In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Affirmative Action

  • Introduction

Psychology Affirmative Action
Elif G. Ikizer, John F. Dovidio
  • LAST REVIEWED: 20 February 2024
  • LAST MODIFIED: 20 February 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0324


Affirmative action refers to laws or government-mandated or voluntary policies or procedures designed to promote the equitable inclusion of members of certain historically excluded groups by granting members of these groups additional consideration for educational, economic, and employment opportunities. Affirmative action has traditionally been one of the structural ways to promote diversity in society. While much of the research on affirmative action has focused on the United States, affirmative action programs exist in many other countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America. The approaches used internationally vary in many ways, most commonly with respect to the groups that the programs are designed to benefit and the degree to which group-based characteristics are considered in relation to other, merit-based credentials. For example, whereas the use of quotas in affirmative action is prohibited in the United States, affirmative action programs for college admission and federal employment in Brazil and India employ quotas for people of color. In 2023, India passed a law to reserve 33 percent of state and national legislative positions for women. India’s affirmative action policy, in which a person’s nationality, sex, religion, and caste are taken into account in education and employment by public and private organizations, is grounded in the country’s constitutional principles. Also, different countries justify having affirmative action policies to varying degrees by the goals of remediating past injustice, improving economics, promoting diversity, and achieving social justice. Who affirmative action benefits, how the policy is justified, how affirmative action programs are implemented, and the attitudes and ideologies of people viewing the program all contribute to the extent to which affirmative action is supported or opposed by people. While considering affirmative action internationally, this examination focuses on affirmative action in the United States, which has stimulated significant behavioral science research and generated considerable public controversy, in order to illuminate basic processes that shape the content and consequences of affirmative action. Support and opposition to affirmative action may both be grounded in principles of justice, but these are sometimes competing values. Specifically, this entry considers (a) a range of resources examining multiple facets of the topic, (b) assessments of the effectiveness of affirmative action, (c) reactions based on self- or group-interest, (d) individual differences in responses to affirmative action, (e) impact of the way the program is justified on support, (f) psychological consequences, (g) dynamics of help in relation to affirmative action, and (h) recent developments for promoting diversity.

General Overviews

Because affirmative action has been a hotly debated topic internationally, and particularly in the United States, there are many empirical articles and reviews appearing in journals, as well as authored and edited books on the topic. While much of the classic research on responses to affirmative action was published during earlier times of social and political controversy, leading journals in psychology and other behavioral sciences continue to regularly publish articles in this area. Edited volumes have brought together scholars from a range of disciplines (e.g., law, economics, psychology, sociology, and political science) to present a range of perspectives on affirmative action.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.