Public Release: 

Brief face-to-face talk can shift anti-transgender attitudes

American Association for the Advancement of Science

Door-to-door canvassers who had brief conversations with Florida residents measurably changed attitudes toward transgender people, a new study finds. The effects of the canvassers also increased support for laws that protect transgender people from discrimination. These effects were achieved by transgender and nontransgender canvassers alike and represent changes in attitude greater than those realized towards gay and lesbian people in America between 1998 and 2012, the report's authors say. To date, empirical studies have found that reducing prejudice in a lasting way is challenging, requiring intense intervention over months. A theory known as active processing - in which an individual engages in effortful processing of a message, perhaps by considering it from another's vantage point - has been shown to durably change individuals' attitudes on certain messages in the lab. Here, to test whether such interventions durably reduce prejudice in the real world, David Broockman and Joshua Kalla evaluated the results of door-to-door canvassers from the Los Angeles LGBT Center and SAVE, South Florida's largest and longest-serving LGBT organization. In the summer of 2015, volunteer and staff canvassers from these organizations - each with a range of experience - went door to door in Miami, Florida, engaging in 10- to-15-minute conversations with residents. At each door, the canvassers followed an approach developed by the Los Angeles LGBT Center that involved strategies previously shown to facilitate active processing; this included asking participants to reflect on experiences in which they'd been treated differently than the majority.

To measure the effects of these conversations, Broockman and Kalla surveyed participants before and after the canvassing, asking them about their attitudes toward transgender people, among other issues. The follow-up surveys occurred 3 days, 3 weeks, 6 weeks, and 3 months after the conversation with the canvasser. Broockman and Kalla found that the conversations changed approximately 1 in 10 voters' attitudes about transgender people. They also found that the conversations were broadly effective: Democratic and Republican voters, liberal and conservative voters, female and male voters, and voters who were Caucasian, Latino, and African-American all exhibited a profound shift. The results stand in contrast to other published measurements of conventional attempts at prejudice reduction through standard phone or canvass conversations and will greatly benefit centers like the Los Angeles LGBT Center and others. A Perspective by Elizabeth Paluck provides additional insights.

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Note: Broockman and Kalla were the researchers who, along with Peter Aronow, uncovered data irregularities in the now-retracted December 2014 Science report by Michael LaCour and Donald Green, which was also aiming to study the effects of the Los Angeles LGBT Center's grassroots canvassing approach, though on its ability to alter attitudes toward same-sex marriage.

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