In a recently published study, Emory Professor Scott Lilienfeld argues that there is little evidence that microaggressions cause psychological harm.
Professor Lilienfeld argues in his study “Microaggressions: Strong Claims, Inadequate Evidence” that the recent spike in concern on college campuses over microaggressions may be based on a cultural phenomenon that carries little psychological evidence.
“The scientific status of the microaggression research program is far too preliminary to warrant its dissemination to real-world contexts,” Lilienfeld writes in his study.
Lilienfeld’s greatest concern about microaggressions rests in the nature of how they are reported. He claims that because “they are totally in the eye of the beholder,” anything can be labeled a microaggression.
“Because they are totally in the eye of the beholder — anything you say could be labeled as a microaggression,” Lilienfeld said. “In the current literature, if someone is offended by something, it is a microaggression. You simply cannot progress scientifically in this way or expect to resolve racial tensions on a college campus.”
Talking to The College Fix, Lilienfeld argued that the term “microaggression” implies harm, which may lead to biases in judgments made about behaviors that receive this label.
“Though the study of microaggressions has revealed important biases, the term is a terrible one because it implies that the intention of the person is aggressive in nature and aggression implies the intent to harm,” he claimed.
Lilienfeld also argues that the actual effects of a microaggression may be blurred by an individual’s pre-existing personality or mental health condition.
“We know that microaggressions are correlated with negative mental health outcomes, but that finding may be confounded with a person’s pre-existing personality or mental health condition. Because microaggressions are determined by self-report, it is difficult to prove that they cause mental health problems,” Lilienfeld said.
At the conclusion of his study’s abstract, Lilienfeld argues that the term “microaggression” should be abandoned.
“I conclude with 18 suggestions for advancing the scientific status of the MRP, recommend abandonment of the term ‘microaggression,’ and call for a moratorium on microaggression training programs and publicly distributed microaggression lists pending research to address the MRP’s scientific limitations,” he wrote.
Lilienfeld believes that microaggression programming on college campuses will likely only serve to exacerbate existing racial tensions.
“Concern about microaggressions may make both sides more defensive,” Lilienfeld said. “Minority individuals may become hyper vigilant to recognize any signs of danger from speech or action. Conversely, majority members may begin to feel defensive because they have to watch every single thing they say.”
Tom Ciccotta is a libertarian who writes about education and social justice for Breitbart News. You can follow him on Twitter @tciccotta or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org