The Situationist

The “Turban Effect”

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 2, 2008

Christian Unkelbach, has authored a fascinating study which suggests the “turban effect” as a source of Islamophobia. The study will be published in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. The following excerpts about this study are taken from a recent article in The Vancouver Sun.

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A Muslim-style turban is perceived as a threat, according to a new study, even by people who don’t realize they hold the prejudice, dubbed “the turban effect” by researchers.

Research volunteers played a computer game that showed apartment balconies on which different figures appeared, some wearing Muslim-style turbans or hijabs and others bare-headed. They were told to shoot at the targets carrying guns and spare those who were unarmed, with points awarded accordingly.

People were much more likely to shoot Muslim-looking characters – men or women – even if they were carrying an innocent item instead of a weapon, the researchers found.

* * *

When the true intention of the experiment was revealed, Unkelbach says participants insisted they were not prejudiced and must have reacted differently from everyone else.

“The most common response was, ‘I’m sure I didn’t show that effect,'” he says. “They’re uncomfortable and I believe them – people are not doing this willingly. If they could, they would control that. Here, people are almost the victims of what they are fed by their environment.”

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The entire article is here. To read other Situationist posts discussing the causes and consequences of implicit associations, click here. Image by Arriving at the horizon.

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5 Responses to “The “Turban Effect””

  1. Did they control for other types of face-obscuring clothing like Halloween masks, pantyhose, ninja-style masks, etc. or even just hats. Perhaps this is less of a “turban effect” and more of a “mask effect” or “hat effect”.

  2. [...] New study in The experimental Journal of Psychology is examined at the Situationist, looking at the uncomfortable effect a turban unconciously has on our judgement here in the western [...]

  3. Jeffrey said

    Lately, some scholars have been looking at reasons behind and implication of manipulating fear. Princeton University’s John F. Wilson explains why: The obsession with managing evil comes from “a concern, often exaggerated, to achieve control over those aspects of life experienced as uncertain.” From the Puritans to the present, people bent on controlling their lives have been haunted by the inescapable fear that they might lose that very control.

    Sensational cases startle the public into accepting a new understanding by opening gateways to the publics fears and frustrations, and igniting processes that illuminate the boundaries of a community, notes Indiana Professor Steven Chermak, author of “Searching for a Demon”, adding: “The media defines these events, relying primarily on representatives from institutions typically used in the construction of news.”
    According to Professor Chermark : “The legitimacy of a threat depends only on the perception that the target is extremely dangerous to the security and stability of society. Thus a threat is successful when it produces fear. Fear is a vitally important cultural commodity that helps to justify the demonization of individuals and groups by people in power. The news media contributes directly to this demonization by sustaining and feeding off of the publics fears. The news media will intensify its coverage when a threat is thought to be significant, but in doing so, it promotes and aggravates the corresponding fear.” In an article, Marketing Fear: Representing Terrorism After September 11 in the Journal for Crime, Conflict and the Media Chermak notes that by framing specific or unspecified opponents, clear or ambiguous opponents as threatening helped to dehumanize these targets, and validate any planned responses by social control agencies and justify the need for additional resources to respond to them.
    But such tendency can reach a level where some sensationalists aspire to see their audience to live in what Jeanne Jordan, author of The Panic diaries, calls “a world of perpetual ‘duck and cover’, a world of terror alerts scrolling across the bottom of our television screens. A world where evening news feeds our fear.” Many of us are beginning to get weary of the pushier sort of experts, declare Christopher Booker and Richard North. In their book, Scared to Death: From BSE to Global Warming they point out: Gone is the sense of proportion, the admission of scientific doubt, the ability to weigh risks against benefits. Taking seriously a year’s worth of their health warnings would give anyone an eating disorder. This tendency makes Anne Applebaum, author of ‘Finding Things to Fear’ remark: Now that we’ve eliminated most of the things that the human race once feared, we’ve just invented new ones to replace them.
    The discourses of state agencies locate Islam and Muslim communities not simply as “problem communities” but as security concerns, notes Defence Studies scholar Katherine Brown. There is a need to watch out if certain contributors to this debate about minority communities wish to steer it from discussing ‘politics of difference’ to stirring up the ‘politics of fear’.

  4. [...] The “Turban Effect” [...]

  5. Saumya said

    This finding is amazing! But turbans don’t instantly mean Muslim. Especially the kinds of turbans used in the example within the article. I wonder what this means for Sikhs who also wear a variety of turbans (especially in the U.S). I would also be interested to see perceptions towards stereotypical muslim appearance, especially beards!

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