Two studies investigate the effects of target group status on perceptions of the offensiveness of group-based slurs. Using real-world groups as targets, Study 1 showed that the perception that a group is of lower status in society is associated with the perceived offensiveness of insults targeting that group. Experimental methods in Study 2 showed that people perceive slurs against a low status group as especially offensive, a pattern that was mediated by the expectation that low-status targets would be emotionally reactive to the insult. The results suggest that cultural taboos emerge concerning insults against low-status groups that may be due in part to how those target groups are expected to respond emotionally to those insults.
Henry, P. J., Butler, S., & Brandt, M. J. (2014). The influence of target group status on the perception of the offensiveness of group-based slurs. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 53, 185-192. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jesp.2014.03.012