Jens Agerström

New professor studies causes of discrimination

Jens Agerström is a new professor of psychology. One of his main research areas is discrimination. In order to shed light on the causes of discrimination, he has, among other things, studied how employers’ prejudice and stereotypes can affect the appointment process.

"I want to make people more aware about the discrimination that takes place against certain social groups within different areas of society, as well as try to identify the prejudices and stereotypes that they may not always reflect on having in the first place. One important objective is that the research results should be used as a basis for various action programmes with the aim to reduce discrimination in society", says Agerström.

Through field experiments, he has shown that job applicants of Arabic origin are facing a steep uphill slope on the Swedish labour market. When fictive job applicants with matching qualifications apply for real jobs on the Swedish labour market, individuals of Arabic origin have a 50 percent smaller chance of being asked for an interview compared to native Sweeds. It seems that this discrimination is caused by stereotypes where applicants of Arabic origin are seen as both more incompetent and cooler compared to Swedish applicants.

Furthermore, Agerström's research has shown that implicit prejudice – that is to say, automatically activated prejudices that people are not always aware that they have – sometimes can predict discrimination better than more conscious prejudices. Recruiters who are more implicitly prejudiced towards, for instance, overweight job applicants, are also more likely to discriminate against these applicants when they apply for a job.

In a relatively recently started research project, Agerström studies equal health care. With the help of register data, it is studied whether a patient's ethnicity and socioeconomic background has any significance for the cardiac arrest treatment provided at hospitals. The idea behind the project is that also health care is a context where prejudices can lead to discrimination without the nursing staff being aware of this.

What is most exciting about having been appointed professor at Linnaeus University?

"It feels incredibly exciting to get the opportunity to lead creative, interdisciplinary research environments with the aim to contribute to solving current societal challenges", Agerström concludes.