Study finds people in advantaged positions hesitant to improve equality

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According to a study conducted by researchers from Haas School of Business, people in advantaged positions tend to resist implementing policies to promote equal opportunities for those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

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Equality for all is something many believe in. However, people in advantaged positions are often not as enthusiastic about implementing this policy, UC Berkeley researchers found.

Haas School of Business researchers Derek Brown and Drew Jacoby-Senghor worked with Isaac Raymundo, a doctoral student from Columbia University. They asked participants to evaluate policies that improved the ability for disadvantaged communities to access resources without bringing harm to accessibility for advantaged communities. The example given in the study addressed increasing the number of jobs available for individuals with disabilities without decreasing jobs available for those without disabilities.

“A zero-sum mindset is to associate another party’s gain as another party’s loss,” Brown said. “In classic zero-sum literature, each one-unit gain corresponds one way or another as a one-unit loss for somebody else. It is a balance scale.”

Brown added that the researchers wanted to find out if individuals are actually hindered by these policies or just misconceiving them as harmful.

The leaders of the study developed the idea to conduct this research when they came across a phenomenon in the tech industry of companies devoting time and money to promote diversity despite backlash from advantaged white individuals who perceived these policies as harmful, according to Brown.

While both advantaged and disadvantaged groups benefit from equality-enhancing policies, the study revealed that those in advantaged positions still view the improvement as a threat and want this inequality to remain the same, Brown added.

“There is other research that offers evidence that zero-sum is a universal thing that everyone is susceptible to: That we kind of readily perceive the world in a zero-sum way,” Brown said. “This happens in a context that doesn’t operate in a zero-sum manner: like buying a T-shirt, buying a car, things that buyers and sellers get more and less out of that transaction.”

Brown is now applying this study to group members from minority backgrounds to see how those who are disadvantaged perceive policies that help both advantaged and disadvantaged people.

While Brown recognizes that the zero-sum mindset is a universal phenomenon, he is also exploring social science literature in the hopes of finding interventions that can help prevent thinking of the world in zero-sum terms.

“Educationally, if you look at the data and you kind of search for more information, you can catch yourself,” Brown said. “Education is huge but it needs a systematic, multifaceted approach to make sure the zero-sum mindset doesn’t actually plague people’s perceptions when we look at policies.”

Contact Erica Jean at [email protected].