Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Victoria M. Esses


This research examined discriminatory responding in a forced choice employment decision paradigm, using a justification-suppression perspective to interpret the findings. In this paradigm, participants play the role of employers and make employment choices between two excellent and similarly qualified individuals that differ only on one dimension. In the first three studies, participants chose between two individuals who were described as differing only in ethnicity (European vs. Middle Eastern), gender (Male vs. Female), religion (Christian vs. Muslim), age (Young vs. Old), height (Tall vs. Short), weight (Average Weight vs. Overweight), nationality (Canadian vs. Immigrant), or sexual orientation (Heterosexual vs. Homosexual). Patterns of systematic discrimination were observed, such that members of nonstigmatized groups were favoured over members of stigmatized groups, with the exception that female candidates were supported more than male candidates. These patterns held for both hiring and firing decisions, and regardless of job status, instructions from one’s boss to not be biased, and information regarding workplace diversity. In the fourth study, the stigmatized group categories were strategically selected based on the reported social acceptability of prejudice (acceptable targets: overweight, homosexual, Muslim, immigrant, Native; unacceptable targets: female, black, Jewish, old, disabled). Overall, participants were less likely to promote stigmatized than nonstigmatized employees, with the exceptions that Jewish and black employees were as likely to be promoted as their nonstigmatized counterparts, and female employees were promoted more frequently than male employees. Stigmatized individuals who belonged to social groups perceived as socially unacceptable targets of prejudice were selected for promotion more than stigmatized individuals who belonged to social groups perceived as socially acceptable targets of prejudice, however. This pattern held regardless of equality salience. The selection of stigmatized employees for promotion was predicted by the favourability of attitudes toward these groups, a weaker belief in the justifiability of discrimination, and negative feelings toward others elicited by the task. Using an innovative methodology, this research demonstrates that systematic discrimination is prevalent in forced choice decisions, and that manipulations used previously to attenuate discrimination were ineffective in this context. Theoretical and methodological implications are discussed.