Who Is Responsible for Confronting Prejudice? The Role of Perceived and Conferred Authority

  • Leslie Ashburn-NardoEmail author
  • Alex Lindsey
  • Kathryn A. Morris
  • Stephanie A. Goodwin
Original Paper


Perceived responsibility for responding predicts whether people confront others’ discriminatory behavior, but who is seen as and actually feels responsible for confronting prejudice? Study 1 examined whether people view status-based authority figures, stigmatized targets, or other bystanders as responsible for confronting a witnessed prejudicial remark. Results revealed that participants viewed the authority figure as most responsible for responding, and they reported feeling less personally responsible in the presence of both authorities and targets. Study 2 examined whether being in a position of authority enhances perceptions of responsibility for responding to discrimination and, in turn, facilitates confrontation. Participants who were randomly assigned to a leadership (vs. non-leader control) condition witnessed a racially insensitive remark. Leadership increased perceived responsibility, but did not significantly increase confrontation. Study 3 builds on the previous two studies by showing that leaders in actual organizations feel more responsible for confronting prejudice compared to those who are not conferred authority status. These findings extend previous studies by uncovering an important antecedent (i.e., conferred authority) of feeling responsible for addressing prejudice, which is shown to be a key factor in predicting whether bystanders confront discrimination. Theoretical and practical implications are discussed.


Prejudice Confrontation Discrimination Leadership Authority 



We would like to thank Marie Danh, Peg Zizzo, Kristen Malone, and Laura Spice for their assistance in collecting and coding data for study 1; and Danny Applegate, Melissa Hammersly, Jonathon Kroenke, and Christian Entezari for their assistance in collecting and entering data for study 2.

Funding Information

The researchers were supported by funding from the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program by the Center for Research and Learning at IUPUI (PI Lindsey) and the National Science Foundation (BCS-0951809, Co-PIs Ashburn-Nardo, Morris, and Goodwin).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyIndiana University–Purdue University IndianapolisIndianapolisUSA
  2. 2.The University of MemphisMemphisUSA
  3. 3.Butler UniversityIndianapolisUSA
  4. 4.Wright State UniversityDaytonUSA

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