What is it about?

Imagine your friend makes a comment that seems racist, sexist, or otherwise prejudiced. You want to say something, but you’re worried about how they will react. Will they be angry at you? Will they remain your friend? This research offers insight into such questions by examining interpersonal factors that reduce negative reactions to being confronted for bias. Specifically, we show that when someone trusts the person who confronts them, they have fewer negative reactions toward the confronter, while simultaneously reducing their biased behavior in the future. Ultimately, this work shows that trust is a powerful remedy to the barriers (e.g., fear of anger) that might otherwise prevent confrontation and subsequent prejudice reduction.

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Why is it important?

Most existing research has only examined bias confrontations between strangers, despite the reality that most dyadic and group interactions – which are frequently the context for confrontations – occur among people who know each other. Furthermore, in most past research, the confrontation is the first and only interaction between the confronter and the confronted person. Because of this limited context, there is little information on how interpersonal dynamics influence reactions to confrontations. Our research begins to fill this gap by showing the important role of trust. Whether trust already exists or can be intentionally fostered, its presence is critical for curbing unfair and discriminatory behavior without backlash toward confronters.


I started thinking about this research question towards the end of my PhD training. I had already run several studies on bias confrontation at this point; these studies showed that confrontation-related social costs (e.g., dislike) are persistent and difficult to avoid. Furthermore, like almost all confrontation research, these studies examined how one person reacts when confronted about bias by a stranger. There had been a few vignette studies on confrontations between friends, but no one had looked at actual confrontations between friends, especially not within an internally-valid context. I could imagine so many reasons why confrontations between friends versus strangers might differ (including trust, the focus of this paper), so this "missing piece" in the confrontation puzzle bothered me. This led to considering the close relationships literature and ultimately resulted in this paper. As with any research, there are many remaining questions; nevertheless, I believe this paper is an important first step towards understanding how relationships and other interpersonal factors can influence reactions to confrontations.

Laura Hildebrand
Ohio State University

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: The role of trust in reducing confrontation-related social costs., Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, August 2023, American Psychological Association (APA),
DOI: 10.1037/pspi0000429.
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