Study Reveals How Diversity Beliefs Lead to Outgroup Attitudes

Summary of:

Kauff, M., Schmid, K., and Christ, O., “When good for business is not good enough: Effects of pro-diversity beliefs and instrumentality of diversity on intergroup attitudes” (2020). PLOS ONE 15(6).

Background & Theory:

As the implementation of diverse groups has increased over the past few years in organizations, many have claimed that diverse groups should be utilized because they increase group performance compared to non-diverse groups. However, this belief that diversity in groups holds a functional benefit may have unintended consequences. This 2020 study, published in PLOS ONE, examines this belief, otherwise known as, “instrumentality-based pro-diversity beliefs,” to see if holding such an ideology leads to positive or negative attitudes towards a given outgroup, especially when the outgroup does not benefit group performance.

Question(s):

Research was conducted by Kauff et al. to answer the following question:

    1. What is the effect of instrumentality-based pro-diversity beliefs on attitudes towards the outgroup when a diverse group does not benefit group performance?

Methods:

Hypotheses were tested through four experimental studies. The first study utilized data from 136 participants, measured instrumentality-based pro-diversity beliefs, and had participants collaborate with each other online on a task. Studies 2-4 focused on the differentiation between instrumentality-based and justice-based pro-diversity beliefs, utilizing larger groups. The second study utilized questionnaire data from 415 participants on the topic of attitudes towards refugees during the 2015 refugee crisis. The third study utilized data from 780 participants and measured the effects of the actual instrumentality of refugees for communities through a reading comprehension exercise. The fourth study utilized data from 345 participants and measured actual instrumentality just like the third study. The majority of the surveys used Likert-style point scales.

Results:

The results from multiple studies did not reveal conclusive evidence to support research theories. However, one can argue that preliminary evidence was found for some ideas. The results revealed that detrimental instrumentality (i.e. the collaboration of diverse group members leads to detrimental group performance) had a weak mitigating effect on the positive relationship between instrumentality-based pro-diversity beliefs and favorable outgroup attitudes. Additionally, weak evidence was found that the presence of a positive effect from instrumentality-based pro-diversity beliefs on outgroup attitudes only occurred when positive instrumentality was salient. In other words, some evidence was found that the belief that diversity benefits group performance led to positive attitudes about a given outgroup only when it was proven that the diversity of the outgroup led to better group performance.

What We Can Learn:

Looking over this research, we can take away the following key insight:

  • This study did not find evidence that supported the claim that belief of detrimental effects of diversity leads to reduced positive effects of instrumentality-based pro-diversity group attitudes. However, some evidence supported the assumption that instrumentality-based pro-diversity beliefs create a negative attitude of the ethnic outgroup when ethnic diversity was perceived as having a negative impact on group functioning.

Final Takeaways

For Consultants: Using instrumental-based pro-diversity beliefs alone as a justification for utilizing diverse groups may create conflict and a negative perception of the outgroup if diverse groups do not perform well. Organizations, therefore, may find it helpful to create organizational-wide beliefs for why they believe in utilizing diverse groups outside of only the instrumentality of diversity.

For Everyone: It may be helpful to be aware of how your own ideas of the functionality of diversity could lead to negative perceptions of certain outgroups.