Mikroaggressionen: Wissenschaftlich keine überzeugende Theorie

Eine interessante Studie befasst sich mit Mikroaggressionen:

The microaggression concept has recently galvanized public discussion and spread to numerous college campuses and businesses. I argue that the microaggression research program (MRP) rests on five core premises, namely, that microaggressions (1) are operationalized with sufficient clarity and consensus to afford rigorous scientific investigation; (2) are interpreted negatively by most or all minority group members; (3) reflect implicitly prejudicial and implicitly aggressive motives; (4) can be validly assessed using only respondents’ subjective reports; and (5) exert an adverse impact on recipients’ mental health. A review of the literature reveals negligible support for all five suppositions. More broadly, the MRP has been marked by an absence of connectivity to key domains of psychological science, including psychometrics, social cognition, cognitive-behavioral therapy, behavior genetics, and personality, health, and industrial-organizational psychology. Although the MRP has been fruitful in drawing the field’s attention to subtle forms of prejudice, it is far too underdeveloped on the conceptual and methodological fronts to warrant real-world application. I conclude with 18 suggestions for advancing the scientific status of the MRP, recommend abandonment of the term “microaggression,” and call for a moratorium on microaggression training programs and publicly distributed microaggression lists pending research to address the MRP’s scientific limitations.

Quelle: Microaggressions Strong Claims, Inadequate Evidence

Zu den Grundlagen:

. Microaggressions are typically defined as subtle snubs, slights, and insults directed toward minorities, as well as to women and other historically stigmatized groups, that implicitly communicate or at least engender hostility (Sue et al., 2007). Compared with overtly prejudicial comments and acts, they are commonly understood to reflect less direct, although no less pernicious, forms of racial bias. For example, in attempting to compliment an African American college student, a White professor might exclaim with surprise, “Wow, you are so articulate!”, presumably communicating implicitly that most African American undergraduates are not in fact well-spoken. Recently, Shaun R. Harper, founder of the Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education, described meeting an African American student whose professor in a large engineering course expressed incredulity that he had received a perfect score on an exam (Intelligence Squared U.S., 2016).

Zur Geschichte des Konzepts:

The term microaggression was coined by Harvard University psychiatrist Chester Pierce in 1970 to describe seemingly minor but damaging put-downs and indignities experienced by African Americans. Pierce wrote that “every Black must recognize the offensive mechanisms used by the collective White society, usually by means of cumulative proracist microaggressions, which keep him psychologically accepting of the disenfranchised state” (Pierce, 1970, p. 472). Over the next 37 years, a few scattered publications referred to microaggressions, especially in the context of race relations between Whites and African Americans (Nadal, 2013).

It was not until 2007, however, that the microaggression concept began to filter into the academic mainstream. In an influential article (cited 1,617 times according to the Google Scholar database as of November 2016) published in the American Psychological Association’s flagship journal, American Psychologist, Columbia University counseling psychologist Derald Wing Sue and his coauthors introduced the notion of microaggressions to the broader psychological community (Sue et al., 2007). They defined microaggressions as “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color” (p. 271). Microaggressions can be verbal comments (e.g., subtle racial slights), behaviors (e.g., ignoring minority individuals), or environmental decisions (e.g., naming all buildings on a college campus after White individuals). According to Sue et al., microaggressions necessarily lie in the eye of the beholder: “First, the person must determine whether a microaggression has occurred” (p. 279). Microaggressions are usually, although not invariably, emitted unconsciously by individuals, termed “perpetrators” (p. 272) by Sue and colleagues. In this article, I adopt the somewhat ungainly term “deliverers” in lieu of the pejorative term “perpetrators” to avoid any connotation of intentionality or malevolence.

According to Sue et al. (2007), microaggressions are pernicious precisely because they are usually ambiguous (see also Sue, Capodilupo, & Holder, 2008). Victims of microaggressions are typically trapped in a catch-22. Because they are uncertain of whether prejudice has actually been expressed, recipients frequently find themselves in a no-win situation. If they say nothing, they risk becoming resentful. Furthermore, they may inadvertently encourage further microaggressions from the same person. In contrast, if they say something, the deliverer may deny having engaged in prejudice and accuse them of being hypersensitive or paranoid. As a consequence, recipients may become understandably reluctant to call out deliverers on future microaggressions.

Sue et al. (2007) differentiated among three subtypes of microaggressions. The derivation of these microaggression subtypes was based not on systematic data but on observation and consultation with the descriptive literature on prejudice.

Microassaults, which tend to be the most blatant of the three, are “explicit racial derogation(s) characterized primarily by a verbal or nonverbal attack meant to hurt the intended victim through name-calling, avoidant behavior, or purposeful discriminatory actions” (Sue et al., 2007, p. 277). They might include using racial slurs, drawing a swastika on someone’s door, or referring to an African American as “colored.” In contrast to other microaggressions, microassaults are often intentional. Microinsults are barbs and put-downs that impart negative or even humiliating messages to victims; they “convey rudeness and insensitivity and demean a person’s racial heritage or identity” (p. 277). For example, according to Sue et al., an employer’s saying “I believe the most qualified person should get the job, regardless of race” (p. 274) is a microinsult, as is a teacher’s failing to call on a minority student who raises her hand in class. Finally, microinvalidations “exclude, negate, or nullify the psychological thoughts, feelings, or experiential reality of a person of color” (p. 274). According to Sue et al., a microinvalidation could be a White person’s informing an African American that “I don’t see race”; it might also be an African American couple receiving poor restaurant service and being told by White friends that they were oversensitive in interpreting this poor service as race-related. Sue et al. maintained that microinsults and microinvalidations are more detrimental to mental health than are microassaults given their greater ambiguity and hence their heightened potential to place recipients in a catch-22 (see also Sue, 2010b). This hypothesis will probably strike many readers as counterintuitive given that microassaults are almost always more overtly severe than are microinsults and microinvalidations; I revisit this assertion in a later section (see “Situational Strength”).

Sue and colleagues (2007; pp. 276–277) presented a detailed table delineating examples of microaggressions (see Table 1 in Sue et al., 2007), which has since been adopted or adapted by numerous colleges and universities in training programs to warn faculty members and students against potential microaggressions. In this table, Sue et al. distinguished among nine lower-order categories of microaggressions: Alien in Own Land, Ascription of Intelligence, Color-blindness, Assumption of Criminal Status, Denial of Individual Racism, Myth of Meritocracy, Pathologizing Cultural Values/Communication Styles, Second-Class Citizen, and Environmental Microaggressions. Again, these categories were deduced rationally/theoretically rather than from systematic data. This table also lists the implicit “message” (p. 276) associated with each microaggression (see also Sue, 2010b). For example, the microaggression “America is a melting pot” (p. 276), which falls under the category of Color-blindness, ostensibly communicates the message that minority individuals should conform to majority culture; the microaggression “I believe the most qualified person should get the job” (p. 276), which falls under the category of Myth of Meritocracy, ostensibly communicates the message that minorities are often accorded an unfair advantage when applying for employment; and the microaggression of ignoring a minority individual at a store counter, which falls under the category of Second-Class Citizen, ostensibly communicates the message that Whites are inherently more valuable than are minorities.

Aus einem Bericht über die Studie:

This seems coherent on its face, but Lilienfeld argues there is an elastic nature to the definition, for example allowing Sue to assert that “the fact that psychological research has continued to inadequately address race and ethnicity…is in itself a microaggression.” In addition, items filed as microassaults include racial slurs and swastika graffiti; Lilienfeld argues that there is nothing micro about these events, so including them alongside the other examples muddies the waters and could spuriously make microaggressions appear culpable for harm, when the responsible party was old-fashioned abuse.

It’s not just that the edges of microaggression are poorly defined: ambiguity is baked into the entire concept. Advocates see this as a key feature, and claim that more ambiguous acts of prejudice are the most damaging, because they are the hardest to deal with – that aforementioned catch-22. (Sue again: “The invisibility of racial microaggressions may be more harmful to people of color than hate crimes or the covert and deliberate acts of White supremacists such as the Klan and Skinheads.”) Ambiguity can have its uses but the risk is that the concept becomes overly subjective.

For example, it could be that the experience of microaggressions is at least partially explained by a propensity to see fault or attack in statements. It could also be that the apparent impact of microaggressions on health or wellbeing is because people prone to negative emotionality (they score high on the trait of neuroticism) are more likely both to perceive microaggressions and to experience poorer health. One study did find an effect of microaggressions on negative moods and physical symptoms even after controlling for trait neuroticism, but the personality scale used in this study didn’t include any items related to proneness to feeling victimised, which seems an oversight.

Personality having a hand in microaggression experience would also explain why some people from minority groups report no microaggressions when canvassed. The (limited) evidence that more ambiguous slights lead to more negative outcomes could also reflect the established psychological fact that in “weak” situations with no clear guidelines for action, people’s personality – in this case, their negative emotionality – tends to assert itself to fill in the interpretive gaps.

Lilienfeld raises a lot of other issues we simply don’t have space for here: political assumptions, no measurement of base rates of everyday slights, inclusion criteria that limits participants to those who already buy into the concept to begin with, and the need to address whether people who commit microaggressions show other signs of a prejudicial mindset (something that research into the Implicit Affect test has also struggled to demonstrate). But he stresses that while he is not here to praise research into microaggression, nor is he here to bury it. He emphasises that many of these issues could be addressed by joining the microaggression field more closely with other more established areas of psychological research, and he offers a number of steps researchers could take to strengthen their research base.

Lilienfeld also suggests we all consider putting aside the word microaggression in favour of “perceived racial slight” – because we don’t yet understand the role of interpretation due to personality, and because it simply isn’t clear that those using microaggressions are showing aggression as we usually understand the word. Putting aside the charged term, together with the “victim and perpetrator” parlance used by advocates and researchers, would allow us to affirm that these ambiguous events have a reality of their own, while recognising that the nature of that reality needs further investigation to be understood.