Exposure to hate speech increases prejudice through desensitization

Aggress Behav. 2018 Mar;44(2):136-146. doi: 10.1002/ab.21737. Epub 2017 Nov 2.


In three studies (two representative nationwide surveys, N = 1,007, N = 682; and one experimental, N = 76) we explored the effects of exposure to hate speech on outgroup prejudice. Following the General Aggression Model, we suggest that frequent and repetitive exposure to hate speech leads to desensitization to this form of verbal violence and subsequently to lower evaluations of the victims and greater distancing, thus increasing outgroup prejudice. In the first survey study, we found that lower sensitivity to hate speech was a positive mediator of the relationship between frequent exposure to hate speech and outgroup prejudice. In the second study, we obtained a crucial confirmation of these effects. After desensitization training individuals were less sensitive to hate speech and more prejudiced toward hate speech victims than their counterparts in the control condition. In the final study, we replicated several previous effects and additionally found that the effects of exposure to hate speech on prejudice were mediated by a lower sensitivity to hate speech, and not by lower sensitivity to social norms. Altogether, our studies are the first to elucidate the effects of exposure to hate speech on outgroup prejudice.

Keywords: desensitization; hate speech; prejudice.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Exposure to Violence / psychology
  • Female
  • Group Processes*
  • Hate*
  • Hostility*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prejudice* / psychology
  • Social Perception*
  • Verbal Behavior*