Prejudice is an affective feeling towards a person or group member
based solely on that person's group membership. The word is often used
to refer to preconceived, usually unfavorable, feelings towards people
or a person because of their sex, gender, beliefs, values, social
class, age, disability, religion, sexuality, race/ethnicity, language,
nationality, beauty, occupation, education, criminality, sport team
affiliation or other personal characteristics. In this case, it refers
to a positive or negative evaluation of another person based on that
person's perceived group membership.
Prejudice can also refer to unfounded beliefs and it may include
"any unreasonable attitude that is unusually resistant to rational
Gordon Allport defined prejudice as a "feeling,
favorable or unfavorable, toward a person or thing, prior to, or not
based on, actual experience". For the evolutionary psychology
Prejudice from an evolutionary perspective. Auestad
(2015) defines prejudice as characterized by 'symbolic transfer',
transfer of a value-laden meaning content onto a socially formed
category and then on to individuals who are taken to belong to that
category, resistance to change, and overgeneralization.
1 Historical approaches
2 Contemporary theories and empirical findings
3 Controversies and prominent topics
3.4 Sexual discrimination
3.6 Religious discrimination
3.7 Linguistic discrimination
3.8 Neurological discrimination
5 Reducing prejudice
5.1 The contact hypothesis
5.2 Empirical research
6 See also
8 Further reading
The first psychological research conducted on prejudice occurred in
the 1920s. This research attempted to prove white supremacy. One
article from 1925 which reviewed 73 studies on race concluded that the
studies seemed "to indicate the mental superiority of the white
race". These studies, along with other research, led many
psychologists to view prejudice as a natural response to inferior
In the 1930s and 1940s, this perspective began to change due to the
increasing concern about anti-Semitism. At the time, theorists viewed
prejudice as pathological and they thus looked for personality
syndromes linked with racism.
Theodor Adorno believed that prejudice
stemmed from an authoritarian personality; he believed that people
with authoritarian personalities were the most likely to be prejudiced
against groups of lower status. He described authoritarians as "rigid
thinkers who obeyed authority, saw the world as black and white, and
enforced strict adherence to social rules and hierarchies".
Gordon Allport linked prejudice to categorical thinking.
Allport claimed that prejudice is a natural and normal process for
humans. According to him, "The human mind must think with the aid of
categories… Once formed, categories are the basis for normal
prejudgment. We cannot possibly avoid this process. Orderly living
depends upon it."
In the 1970s, research began to show that prejudice tends to be based
on favoritism towards one's own groups, rather than negative feelings
towards another group. According to Marilyn Brewer, prejudice "may
develop not because outgroups are hated, but because positive emotions
such as admiration, sympathy, and trust are reserved for the
Thomas Pettigrew described the ultimate attribution error and
its role in prejudice. The ultimate attribution error occurs when
ingroup members "(1) attribute negative outgroup behavior to
dispositional causes (more than they would for identical ingroup
behavior), and (2) attribute positive outgroup behavior to one or more
of the following causes: (a) a fluke or exceptional case, (b) luck or
special advantage, (c) high motivation and effort, and (d) situational
Youeng-Bruehl (1996) argued that prejudice cannot be treated in the
singular; one should rather speak of different prejudices as
characteristic of different character types. Her theory defines
prejudices as being social defences, distinguishing between an
obsessional character structure, primarily linked with anti-semitism,
hysterical characters, primarily associated with racism, and
narcissistic characters, linked with sexism.
Contemporary theories and empirical findings
The out-group homogeneity effect is the perception that members of an
out-group are more similar (homogenous) than members of the in-group.
Social psychologists Quattrone and Jones conducted a study
demonstrating this with students from the rival schools Princeton
University and Rutgers University. Students at each school were
shown videos of other students from each school choosing a type of
music to listen to for an auditory perception study. Then the
participants were asked to guess what percentage of the videotaped
students' classmates would choose the same. Participants predicted a
much greater similarity between out-group members (the rival school)
than between members of their in-group.
The justification-suppression model of prejudice was created by
Christian Crandall and Amy Eshleman. This model explains that
people face a conflict between the desire to express prejudice and the
desire to maintain a positive self-concept. This conflict causes
people to search for justification for disliking an out-group, and to
use that justification to avoid negative feelings (cognitive
dissonance) about themselves when they act on their dislike of the
The realistic conflict theory states that competition between limited
resources leads to increased negative prejudices and discrimination.
This can be seen even when the resource is insignificant. In the
Robber's Cave experiment, negative prejudice and hostility was
created between two summer camps after sports competitions for small
prizes. The hostility was lessened after the two competing camps were
forced to cooperate on tasks to achieve a common goal.
Another contemporary theory is the integrated threat theory (ITT),
which was developed by Walter G Stephan. It draws from and builds
upon several other psychological explanations of prejudice and
ingroup/outgroup behaviour, such as the realistic conflict theory and
symbolic racism. It also uses the social identity theory
perspective as the basis for its validity; that is, it assumes that
individuals operate in a group-based context where group memberships
form a part of individual identity. ITT posits that outgroup prejudice
and discrimination is caused when individuals perceive an outgroup to
be threatening in some way. ITT defines four threats:
Realistic threats are tangible, such as competition for a natural
resource or a threat to income. Symbolic threats arise from a
perceived difference in cultural values between groups or a perceived
imbalance of power (for example, an ingroup perceiving an outgroup's
religion as incompatible with theirs). Intergroup anxiety is a feeling
of uneasiness experienced in the presence of an outgroup or outgroup
member, which constitutes a threat because interactions with other
groups cause negative feelings (e.g., a threat to comfortable
interactions). Negative stereotypes are similarly threats, in that
individuals anticipate negative behaviour from outgroup members in
line with the perceived stereotype (for example, that the outgroup is
violent). Often these stereotypes are associated with emotions such as
fear and anger. ITT differs from other threat theories by including
intergroup anxiety and negative stereotypes as threat types.
Additionally, social dominance theory states that society can be
viewed as group-based hierarchies. In competition for scarce resources
such as housing or employment, dominant groups create prejudiced
"legitimizing myths" to provide moral and intellectual justification
for their dominant position over other groups and validate their claim
over the limited resources. Legitimizing myths, such as
discriminatory hiring practices or biased merit norms, work to
maintain these prejudiced hierarchies.
Prejudice can be a central contributing factor to depression. This
can occur in someone who is a prejudice victim, being the target of
someone else's prejudice, or when people have prejudice against
themselves that causes their own depression.
Paul Bloom argues that while prejudice can be irrational and have
terrible consequences, it is natural and often quite rational. This is
because prejudices are based on the human tendency to categorise
objects and people based on prior experience. This means people make
predictions about things in a category based on prior experience with
that category, with the resulting predictions usually being accurate
(though not always). Bloom argues that this process of categorisation
and prediction is necessary for survival and normal interaction,
quoting William Hazlitt, who stated "Without the aid of prejudice and
custom, I should not be able to find my way my across the room; nor
know how to conduct myself in any circumstances, nor what to feel in
any relation of life".
Controversies and prominent topics
One can be prejudiced against or have a preconceived notion about
someone due to any characteristic they find to be unusual or
undesirable. A few commonplace examples of prejudice are those based
on someone's race, gender, nationality, social status, sexual
orientation, or religious affiliation, and controversies may arise
from any given topic.
Main article: Sexism
Sexism, also called gender discrimination, is prejudice or
discrimination based on a person's sex or gender.
Sexism can affect
either gender, but it is particularly documented as affecting women
and girls. The discussion of such sentiments, and actual gender
differences and stereotypes continue to be controversial topics.
Throughout history, women have been thought of as being subordinate to
men, often being ignored in areas like the academia or belittled
altogether. Traditionally, men were thought of as being more capable
than women, mentally and physically. In the field of social
psychology, prejudice studies like the "Who Likes Competent Women"
study led the way for gender-based research on prejudice. This
resulted in two broad themes or focuses in the field: the first being
a focus on attitudes toward gender equality, and the second focusing
on people's beliefs about men and women. Today, studies based on
sexism continue in the field of psychology as researchers try to
understand how people's thoughts, feelings, and behaviors influence
and are influenced by others.
Main article: Nationalism
Nationalism is a sentiment based on common cultural characteristics
that binds a population and often produces a policy of national
independence or separatism. It suggests a "shared identity"
amongst a nation's people that minimizes differences within the group
and emphasizes perceived boundaries between the group and
non-members. This leads to the assumption that members of the
nation have more in common than they actually do, that they are
"culturally unified", even if injustices within the nation based on
differences like status and race exist. During times of conflict
between one nation and another, nationalism is controversial since it
may function as a buffer for criticism when it comes to the nation's
own problems since it makes the nation's own hierarchies and internal
conflicts appear to be natural. It may also serve a way of
rallying the people of the nation in support of a particular political
Nationalism usually involves a push for conformity,
obedience, and solidarity amongst the nation's people and can result
not only in feelings of public responsibility but also in a narrow
sense of community due to the exclusion of those who are considered
outsiders. Since the identity of nationalists is linked to their
allegiance to the state, the presence of strangers who do not share
this allegiance may result in hostility.
Main article: Classism
Classism is defined by dictionary.com as "a biased or discriminatory
attitude on distinctions made between social or economic classes."
The idea of separating people based on class is controversial in
itself. Some argue that economic inequality is an unavoidable aspect
of society, so there will always be a ruling class. Some also
argue that, even within the most egalitarian societies in history,
some form of ranking based on social status takes place. Therefore,
one may believe the existence of social classes is a natural feature
Others argue the contrary. According to anthropological evidence, for
the majority of the time the human species has been in existence,
humans have lived in a manner in which the land and resources were not
privately owned. Also, when social ranking did occur, it was not
antagonistic or hostile like the current class system. This
evidence has been used to support the idea that the existence of a
social class system is unnecessary. Overall, society has neither come
to a consensus over the necessity of the class system, nor been able
to deal with the hostility and prejudice that occurs because of the
Sexual discrimination and Homophobia
One's sexual orientation is the "direction of one's sexual interest
toward members of the same, opposite, or both sexes". Like most
minority groups, homosexuals and bisexuals are not immune to prejudice
or stereotypes from the majority group. They may experience hatred
from others because of their sexual preferences; a term for such
intense hatred based upon one's sexual orientation is homophobia.
Due to what social psychologists call the vividness effect, a tendency
to notice only certain distinctive characteristics, the majority
population tends to draw conclusions like gays flaunt their
sexuality. Such images may be easily recalled to mind due to their
vividness, making it harder to appraise the entire situation. The
majority population may not only think that homosexuals flaunt their
sexuality or are "too gay", but may also erroneously believe that
homosexuals are easy to identify and label as being gay or lesbian
when compared to others who are not homosexual.
The idea of heterosexual privilege seems to flourish in society.
Research and questionnaires are formulated to fit the majority; i.e.,
heterosexuals. This discussion of whether heterosexuals are the
privileged group and whether homosexuals are a minimized group is
controversial. Research shows that discrimination on the basis of
sexual orientation is a powerful feature of many labor markets. For
example, controlling for human capital, studies show that gay men earn
10% - 32% less than heterosexual men in the United States, and that
there is significant discrimination in hiring on the basis of sexual
orientation in many labor markets.
Racism is defined as the belief that physical characteristics
determine cultural traits, and that racial characteristics make some
groups superior. By separating people into hierarchies based upon
their race, it has been argued that unequal treatment among the
different groups of people is just and fair due to their genetic
Racism can occur amongst any group that can be
identified based upon physical features or even characteristics of
their culture. Though people may be lumped together and called a
specific race, everyone does not fit neatly into such categories,
making it hard to define and describe a race accurately.
Scientific racism began to flourish in the eighteenth century and was
greatly influenced by Charles Darwin's evolutionary studies, as well
as ideas taken from the writings of philosophers like Aristotle; for
Aristotle believed in the concept of "natural slaves".
This concept focuses on the necessity of hierarchies and how some
people are bound to be on the bottom of the pyramid. Though racism has
been a prominent topic in history, there is still debate over whether
race actually exists, making the discussion of race a
controversial topic. Even though the concept of race is still being
debated, the effects of racism are apparent.
Racism and other forms of
prejudice can affect a person's behavior, thoughts, and feelings, and
social psychologists strive to study these effects.
Main article: Religious discrimination
While various religions teach their members to be tolerant of those
who are different and to have compassion, throughout history there
have been wars, pogroms and other forms of violence motivated by
hatred of religious groups.
In the modern world, researchers in western, educated, industrialized,
rich and democratic countries have done various studies exploring the
relationship between religion and prejudice; thus far, they have
received mixed results. A study done with US college students found
that those who reported religion to be very influential in their lives
seem to have a higher rate of prejudice than those who reported not
being religious. Other studies found that religion has a positive
effect on people as far as prejudice is concerned. This difference
in results may be attributed to the differences in religious practices
or religious interpretations amongst the individuals. Those who
practice "institutionalized religion", which focuses more on social
and political aspects of religious events, are more likely to have an
increase in prejudice. Those who practice "interiorized religion",
in which believers devote themselves to their beliefs, are most likely
to have a decrease in prejudice.
Main article: Linguistic discrimination
Individuals or groups may be treated unfairly based solely on their
use of language. This use of language may include the individual's
native language or other characteristics of the person's speech, such
as an accent, the size of vocabulary (whether the person uses complex
and varied words), and syntax. It may also involve a person's ability
or inability to use one language instead of another. In the mid-1980s,
linguist Tove Skutnabb-Kangas captured this idea of discrimination
based on language as the concept of linguicism. Kangas defined
linguicism as the ideologies and structures used to "legitimate,
effectuate, and reproduce unequal division of power and resources
(both material and non-material) between groups which are defined on
the basis of language."
Main article: Neurodiversity
Broadly speaking, attribution of low social status to those who do not
conform to neurotypical expectations of personality and behaviour.
This can manifest through assumption of 'disability' status to those
who are high functioning enough to exist outside of diagnostic
criteria, yet do not desire to (or are unable to) conform their
behaviour to conventional patterns. This is a controversial and
somewhat contemporary concept; with various disciplinary approaches
promoting conflicting messages what normality constitutes, the degree
of acceptable individual difference within that category, and the
precise criteria for what constitutes medical disorder. This has been
most prominent in the case of high-functioning Autism, where
direct cognitive benefits increasingly appear to come at the expense
of social intelligence.
Discrimination may also extend to other high functioning individuals
carrying pathological phenotypes, such as those with Attention deficit
hyperactivity disorder and Bipolar spectrum disorders. In these cases,
there are indications that perceived (or actual) socially
disadvantageous cognitive traits are directly correlated with
advantageous cognitive traits in other domains, notably creativity and
divergent thinking, and yet these strengths might become
systematically overlooked. The case for "neurological discrimination"
as such lies in the expectation that one's professional capacity may
be judged by the quality of ones social interaction, which can in such
cases be an inaccurate and discriminatory metric for employment
Since there are moves by some experts to have these higher-functioning
extremes reclassified as extensions of human personality, any
legitimisation of discrimination against these groups would fit the
very definition of prejudice, as medical validation for such
discrimination becomes redundant. Recent advancements in behavioural
genetics and neuroscience have made this a very relevant issue of
discussion, with existing frameworks requiring significant overhaul to
accommodate the strength of findings over the last decade.
Main article: Multiculturalism
Humans have an evolved propensity to think categorically about social
groups, manifested in cognitive processes with broad implications for
public and political endorsement of multicultural policy, according to
Richard J. Crisp and Rose Meleady. They postulated a
cognitive-evolutionary account of human adaptation to social diversity
that explains general resistance to multiculturalism, and offer a
reorienting call for scholars and policy-makers who seek
intervention-based solutions to the problem of prejudice.
The contact hypothesis
The contact hypothesis predicts that prejudice can only be reduced
when in-group and out-group members are brought together. In
particular, there are six conditions that must be met to reduce
prejudice, as were cultivated in Elliot Aronson's "jigsaw" teaching
technique. First, the in- and out-groups must have a degree of
mutual interdependence. Second, both groups need to share a common
goal. Third, the two groups must have equal status. Fourth, there must
be frequent opportunities for informal and interpersonal contact
between groups. Fifth, there should be multiple contacts between the
in- and the out-groups. Finally, social norms of equality must exist
and be present to foster prejudice reduction.
Thomas Pettigrew and Linda Tropp conducted a meta-analysis
of 515 studies involving a quarter of a million participants in 38
nations to examine how intergroup contact reduces prejudice. They
found that three mediators are of particular importance: Intergroup
contact reduces prejudice by (1) enhancing knowledge about the
outgroup, (2) reducing anxiety about intergroup contact, and (3)
increasing empathy and perspective-taking. While all three of these
mediators had mediational effects, the mediational value of increased
knowledge was less strong than anxiety reduction and empathy. In
addition, some individuals confront discrimination when they see it
happen, with research finding that individuals are more likely to
confront when they perceive benefits to themselves, and are less
likely to confront when concerned about others' reactions.
Common ingroup identity
Idée fixe (psychology)
Presumption of guilt
Suspension of judgment
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"Sexism". The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Love, Courtship, and Sexuality
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