Lack of sleep contributes to prejudice and stereotyping

July 25, 2013  |   |  3 Comments
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Sonia Ghumman headshot

Sonia Ghumman

Does sleepiness make one more likely to be prejudiced or to engage in stereotyping? In a recent study, Assistant Professor Sonia Ghumman from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Shidler College of Business found that individuals who lack sleep were more likely to engage in prejudice and stereotyping behavior. Her research was published in the June 2013 issue of the Journal of Applied Social Psychology.

Using nearly 400 undergraduate university students, Ghumman and co-researcher C.M. Barnes conducted a series of three studies to examine the relationship between sleep and prejudice using various methodologies.

In her research, Ghumman examined students’ responses to various stimuli and used established scales to determine levels of sleep and racial attitudes.

Three studies

In the first study, students were shown a photo of a Muslim woman and asked to describe a typical day in her life. The study found that the sleepier the individuals were, the more likely they were to rely on stereotypes to describe the Muslim woman.

In the second study, students were asked to review the resumes of prospective job applicants with either stereotypically white- or black-sounding names. The study found that the sleepier the individuals were, the more likely they were to rate the black candidate as less qualified than the white candidate. This suggests that sleep deprivation may contribute to decision biases in the hiring process.

In the final study, Ghumman studied individuals’ implicit associations (unconscious and automatic biases) toward blacks and found that individuals with strong automatic biases who lack sleep engaged in more prejudice toward blacks. This suggests that sleepiness can lead to the actual expression of unconscious biases through increased prejudice toward particular groups.

“In our research, we found that sleep functions as a self-regulatory resource that, when depleted, leaves people less able to control their thoughts, attitudes and behaviors in a non-prejudicial manner,” explains Ghumman. “By having a good night’s sleep and being well-rested, individuals are more likely to be able to act appropriately in situations.”

Read the UH Mānoa news release for more on the study.

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Category: Research

Comments (3)

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  1. Snickers says:

    Did hunger also play a factor? “You’re not you when you’re hungry!”

  2. Mr. Raymond Kenneth Petry says:

    Statistics relies so heavily on agreement of ‘what we know’, we must read all the fine details before deciding on whether the results are correct… That’s nothing new in math class but we can’t rely on any public claim from statistics: because we haven’t read the article…

    Did the research distinguish the cause or merely guestimate the cause (“ego depletion”)–? And does Cause then filter through other factors such as ‘Who causes sleepiness’ prompting new assumption on causative factors? Holographic thinking needn’t be linear–‘Educated authority’ (that which comes of learning by taking tests) tells us sleepy people do this perhaps moreso –learn in the process of taking tests– which learning may be affected by conditions present…that of sleepiness–which is but a mental regime with its own ‘speed’ parameters that may have nothing to do with prejudice against scholastic, qualifications, but for example ethno-lingo-historic use of verbiage,-twisting. Would you hire an Applicant who uses the word “logical” to mean talk-a-lot?

    Sleepiness probably drives the attention-word-set more than the span.

  3. Melissa Jones says:

    This is so interesting! When our brains need sleep, it makes sense that we would become lazy and fall back to stereotypes when making decisions. I use a CPAP machine each night and on the rare occasion when I don’t use it, I can tell that I am more irritable, now I need to keep an eye out to ensure that I behave in a non-prejudicial manner as well.

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