Sex Roles

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Abstract Thinking Increases Support for Affirmative Action

  • Alexandra FleischmannEmail author
  • Pascal Burgmer
Original Article


Affirmative action is the proactive process of using resources to ensure that people are not discriminated against based on their group membership, such as gender or ethnicity. It is an effective way to reduce discrimination, but attitudes toward affirmative action are often negative, especially in groups implementing affirmative action. Previous research identified different influences on attitudes toward affirmative action, but mainly unchangeable ones. We focus on the influence of abstract thinking on support for affirmative action because abstract thinking is a changeable characteristic that can direct attention to the purpose of affirmative action policies. Across five studies with U.S. MTurk workers—focusing on women as the target group, but including other target groups as well—we show that thinking abstractly improves attitudes toward affirmative action. We observe this effect using correlational (Study 1, n = 251) and experimental (Studies 2–5, ns = 201–515) designs. Additionally, we test whether perceived discrimination increases the impact of abstract thinking on attitudes toward affirmation action (Studies 2–5). We report a meta-analysis across our studies. Overall, thinking abstractly about affirmative action clearly leads to more favorable attitudes toward it, and this effect is somewhat stronger when discrimination is perceived to be high. Consequently, companies and policymakers that would like to increase support for affirmative action policies could use abstract thinking to do so, for example by encouraging employees to think about and discuss why (vs. how) affirmative action policies are implemented.


Affirmative action Sex discrimination Abstraction Thinking Cognitive processes Construal level Quotas Gender 



The present research was funded by a Junior Researcher Award awarded by the Research Unit FOR 2150 Relativity in Social Cognition of the German Research Foundation to Alexandra Fleischmann and Pascal Burgmer.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest. The reported studies were supported by a Junior Researcher Award awarded by the Research Unit FOR 2150 Relativity in Social Cognition of the German Research Foundation to Alexandra Fleischmann and Pascal Burgmer.

Informed Consent

All participants included in these studies gave informed consent.

Supplementary material

11199_2019_1068_MOESM1_ESM.docx (264 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 263 kb)


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Social Cognition Center CologneUniversity of CologneKölnGermany
  2. 2.School of Psychology, Keynes CollegeUniversity of KentCanterburyUK

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