An Experimental Investigation of Sleep Restriction and Discrimination
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Inequalities of gender, sexual orientation, and race have spurred recent protests against discrimination. The resource depletion theory of discrimination argues that cognitive resources suppress the expression of internal prejudice, but that because cognitive resources are limited, discriminatory behavior may emerge when resources are depleted. We investigated whether sleep deprivation can affect cognitive resources and thus increase discriminatory behavior. 44 adults participated in a two-session study consisting of several cognitive and discrimination tasks. Participants were randomly assigned to bedtimes of either 10:30pm or 1:30am with wake times of 7:30am for four nights in between the two sessions. Sleep-restricted individuals showed more attentional lapses, higher mood disturbances, and greater subjective sleepiness. Sleep restriction also resulted in harsher ratings toward medical mistakes and female job applicants as well as a shooter task bias toward White-person stimuli. Interestingly, regardless of sleep, participants revealed an overall race bias toward Black-person stimuli in total shots fired.