES (Study 5a), and if so, whether being induced to feel uncertain of one’s status-based identity spontaneously activates the corresponding mental model of SES (Study 5b). Together, the studies in my dissertation aim to better understand and characterize anti-poor prejudice.

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  • 10/19/2018
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