Prejudice and Discrimination
Prejudice is an attitude (usually negative) toward the members of some group, based
solely on their membership in that group. A person who is prejudiced toward some
social group tends to evaluate its members in a specific manner (usually negatively)
merely because they belong to a positive group.
Discrimination refers to negative actions toward the groups that are the targets of
When prejudice is defined as a special type of attitude to important implications
follow. First attitudes often function as schema s-cognitive frameworks for
organizing interpreting and recalling information. Thus individuals who are
prejudiced toward particular groups tend to process information about these groups
differently from the way they process information about other groups e.g. information
relating to the prejudiced group is often given more attention and processed more
carefully than information not relating to it. As a result of such effects, prejudice
becomes a kind of closed cognitive loop that tends to increase in strength over time.
Second as an attitude, prejudice also involves negative feelings or emotions on the
part of prejudiced people when they are in the presence of or merely thinks about
members of the group they dislike Bodenhausen Kramer and Susser 1994.
Prejudice: Why it persists
Research findings point to conclusions as to why people form and hold
1. Individuals hold prejudiced news because doing so allows them to bolster their
own self-image Steele, Spencer and Lynch (1993). When prejudiced
individuals put down a group toward whom they hold negative views this
allows them to affirm their own self worth to feel superior in various ways.
For some people prejudice may play an important role in protecting or
enhancing their self-concept. Higgins (1996)
Threat to Derogation of
self-esteem group that is the
Self-esteem is restored
A second reason for holding prejudiced news is that doing so can save us
considerable cognitive effort. Stereotypes in particular seem to serve this
function. Once stereotypes are formed we don’t have to bother engaging in
careful systematic processing so our strong tendency to save mental effort
seem to be another reason why prejudices are formed and persist.
Discrimination: Prejudice in Action
Discrimination: negative behaviours directed toward members of social groups
who are the object of prejudice. Swim et al 1995 suggest that blatant forms of
discrimination have decreased in recent years in many countries. Extreme
expressions of prejudice such as hate crimes – crimes based on racial, ethnic
and other types of prejudice – continue to occur disturbing frequency. A recent
e.g. is the tragic attack by terrorists on the World Trade Center & Pentagon on
Sep 11 in 2001 in USA. These events are still relatively rare, & in general
prejudice finds expressing in much more subtle & disguised forms of
1. Modern Racism
More subtle forms which social psychologists call modern racism have
replaced the old fashioned blatant racism. It involves concealing prejudice
from others in public settings, but expressing bigoted attitudes when it is safe
to do so e.g. in the company of close friends and family members known to
share these views. It also involves attributing various bigoted views to sources
other than prejudice, even though they actually do stem from this source.
Read on: Measuring implicit racial attitudes: From the ‘Bogus Pipeline’ to the
‘Bona fide pipeline’.
Tokenism involves performing trivial positive actions for the targets of
prejudice & then using these actions as an excuse or justification for later
forms of discrimination. Whenever it has occurred it has shown to have at
least two negative effects,
i) It lets prejudiced people off the hook; they can point to tokenistic
actions as public proof that they aren’t really bigoted.
ii) It can be damaging to the self-esteem and confidence of the targets of
The Origins of Prejudice
The realistic conflict theory by Bobo (1983) states that prejudice stems from
competition among social groups over valued commodities or opportunities. In
short prejudice develops out of the struggle over jobs, adequate housing, good
schools, and other desirable outcomes. The theory further suggest that as such
competition continues, the members of the groups involved come to view each
other in increasingly negative terms White (1977). They label each other as
‘enemies’ view their own group as morally superior, & draw the boundaries
between themselves & their opponents more and more firmly. Even worse
such competition often leads to direct and sometimes violent conflict.
Early Experience: The Role of Social Learning
This explanation suggests that prejudice is learned & that it develops in much
the same manner as other attitudes. According to this social learning view,
children acquire negative attitudes towards various social groups because they
hear such views expressed by parents, friends, teachers & others and because
they are directly rewarded for adopting these views.
Social norms – rules within a given group suggesting what actions or attitudes
are appropriate – are also important (Pettigrew 1969)
Mass media also play a role in the development of prejudice. Until recently
members of various racial and ethnic minorities were shown infrequently in
movies or on T.V. & when they appear, they were often cast in low status or
comic roles. But this has changed greatly in recent years.
Social Categorization: The Us-Versus-Them- Effect & the ‘Ultimate’
Social categorization is the tendency to divide the world into 2 separate
categories our in-group (us) & various out groups (them). Such distinctions are
based on many dimensions including race, religion, sex, age, ethnic
background, occupation and income.
Sharply contrasting feelings and beliefs are usually attached to members of
one’s in-group & members of various out-groups. People in the us category
are viewed in favorable terms, while those in the them category are perceived
more negatively. Out-group members are assumed to possess more
undesirable traits, are perceived as being more alike than members of the in-
group and are often disliked. Judd, Ryan & Parke 1991, Lambert 1995. The in-
group /out-group distinction also affects attribution- the ultimate attribution
error is the tendency to make more favourable and flattering attributes about
members of one’s own group than about members of other groups.
How does Social Categorization Lead To Prejudice?
The answer lies in the social identity theory, which suggest that individuals
seek to enhance their self-esteem by identifying with specific social groups.
This tactic succeeds however only to the extent that the persons involved
perceive these groups as somehow superior to other competing groups. Each
group seeks to view itself as different from and also better than its rivals &
prejudice arises out of this clash of social perceptions.
Cognitive Sources of Prejudice.
Stereotypes Explicit & Implicit
Stereotypes are cognitive frameworks consisting of knowledge & beliefs about
specific social groups & the typical ‘modal’ trait supposedly possessed by
persons belonging to these groups. Stereotypes exert strong effects on how we
process social information. Information relevant to an activated stereotype is
often processed more quickly & remembered better than information unrelated
to it. Dovidio et al (1986). Similarly stereotypes lead people holding them to
pay more attention to specific types of information – usually information
consistent with the stereotypes. And when information inconsistent with the
stereotype does manage to enter consciousness it may be actively refuted or
changed in subtle ways that make it seem consistent with stereotype Kunda &
Implicit Stereotypes: When Beliefs we don’t recognize influence our
behaviour our behaviour.
Racial attitudes are often implicit: they exist & can influence many forms of
behaviour, even when the people holding them are unaware of their existence
or their impact on behaviour. The same seems to be true for stereotypes.
Greenwald & Benaji (1995) noted that we often hold implicit stereotypes that
we can’t identify easily through introspection, but that still influence our belief
about the characteristics possessed by members of a particular social group
racial, ethnic or gender stereotypes of which we are largely unaware can be
activated by various stimuli (e.g. members of the groups to which these
stereotypes apply) and once they are activated these are activated these
stereotype influence our thinking, decisions & even overt behaviour
concerning people to whom these stereotypes apply. Implicit stereotypes are
something we should definitely not overlook in our efforts to understand the
basic mature of prejudice and discrimination.
Other Cognitive Mechanism in Prejudice: illusory Correlations & out-
Illusory correlations – the tendency to overestimate the rate of negative
behaviours in relatively small groups. The term makes a great deal of sense
because such effects involve perceiving links between variables that aren’t
Illusory correlations have important implications for prejudice. They help
explain why negative behaviours and tendencies are often attributed by
majority group members to the members of various minority groups For
example social psychologists have suggested that illusory correlation effects
help explain why many white persons in the US overestimate crime rates
among African American males (Hamilton & Sherman 1989).
Why do such effects occur? One explanation is based on the distinctiveness of
infrequent event or stimuli. According to this view infrequent events are
distinctive readily noticed. As such they are encoded more extensively in
memory. When judgments about the groups involved are made at later times
the distinctive events come readily to mind & this leads to over-interpretation
of their importance.
In-group Differentiation Out-group Homogeneity
Illusion of out-group homogeneity- the tendency to perceive members of out-
groups as were similar to one another than the members of one’s own in-group
shown by remarks such as “you know what they’re like they are all the same.”
In-group differentiation: the tendency to perceive members of our own group
as showing much larger differences from one another than do those of other
What accounts for the tendency to perceive members of other groups as more
homogeneous than members of our own group?
One explanation is that we have great deal of experience with members of
our own group and so are exposed to a wider range of individual variation
within that group
In contrast we have less experience with members of other groups and
hence less exposure to their individual variations Linville et al (1989).
The tendency to perceive other groups as more homogenous than our own
can play an important role in prejudice and in the persistence of negative
Techniques for countering effects of prejudice
1. Breaking the cycle of prejudice: On Learning Not to Hate
We must discourage parents and other adults from training children in bigotry.
How can we induce parents who are themselves highly prejudiced to
encourage unbiased views among their children?
A key initial step therefore is somehow convincing parents that the
problem exists. Once they come face to face with their own prejudices,
many do seem willing to modify their words & behaviour so as to
encourage lower levels of prejudice among their children.
Another argument used to shift parents in the direction of teaching
their children tolerance rather than prejudice lies in the fact that
prejudice harms those who hold such views Davidio & Gaertner
(9193). People who are prejudiced live in a world filled with needless
fear, anxieties, & anger. They fear attack from presumably dangerous
social groups, they worry about the health risks stemming from contact
with such groups and they experience anger and emotional turmoil
over what they view as unjustified incursions (sudden attach on a place
by foreign armies) by these groups into their neighborhood, schools or
offices. Their enjoyment of everyday life activities itself is reduced by
their prejudice Harris et al (1992)
Because parents want to do everything they can to further their
children’s well-being, calling these costs to their attention may be
effective in discouraging them from transmitting prejudice views to
Direct inter-group contact
Contact hypothesis: the view that increased contact between members of
various social groups can be effective in reducing prejudice between them.
Such efforts seem to succeed only when contact takes place under specific
Extended-contact hypothesis: a view suggesting that simply knowing
that members of one’s own group have formed close friendships with
members of an out-group can reduce prejudice against that group.
Recategorization: Redrawing the boundary between ‘us’ and ‘them’
Recategorization: shifts in the boundary between an individual’s in-group
‘us’ and some out-group ‘them’. As a result of such recategorization,
persons formerly viewed as out-group members may now be viewed as
belonging to the in-group.
A theory proposed by Gaetner & colleagues 1989 1993a suggest that
recategorization can be used to reduce prejudice. This theory is known as
the common in-group identity model suggest that to the extent that
individuals in different groups view themselves as members of a single
social entity, positive contacts between them will increase and their inter-
group bias will be reduced.