Client race and achievement, therapist cognitive complexity and egalitarianism, and White therapists' attitudes

Brian Paul Rieger, Fordham University


Research on racial bias in psychotherapy has produced equivocal and inconsistent results. Reports of so called "pro-Black effects" have also raised concerns about social desirability bias in the analogue (versus archival) methodology which predominates in this research. However, contemporary theories of stereotyping and prejudice may help to make sense of what otherwise appear to be contradictory or invalid results.^ This study examined the racial attitudes of 201 White therapists based on predictions developed from the aversive racism framework and outgroup polarization hypothesis. Of primary interest was the prediction that in comparison to their attitudes towards a White client, White therapists' attitudes towards a Black client would be polarized by the non-racial factor of achievement.^ Race (Black/White) and achievement (low/high) descriptions of a client in a hypothetical intake report were manipulated between participants to produce four conditions. Participants read the intake report and then evaluated the client on a semantic differential scale designed to measure attitude. Therapist egalitarianism and cognitive complexity were also measured, and examined in relation to attitude in each of the four experimental conditions. Care was taken to disguise the study's concern with racial attitudes.^ The predicted polarization effect was not found. Instead, results indicated that White therapists' attitudes were more favorable towards the Black than White client, irrespective of client achievement. A significant Race x Cognitive Complexity interaction was found, with therapist complexity significantly and positively correlated with attitudes toward the White client but not significantly related to attitudes towards the Black client. The Race x Egalitarianism interaction approached but did not reach significance. Nevertheless, the results suggested that participants' egalitarianism was more influential than complexity in predicting attitudes towards the Black client, while the reverse was true for the White client. Since participants did not appear to have divined the intent of the study, the pro-Black effect in their attitudes was attributed to internalized egalitarian ideals, rather than to social desirability response bias. The implications of the findings for racial bias in psychotherapy were discussed. ^

Subject Area

Psychology, Social|Education, Guidance and Counseling|Psychology, Clinical|Sociology, Ethnic and Racial Studies

Recommended Citation

Rieger, Brian Paul, "Client race and achievement, therapist cognitive complexity and egalitarianism, and White therapists' attitudes" (1996). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9708256.