LaPiere (1934) wanted to find out about prejudice towards towards the ethnic Chinese community in America in the 1930s, at a time of strong prejudice following large-scale immigration. Previous to the research, he had entered a hotel in a small Californian town with some concern about whether they would be accommodated, but obtained rooms with ease. Some months later he telephoned the hotel to ask if they would accommodate ‘an important Chinese gentleman’ and were told a definite ‘No. This event stimulated the study.
For two years he travelled around the USA with his wife and a colleague, both of whom were ‘charming and personable’, and were also easily identified as being of Chinese origin. Both spoke unaccented American English.
On a 10,000 mile trip, they were received at 66 hotels and ‘tourist homes’ and rejected only once; they were served in 184 restaurants and cafes, receiving good service in 72 of them.
The Chinese-Americans made the reservations or orders, but LaPiere had not told them the research aims, and instead invented a number of ruses to be absent at the vital moment. LaPiere concluded that people responded more to appearance and self-confidence rather than race.
Overall, little discrimination was found. However, 6 months later a questionnaire was sent out to every one of the establishments visited, asking “Will you accept members of the Chinese race as guests in your establishment?”. Out of 251, 128 replied. 92% said ‘no’ to the question.
This study showed that our actions don't always match out intentions. Although it took place a long time ago, this concept is still relevant today. Nowadays, we might be concerned about the opposite pattern - people who claim to be unprejudice, but don't always act on this.
The study is limited in several ways, however. There is no guarantee that the members of staff who replied to questionnaires (possibly management) were the same as the ones who served the guests. There was also no investigation into why people made the choices that they did e.g. when answering the questionnaire.