Character  &  Context

The Science of Who We Are and How We Relate
Editors: Mark Leary, Shira Gabriel, Brett Pelham
May 22, 2017

Salient Multiculturalism and Ethnic Minority Group Members’ Voice

by Matthew Quesnel
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By Matthew S. Quesnel

Societies around the world wrestle with issues of intergroup inequality and narratives of social change feature prominently in political discourse. It is perhaps no wonder then that people regularly encounter messages advocating any of a variety of intergroup ideologies, each of which represents a distinct perspective on how relations between groups might be improved and how greater equality might be achieved. For example, messages advocating multicultural, anti-racist and color-blind ideologies urging us (respectively) to “Celebrate Diversity!”, “Stop Discrimination!”, or “See the Person, Not the Color!” are commonplace across multiple social contexts including workplaces and schools.     

In the past, researchers evaluated the impact of these ideologies primarily by examining their effects on people’s intergroup attitudes or their levels of prejudice. More recently, however, questions have been raised about the efficacy of prejudice reduction strategies in bringing about social change, and some investigators have instead suggested a focus on encouraging collective action, where ethnic minority group members work together to demand social change and call attention to intergroup inequality and injustice (see Dixon, Levine, Reicher, & Durrheim, 2012). In line with this perspective, in a series of investigations, Jacquie Vorauer and I sought to better understand the effects of intergroup ideologies on outcomes more closely tied to ethnic minority group members’ efforts to achieve social change, namely minority empowerment and social influence.

Our starting point was a set of recently published studies in which we found that salient multiculturalism (e.g., messages and posters promoting the ideals of multiculturalism) enhanced ethnic minority group members’ sense of power and had implications for their goal-directed cognition (i.e., thoughts and intentions focused on goal attainment and readiness to ask for more in negotiations), in part because it heightens their perceptions that they make meaningful contributions to society (Vorauer & Quesnel, 2017). The results of these studies led us to believe that salient multiculturalism, by enhancing minority group members’ sense of power, might have implications for their voice (i.e., their willingness to speak up about their opinions) and their ability to exert social influence during intergroup interaction.

Specifically, we hypothesized that salient multicultural ideology would enhance minority group members’ overall persuasiveness during an intergroup exchange in which controversial social issues were discussed. We expected that minority group members who reflected on multicultural ideology would be more persuasive in part because they would more clearly and directly articulate their opinions during the interaction (i.e., enhanced voice). Our prediction here was grounded in research documenting that individuals’ psychological sense of power is linked to numerous outcomes that should result in enhanced voice and persuasiveness, such as reduced inhibition (Keltner, Gruenfeld, & Anderson, 2003) and increased action orientation (Galinsky, Gruenfeld, & Magee, 2003).

And indeed, the results of two studies supported our hypotheses. In the first study, we found that Indigenous students who read a multicultural message (compared to those who read no message) were more successful in persuading a White same-sex interaction partner of their point of view on six controversial social issues (e.g., euthanasia, capital punishment, and immigration) over the course of a 12-minute face-to-face interaction. Additional analyses revealed that Indigenous students who read a multicultural message expressed their opinions more clearly and directly during the discussion (showing greater correspondence between their privately rated and publically expressed opinions), which helped (marginally) account for their increased persuasiveness. No such results were apparent when color-blind ideology, which in many ways runs directly counter to multiculturalism, was made salient instead.

In a second study, we sought to replicate the findings and examine whether the effects of multiculturalism on persuasiveness were specific to members of minority groups by manipulating whether multiculturalism was made salient to the ethnic minority or dominant group member. Consistent with the results of our first study, ethnic minority students who read a multicultural message were more successful in persuading a White interaction partner of their point of view on controversial issues mostly unrelated to multiculturalism. Further, and in line with predictions, the effects of the multicultural message on persuasiveness were evident only for minority group members: White students who read a multicultural message were no more persuasive than those who did not read a message. In addition, once again, ethnic minority students who read a multicultural message expressed their opinions more clearly and directly, which helped (marginally) to account for their greater persuasiveness. Notably, when neither student read a multicultural message, dominant group members were more persuasive than minority group members. However, when minority group members read a multicultural message, there was no difference between minority and dominant group members’ persuasiveness.

Taken together, the results of our studies suggest that, by virtue of highlighting meaningful contributions that ethnic minority group members make to society, salient multiculturalism might help to level the playing field between dominant and minority groups during intergroup interaction. In particular, our findings suggest that having this ideology in mind enhances ethnic minority group members’ voice and sets the stage for them to exert more influence in discussions of important social issues.

Matthew S. Quesnel is a PhD student in psychology at the University of Manitoba. His research focuses on persuasion and the empowerment of ethnic minority group members in intergroup contexts.


Dixon, J., Levine, M., Reicher, S., & Durrheim, K. (2012). Beyond prejudice: are negative evaluations the problem and is getting us to like one another more the solution? Behavior and Brain Sciences, 411–466. doi:10.1017/S0140525X11002214

Galinsky, A. D., Gruenfeld, D. H., & Magee, J. C. (2003). From power to action. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85(3), 453-466. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.85.3.453

Keltner, D., Gruenfeld, D. H., & Anderson, C. (2003). Power, approach, and inhibition. Psychological Review, 110(2), 265–284. doi:10.1037/0033-295X.110.2.265

Vorauer, J. D., & Quesnel, M. S. (2017). Salient multiculturalism enhances minority group members’ feelings of power. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 43(2), 259-271. doi:10.1177/0146167216679981

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Everything that people think, feel, and do is affected by some combination of their personal characteristics and features of the social context they are in at the time. Character & Context explores the latest insights about human behavior from research in personality and social psychology, the scientific field that studies the causes of everyday behaviors.  

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