Wilkins Published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology

Clara Wilkins, assistant professor of psychology, has studied perceptions of discrimination against whites and other groups who hold positions of relative advantage in society—such as heterosexuals and men—since she was a graduate student at the University of Washington. She became became interested in the topic of perceptions of bias against high status groups after hearing Glenn Beck call president Barack Obama racist. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

Clara Wilkins

Assistant Professor of Psychology Clara Wilkins is the co-author of a paper titled “You Can Win But I Can’t Lose: Bias Against High-Status Groups Increases Their Zero-Sum Beliefs About Discrimination” published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, November 2014. The article will be published again in the in the journal’s March 2015 print edition. Wilkins co-authored the article with several other researchers including Joseph Wellman, formerly a postdoctoral fellow in psychology at Wesleyan, who is now at California State University, San Barnardino, and Katherine Schad BA ’13/MA ’14.

The study considered what causes people to espouse “zero-sum beliefs”—or beliefs that gains for one social group come at a cost to another group—and what the consequences are of those beliefs. The researchers found that “high-status groups” (specifically, whites and men) held zero-sum beliefs more often when they contemplated increasing bias against their own group than when they contemplated decreasing bias against their low-status counterparts (blacks and women). Furthermore, greater endorsement of zero-sum beliefs corresponded with efforts to decrease outgroups’ ability to compete in society and efforts to increase the ingroup’s ability to compete. The researchers also discuss how this pattern may perpetuate social inequality.