Psychological Aspects of Affirmative Action– Society

Affirmative Action is a well-intentioned policy that aims to support minority hiring and academic advancement.  But what are the impacts of such a policy once the initial offer is extended?  I want to explore the psychological and behavioral impacts of affirmative action on its recipients.

One of the arguments against affirmative action is the stigma placed on minorities by AA’s non-target group members.  Studies performed by the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology concluded that perception of minority groups was negatively impacted when AA practices were not mentioned.  One study gave participants 5 resumes and asked them to match them to potential hire profiles.  When told that they needed to hire a Black candidate, the subjects consistently matched the Black candidate with the weakest resume.  This phenomenon did not occur when the AA hiring condition was not implemented: “The minority applicant was evaluated less favorably when commitment to affirmative action was emphasized than when it was not mentioned” (Kravitz, 2).  This information indicates one of two conclusions.  The first is that the study participants wanted the Black candidate to have a weak resume, justifying their complaints about AA policies.  The second is that employers simply wish to hire based on merit, without the pressure of Affirmative Action.  It could also be concluded that because no negative connotations were given to the Black candidate until the mention of AA, that employers would not avoid hiring a Black candidate solely on the basis of race.

To gage the perceived effectiveness of AA practices, Professor Stephanie L. Witt asked her Boise State faculty colleagues if they believed AA had the following negative effects:

1)      It continues the myth of minority inferiority.

2)      It discredits the success of minorities and lessens their sense of accomplishment.

Of the White male respondents, 21% agreed with the first statement and 17% with the second.  Conversely, only 8% of Black female respondents agreed with both.   It is reasonable to conclude that since Black women are AA’s most targeted group of potential employees, that they harbor the least resistance to its policies and potential stigmas.


Kravitz, David A. “Affirmative Action: A Review of Psychological and Behavioral Research.” Affirmative Action: Effects on Target Group Members. The Society for Industrial & Organizational Psychology, Inc., 1997. Web. 15 Nov. 2012. <;.

Topics for further research:  Is affirmative action racist in its assumption that employers are White and prejudice?


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