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March 16, 2004

E-mail for Hameed: U-M study shows discrimination against Arabs

ANN ARBOR, Mich.—A University of Michigan study shows that people who are prejudiced against Arabs are likely to discriminate against them when they think that no one will find out.

The study used a novel errant e-mail technique. An article reporting on the findings is forthcoming in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

"As terrorist attacks continue around the world, prejudice and discrimination against Arabs living in the United States have increased dramatically," said Brad J. Bushman, lead author of the study and a social psychologist at the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR), the world's largest academic survey and research organization.

"Vandalism, assault and other highly visible forms of overt discrimination may not be common. But this study shows that people who are prejudiced against Arabs will engage in more subtle forms of discriminatory behavior when they believe they can get away with it."

For the study, Bushman and Iowa State University graduate student Angelica Bonacci sent participants an e-mail message that appeared to be intended for someone whose last name was either Hameed or Brice. Half the messages stated that the intended recipient had won a prestigious college scholarship worth tens of thousands of dollars, and requested a reply within 48 hours. The other messages said the intended recipient had not won the scholarship, and also asked for a reply within 48 hours.

The participants were 512 college students of European descent who had been tested two weeks before getting the e-mail message to assess their levels of prejudice toward Arab Americans and other racial and ethnic groups.  

Those who were highly prejudiced against Arabs were 12 percent less likely to return a lost e-mail reporting that someone named Hameed had won a scholarship than they were to return a similar message delivering good news to someone named Brice.

Highly prejudiced people were also 19 percent more likely to return a lost e-mail stating that someone named Hameed had not won than they were to return a message saying that someone named Brice had not won, the researchers reported. Returning a message bearing bad news, Bushman speculates, could be expected to hurt the intended recipient.

People with low prejudice scores, on the other hand, were just as likely to return a positive lost e-mail intended for recipients with an Arabic as a European surname. And they were likely to treat negative messages in the same equitable way.

The researchers found that prejudice scores were highly correlated, so that participants who disliked Arab Americans also tended to dislike African Americans, Asian Americans and Hispanic Americans, although they had stronger negative feelings toward Arab Americans.

"By identifying and understanding less visible discrimination techniques, society might be better able to protect the rights of innocent Arabs and others who face covert forms of discrimination in everyday life," Bushman said.

Established in 1948, the Institute for Social Research (ISR) is among the world's oldest survey research organizations, and a world leader in the development and application of social science methodology. ISR conducts some of the most widely-cited studies in the nation, including the Survey of Consumer Attitudes, the National Election Studies, the Monitoring the Future Study, the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, the Health and Retirement Study, the Columbia County Longitudinal Study and the National Survey of Black Americans. ISR researchers also collaborate with social scientists in more than 60 nations on the World Values Surveys and other projects, and the Institute has established formal ties with universities in Poland, China, and South Africa. Visit the ISR Web site at for more information. ISR is also home to the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR), the world's largest computerized social science data archive.

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Institute for Social Research

Brad Bushman, Ph.D.


Contact: Diane Swanbrow
Phone: (734) 647-9069