Definitional boundaries of discrimination: Tools for deciding what constitutes discrimination (and what doesn't)

Greenland, Katy; West, Keon and van Laar, Colette. 2022. Definitional boundaries of discrimination: Tools for deciding what constitutes discrimination (and what doesn't). Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 52(10), pp. 945-964. ISSN 0021-9029 [Article]

J Applied Social Pyschol - 2022 - Greenland - Definitional boundaries of discrimination Tools for deciding what.pdf - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution.

Download (1MB) | Preview

Abstract or Description

What counts as discrimination? Sometimes an event has to be a deliberate act of hate before it is described as discrimination. Sometimes “discrimination” can include much more subtle actions (e.g., microaggressions). There is good evidence that “what counts” as discrimination is mired in controversy, uncertainty, or ambivalence. We present a novel approach that bridges sociocultural and social cognitive accounts of “discrimination.” Definitional boundaries of discrimination are the widely shared, common sense rules that people deploy when arguing whether an event constitutes discrimination or not (e.g., an emphasis on the personality of the alleged perpetrator; the importance of intention; and claims that the problem of discrimination is small and/or mostly limited to the past). These rules are culturally situated but also deployed by individuals in specific local contexts. We introduce a 15‐item measure of the extent to which participants are deploying broader or narrower definitional boundaries of discrimination (DBDs). We demonstrate that the measure has good convergent and discriminant validity (Study 1); that participants who are deploying narrow DBDs are less likely to make attributions to discrimination (Study 2); that participants' DBDs predict judgments for some intergroup contexts but not others (Study 3), and that participants who identify as racialized majorities have significantly narrower racism DBDs compared to participants who identify as racialized minorities (Study 4). We conclude with suggestions about how DBDs could be used in future research.

Item Type:


Identification Number (DOI):

Additional Information:

The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.

Additional supporting information can be found online in the Supporting Information section at the end of this article.

Departments, Centres and Research Units:



14 June 2022Accepted
16 August 2022Published Online
October 2022Published

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

18 Aug 2022 13:44

Last Modified:

24 Nov 2022 11:14

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


View statistics for this item...

Edit Record Edit Record (login required)