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Thinking It Can Get Better Makes It Better: Lay Theories of Prejudice and Substance Use Willingness among Undergraduate Students of Color Open Access

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Racial discrimination has been linked to substance use (SU) willingness, an immediate precursor to SU (e.g., Gibbons et al., 2010). Elucidating factors that buffer against the toll of discrimination is thus critical in reducing SU among racial minorities. The present study examined whether lay theories of prejudice, or the assumptions people make about the malleability of prejudicial attitudes (Carr, Dweck, & Pauker, 2012), moderate the effects of racial discrimination on SU willingness among a sample of young adult, infrequent substance users--a group for whom willingness is a particularly powerful predictor of behavior (e.g., Pomery et al., 2009). An entity theory entails the belief that prejudicial attitudes are stable over time; an incremental theory entails the belief that people's prejudice can change. I hypothesized that entity beliefs would reinforce, and that incremental beliefs would weaken, the effects of discrimination on SU willingness. To test these predictions, I exposed students of color (N = 159) to entity or incremental beliefs about prejudice and subsequently included or excluded them in an online ball-tossing game. Afterwards, participants reported their willingness to drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, and use other drugs. Results supported hypotheses in relation to alcohol, but not cigarette or other drug, willingness: Entity participants reported significantly greater willingness to drink alcohol if they were excluded (vs. included). However, for incremental participants, alcohol willingness was similar across exclusion and inclusion conditions, suggesting such beliefs may be protective against racial discrimination.

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