"Treating" prejudice: an exposure-therapy approach to reducing negative reactions toward stigmatized groups.Psychol Sci. 2012; 23(11):1379-86.PS
One of the ways in which therapists treat anxiety disorders is to expose patients to a fear-evoking stimulus within a safe environment before encouraging more positive stimulus-related thoughts. In the study reported here, we adapted these psychotherapeutic principles of exposure therapy to test the hypothesis that imagining a positive encounter with a member of a stigmatized group would be more likely to promote positive perceptions when it was preceded by an imagined negative encounter. The results of three experiments targeting a range of stigmatized groups (adults with schizophrenia, gay men, and British Muslims) supported this hypothesis. Compared with purely positive interventions, interventions in which a single negative encounter was imagined just prior to imagining a positive encounter resulted in significantly reduced prejudice. Furthermore, reduced anxiety uniquely derived from the mixed-valence imagery task statistically explained enhanced intentions to engage positively with the previously stigmatized group in the future.