Publication Date

January 2019


Minimal psychological research has looked at whether priming participants with the Confederate flag impacts psychological functioning. The current study examined whether Confederate flag priming and people’s political orientation would account for various indicators of how people reconcile in-group/out-group divisions- social dominance orientation (SDO) and ethnocultural empathy (EE). Previous research noted that exposing people to the Confederate flag activates schemas resulting in biased judgments of out-group members (Becker, Enders-Comber, Wagner, Christ, & Butz, 2012; Callahan & Ledgewood, 2016; Kemmelmeier & Winter, 2008). Other studies noted that exposure to the Confederate flag changed voter’s preferences for political candidates, such as Barack Obama due to the activation of negative feelings towards Blacks (Ehrlinger et al., 2011). The current study builds from such work by examining the political attitudes of 194 participants enrolled in a midsized, primarily minority-serving university in the southern United States. Participants were exposed to 30 seconds of either the Confederate flag or a control group condition (an Olympic flag). After the exposure, participants’ attitudes towards SDO and EE were reported. Findings indicated that political ideology interacted with the flag condition and that the disparities were most pronounced when people of a particular political orientation were exposed to the Confederate rather than Olympic flag condition. Specifically, when exposed to the Confederate flag conservatives reported more SDO (i.e., less endorsement of group equality) and less EE (e.g., empathic feelings). By contrast, for liberals EE empathic awareness subscale scores were especially higher in the Confederate flag condition. Multiple main effects also emerged in which liberals generally reported lower SDO and higher EE than conservatives did (regardless of the flag priming). Implications concerning the current political climate in the U. S. and information shortcuts for potential voting behavior are also discussed.