Study Objectives: In recent polls, 43% of Americans harbored some degree of anti-Islamic sentiment. Yet, Islam and Muslim identity are not monolithic. These labels encompass a range of religious traditions, racial groups, and political leanings implying that much anti-Islamic sentiment is stereo-type driven. This study assessed the efficacy of the performing arts as a change mechanism for anti-Muslim bias among college students. This work lays a foundation for expansion to high intensity professionals such as social workers, physicians, teachers, and police officers.
We hypothesized that students attending performances with specific content about diverse elements of Islam would demonstrate a decrease in bias that could be sustained for three months after performance attendance. We also hypothesized that target performances alone would be less effective at changing bias compared to performances accompanied by an audience engagement component.
Methods: To highlight Islamic diversity, the performing arts organization presented performances featuring artists from four predominantly Muslim nations. To assess performance impact on student attitudes, a Solomon 4 design was used to recruit four groups of undergraduate students (N=160). Students were administratively assigned to one of four groups: no performance attendance, target performance attendance only, target performance attendance plus an audience engagement experience, non-related performance attendance. Using an on-line survey adapted from an NIH-funded visual arts-based initiative to modify implicit and explicit bias, data was collected at pre, post, and 3 months post performance in order to ascertain: 1. differences between groups pre and post-performance and 2. differences among groups pre and post-performance, and 3. sustained intervention impact. The survey included implicit and explicit measures.
Results: T-tests evaluating differences between groups on both implicit and explicit measures anti-Islamic attitudes demonstrated differences in intervention groups attending target performances, with or without engagement activities. These students demonstrated less bias than participants attending no or non-related performances. Changes for implicit biases were in the hoped-for direction although effects were stronger for explicit measures and for white participants. Differences were maintained over time.
Conclusions and Implications: These results provide proof-of-concept for arts-based interventions biased attitudes towards stigmatized groups. This work adds to a growing body of literature in social work, health sciences, and other helping professions about the role of the arts in combating both implicit and explicit bias and suggests that social workers should use the arts more purposefully in interventions to address bias.