Prejudice and Discrimination
If we were to wake up some morning and find that everyone was the same race, creed and color, we would find some other cause for prejudice by noon.
The seeds for confl ict and prejudice were planted somewhere in the hills of Palmyra, New York, in 1830. There a young man named Joseph Smith, Jr., received a vision from the angel Moroni. Centuries before, Moroni, as a priest of the Nephites, wrote the history of his religion on a set of golden plates and buried them in the hills of Palmyra. When Moroni appeared to Smith, he revealed the location of the plates and gave him the ability to transcribe the ancient writings into English. This translated text became the Book of Mormon, the cornerstone of the Mormon religion. The Book of Mormoncontained many discrepancies from the Bible. For example, it suggested that God and Jesus Christ were made of fl esh and bone.
The confl icts between this newly emerging religion and established Christianity inevitably led to hostile feelings and attitudes between the two groups. Almost from the moment of Joseph Smith’s revelations, the persecution of the Mormons began. Leaving Palmyra, the Mormons established a settlement in Kirtland, Ohio, in 1831, but it was a disaster. The Mormons didn’t fit in well with the existing community. For example, the Mormons supported the Democratic Party, whereas most of the Christian population in Kirtland supported the Whigs. Mormonism also was a threat to the colonial idea of a single religion in a community. At a time when heresy was a serious crime, the Mormons were seen as outcast heretics. As a result, the Mormons were the targets of scathing newspaper articles that grossly distorted their religion. Mormons were socially ostracized, were denied jobs, became the targets of economic boycotts, and lived under constant threat of attack.
Because of the hostile environment in Kirtland, the Mormons moved on, splitting into two groups. One group began a settlement in Nauvoo, Illinois, and the other in Independence, Missouri. In neither place did the Mormons find peace. Near Nauvoo, for example, a Mormon settlement was burned to the ground, and its inhabitants were forced to take cover in a rain-soaked woods until they could make it to Nauvoo. At the Independence settlement in 1833, Mormon Bishop Edward Partridge was tarred and feathered after refusing to close a store and print shop he supervised. The tensions in Missouri grew so bad that then Governor Lilburn W. Boggs issued the following order: “The Mormons must be treated as enemies and must be exterminated or driven from the State if necessary, for the public peace” (Arrington & Bitton, 1979).
As a result of the prejudice experienced by the Mormons, they became more clannish, trading among themselves and generally keeping to themselves. As you might imagine, this further enraged the Christian community that hoped to benefit economically from the Mormon presence. It was not uncommon for Mormons to become the targets of vicious physical attacks or even to be driven out of a territory. There was even talk of establishing an independent Mormon state, but eventually, the Mormons settled in Utah.
The fate of the Mormons during the 1800s eerily foreshadowed the treatment of other groups later in history (e.g., Armenians in Turkey, Jews in Europe, ethnic Albanians in Yugoslavia). How could the Mormons have been treated so badly in a country with a Constitution guaranteeing freedom of religion and founded on the premise of religious tolerance?
Attitudes provide us with a way of organizing information about objects and a way to attach an affective response to that object (e.g., like or dislike). Under the right circumstances, attitudes predict one’s behavior. In this chapter, we explore a special type of attitude directed at groups of people: prejudice. We look for the underlying causes of incidents such as the Mormon experience and the other acts of prejudice outlined. We ask, How do prejudiced individuals arrive at their views? Is it something about their personalities that leads them to prejudice-based acts? Or do the causes lie more in the social situations? What cognitive processes cause them to have negative attitudes toward those they perceive to be different from themselves? How pervasive and unalterable are those processes in human beings? What are the effects of being a target of prejudice and discrimination? What can we do to reduce prejudice and bring our society closer to its ideals?
The Dynamics of Prejudice, Stereotypes,
When we consider prejudice we really must consider two other interrelated concepts: stereotyping and discrimination. Taken together, these three make up a triad of processes that contribute to negative attitudes, emotions, and behaviors directed at members of certain social groups. First, we define just what social psychologists mean by the term prejudiceand the related concepts of stereotype and discrimination.
The term prejudicerefers to a biased, often negative, attitude toward a group of people. Prejudicial attitudes include belief structures, which contain information about a group of people, expectations concerning their behavior, and emotions directed at them. When negative prejudice is directed toward a group, it leads to prejudgment of the individual members of that group and negative emotions directed at them as well. It is important to note that the nature of the emotion directed at a group of people depends on the group to which they belong (Cottrell & Neuberg, 2005). In fact, Cottrell and Neuberg have constructed “profiles” characterizing the emotions directed at members of various groups. For example, African Americans (relative to European Americans) yield a profile showing anger/resentment, fear, disgust, and pity. In contrast, Native Americans mostly elicited pity with low levels of anger/resentment, disgust, and fear.
Prejudice also involves cognitive appraisals that are tied to different emotions directed at members of stigmatized groups (Nelson, 2002). For example, fear might be elicited if you find yourself stranded late at night in a neighborhood with a sizeable minority population. On the other hand, you might feel respect when at a professional meeting that includes members from that very same minority group. In short, we appraise (evaluate) a situation and experience an emotion consistent with that appraisal. This can account for the fact that we rarely exhibit prejudice toward all members of a stigmatized group (Nelson, 2002). We may display prejudice toward some members of a group, but not toward others in that group.
Of course, prejudice can be either positive or negative. Fans of a particular sports team, for example, are typically prejudiced in favor of their team. They often believe calls made against their team are unfair, even when the referees are being impartial. Social psychologists, however, have been more interested in prejudice that involves a negative bias—that is, when one group assumes the worst about another group and may base negative behaviors on these assumptions. It is this latter form of prejudice that is the subject of this chapter.
Different Forms of Prejudice
Prejudice comes in a variety of forms, the most visible of which are racism and sexism. Racismis the negative evaluation of others primarily because of their skin color. It includes the belief that one racial group is inherently superior to another. Sexismis the negative evaluation of others because of their gender (Lips, 1993). Of course, other forms of prejudice exist, such as religious and ethnic prejudice and heterosexism (negative attitudes toward gay men and lesbians), but racism and sexism are the two most widespread prejudices within U.S. society.
We must be very careful when we want to approach the issue of prejudice from a scientificperspective not to get caught up in the web of definitions of prejudice floating around in our culture. Partisan political groups and some media have propagated definitions for prejudice that encompass behaviors that a more scientific definition would not. For example, on the Web site of the Center for the Study of White American Culture (http://www.euroamerican.org/library/Racismdf.asp), we are offered the following definition of racism (actually, this is just the first among many principles defining racism):
Racism is an ideological, str uctural, and histor ic stratification process by which the population of European descent, through its individual and institutional distress patterns, intentionally has been able to sustain, to its own best advantage, the dynamic mechanics of upward or downward mobility (of fluid status assignment) to the general disadvantage of the population designated as nonwhite (on a global scale), using skin color, gender, class, ethnicity or nonwestern nationality as the main indexical criteria used for enforcing differential resource allocation decisions that contr ibute to decisive changes in relative racial standing in ways most favoring the populations designated as “white.”
Notice that this definition ties the notion of racism to the idea of keeping certain groups economically disadvantaged. What is interesting about the definition of racism offered on this site is how close it sounds to a socialist/Marxist manifesto. With only slight modifications, the definition sounds much like such a manifesto. For example, what follows is the same definition offered previously with a few strategic wording changes (shown in italics):
Capitalismis an ideological, structural and historic stratification process by which the ruling elite, through its individual and institutional distress patterns, intentionally has been able to sustain, to its own best advantage, the dynamic mechanics of upward or downward mobility (of fluid status assignment) to the general disadvantage of the proletariat(on a global scale), using social classas the main criterion used for enforcing differential resource allocation decisions that contribute to decisive changes in relative racial standing in ways most favoring the ruling elite.
Another thing we need to be careful about is the overapplication of the term racism
(or any other –ism) to behaviors not usually associated with prejudicial attitudes. Another trend in our culture by partisan political parties and the media is to apply the term racism to just about anything they see as opposing certain political ideas. Table 4.1 shows a list of such applications collected from the Internet. You could be branded as some kind of “-ist” if you adhere to one of the views listed. The point we wish to make is whether or not opposing some political idea or goals of a group makes you a racist.
What Exactly Does Race Mean?
An important note should be added here about the concept of race. Throughout U.S. history, racial categories have been used to distinguish groups of human beings from one another. However, biologically speaking, race is an elusive and problematic concept. A person’s race is not something inherited as a package from his or her parents; nor are biological characteristics such as skin color, hair texture, eye shape, facial features, and so on valid indicators of one’s ethnic or cultural background. Consider, for example, an individual whose mother is Japanese and father is African American, or a blond, blueeyed person who is listed by the U.S. Census Bureau as Native American because her maternal grandmother was Cherokee. To attempt to define these individuals by race is inaccurate and inappropriate. Although many scientists maintain that race does not exist as a biological concept, it does exist as a social construct.
People perceive and categorize others as members of racial groups and often act toward them according to cultural prejudices. In this social sense, race and racism are very real and important factors in human relations. When we refer to race in this book, such as when we discuss race-related violence, it is this socially constructed concept, with its historical, societal, and cultural significance, that we mean.
Prejudicial attitudes do not stem from perceived physical differences among people, such as skin color or gender. Rather, prejudice relates more directly to the characteristics we assume members of a different racial, ethnic, or other group have. In other words, it relates to the way we think about others.
People have a strong tendency to categorize objects based on perceptual features or uses. We categorize chairs, tables, desks, and lamps as furniture.We categorize love, hate, fear, and jealousy as emotions. And we categorize people on the basis of their race, gender, nationality, and other obvious features. Of course, categorization is adaptive in the sense that it allows us to direct similar behaviors toward an entire class of objects or people. We do not have to choose a new response each time we encounter a categorized object.
Categorization is not necessarily the same as prejudice, although the first process powerfully influences the second. We sometimes take our predisposition to categorize too far, developing rigid and overgeneralized images of groups. This rigid categorization—this rigid set of positive or negative beliefs about the characteristics or attributes of a group—is a stereotype(Judd & Park, 1993; Stangor & Lange, 1994). For example, we may believe that all lawyers are smart, a positive stereotype; or we may believe that all lawyers are devious, a negative stereotype. Many years ago, the political journalist Walter Lippmann (1922) aptly called stereotypes “pictures in our heads.” When we encounter someone new who has a clear membership in one or another group, we reach back into our memory banks of stereotypes, find the appropriate picture, and fit the person to it.
In general, stereotyping is simply part of the way we do business cognitively every day. It is part of our cognitive “toolbox” (Gilbert & Hixon, 1991). We all have made judgments about individuals (Boy Scout leader, police officer, college student, feminist) based solely on their group membership. Stereotyping is a time saver; we look in our toolbox, find the appropriate utensil, and characterize the college student. It certainly takes less time and energy than trying to get to know that person (individuation; Macrae, Milne, & Bodenhausen, 1994). Again, this is an example of the cognitive miser at work. Of course, this means we will make some very unfair, even destructive judgments of individuals. All of us recoil at the idea that we are being judged solely on the basis of some notion that the evaluator has of group membership.
The Content of Stereotypes
What exactly constitutes a stereotype? Are all stereotypes essentially the same? What kinds of emotions do different stereotypes elicit? The answers to these questions can inform us on the very nature of stereotypes. Regardless of the actual beliefs and information that underlie a stereotype, there appear to be two dimensions underlying stereotypes: warmth (liking or disliking) and competence (respect or disrespect) (Fiske, Cuddy, Glick, & Xu, 2002). According to Fiske et al., these two dimensions combine to define different types of stereotypes. For example, high warmth and high competence yield a positive stereotype involving admiration and pride. Low warmth and low competence results in a negative stereotype involving resentment and anger. Finally, there can be mixed stereotypes involving high competence and low warmth or low competence and high warmth.
Explicit and Implicit Stereotypes
Stereotypes, like prejudicial attitudes, exist on the explicit and implicit level. Explicit stereotypes are those of which we are consciously aware, and they are under the influence of controlled processing. Implicit stereotypes operate on an unconscious level and are activated automatically when a member of a minority group is encountered in the right situation. The operation of implicit stereotypes was demonstrated in an interesting experiment conducted by Banaji, Harden, and Rothman (1993). Participants first performed a “priming task,” which involved unscrambling sentences indicating either a male stereotype (aggressiveness), a female stereotype (dependence), or neutral sentences (neutral prime). Later, in a supposedly unrelated experiment, participants read a story depicting either a dependent (male or female) or an aggressive (male or female) target person. Participants then rated the target person in the story for the stereotypic or nonstereotypic trait.
The results of this experiment are shown in Figure 4.1. Notice that for both the male and female stereotypic traits, the trait was rated the same when the prime was neutral, regardless of the gender of the target. However, when the prime activated an implicit gender stereotype, the female stereotypic trait (dependence) was rated higher for female targets than for male targets. The opposite was true for the male stereotypic trait (aggressiveness). Here, aggressiveness was rated higher for male targets than for female targets. An incidental encounter with a stereotype (in this experiment, the prime) can affect evaluations of an individual who is a member of a given social category (e.g., male or female). Participants judged a stereotypic trait more extremely when the stereotype had been activated with a prime than when it had not. Thus, stereotyped information can influence how we judge members of a social group even if we are not consciously aware that it is happening (Banaji et al., 1993).
Explicit and implicit stereotypes operate on two separate levels (controlled processing or automatic processing) and affect judgments differently, depending on the type of judgment a person is required to make (Dovidio, Kawakami, Johnson, Johnson, & Howard, 1997). Dovidio and colleagues found that when a judgmental task required some cognitive effort (in this experiment, to determine whether a black defendant was guilty or not guilty of a crime), explicit racial attitudes correlated with judgments. However, implicit racial attitudes were not correlated with the outcome on the guilt-judgment task. Conversely, on a task requiring a more spontaneous, automatic response (in this experiment, a word-completion task on which an ambiguous incomplete word could be completed in a couple of ways—e.g., b_d could be completed as badorbed), implicit attitudes correlated highly with outcome judgments. Thus, explicit and implicit racial attitudes relate to different tasks. Explicit attitudes related more closely to the guiltinnocence task, which required controlled processing. Implicit attitudes related more closely to the word-completion task, which was mediated by automatic processing.
Can implicit stereotypes translate into overt differences in behavior directed at blacks and whites? In one experiment, Correll, Park, Judd, and Wittenbrink (2002) had college students play a simple video game. The task was for participants to shoot only armed suspects in the game. The race of the target varied between black and white, some of whom were armed and some unarmed. The results of their first experiment, shown in Figure 4.2, showed that white participants shot at a black armed target more quickly than a white armed target. They also decided NOT to shoot at an unarmed target more quickly if the target was white as compared to black. Correll et al. also provided evidence that the observed “shooter bias” was more related to an individual adhering to cultural biases about blacks as violent and dangerous rather than personally held prejudice or stereotypes.
The automatic activation of stereotypes has been characterized as being a normal part of our cognitive toolboxes that improves the efficiency of our cognitive lives (Sherman, 2001). However, as we have seen, this increased efficiency isn’t always a good thing. Can this predisposition toward automatic activation of stereotypes be countered? Fortunately, the answer is yes. Automatic stereotypes can be inhibited under a variety of conditions (Sassenberg & Moskowitz, 2005), including thinking of a counter-stereotypic image or if stereotype activation is perceived to threaten one’s self-esteem. Sassenberg and Moskowitz suggest that it is possible to train a person to inhibit automatic activation of stereotypes on a general level so that a wide variety of automatic stereotypes can be inhibited, not just specific ones.
Sassenberg and Moskowitz (2005) investigated the impact of inducing participants to “think different” when it comes to members of minority groups. Thinking different means “one has a mindset in which one is avoiding the typical associations with those groups—one’s stereotypes” (p. 507). In their first experiment, Sassenberg and Moskowitz had participants adopt one of two mindsets. The first mindset was a “creative mindset” in which participants were told to think of two or three times that they were creative. The second mindset was a “thoughtful mindset” in which participants were told to think of two or three times they behaved in a thoughtful way.
After doing this, all participants completed a stereotype activation task. Sassenberg and Moskowitz found that stereotypes were inhibited when the “creative mindset” was activated, but not when the “thoughtful mindset” was activated. By encouraging participants to think creatively, the researchers were able to inhibit the activation of automatic stereotypes about African Americans. Sassenberg and Moskowitz suggest that encouraging people to “think differently” can help them inhibit a wide range of automatically activated stereotypes.
The “shooter bias” just discussed also can be modified with some work (Plant & Peruche, 2005). Plant and Peruche found that police officers showed the shooter bias during early trials with a computer game that presented armed or unarmed black or white suspects. However, after a number of trials, the bias was reduced. The average number of errors of shooting at an unarmed suspect was different for blacks and whites during early trials, but not during late trials. During the early trials the officers were more likely to shoot at an unarmed black suspect than an unarmed white suspect. During the later trials the rate of error was equivalent for the unarmed black and white suspects. Thus, police officers were able to modify their behavior in a way that significantly reduced the shooter bias.
Finally, two interesting questions center on when implicit stereotypes develop and when they become distinct from explicit stereotypes. One study sheds light on these two questions. Baron and Banaji (2005) conducted an experiment with 6-year-olds, 10-year-olds, and adults. Using a modified version of the Implict Attitudes Test (IAT) for children, Baron and Banaji found evidence for anti-black implicit attitudes even among the 6-year-olds. Interestingly, the 6-year-olds also showed correspondingly high levels of explicit prejudice. However, whereas the 10-year-olds and adults showed evidence of implicit prejudice, they showed less explicit prejudice. Evidently, by the time a child is 10 years old, he or she has learned that it is not socially acceptable to express stereotypes and prejudice overtly. But, the implicit stereotypes and prejudice are there and are expressed in subtle ways.
Stereotypes as Judgmental Heuristics
Another way that implicit stereotypes manifest themselves is by acting as judgmental heuristics (Bodenhauser & Wyer, 1985). For example, if a person commits a crime that is stereotype consistent (compared to one that is not stereotype consistent), observers assign a higher penalty, recall fewer facts about the case, and use stereotype-based information to make a judgment (Bodenhauser & Wyer, 1985). Generally, when a negative behavior is stereotype consistent, observers attribute the negative behavior to internal, stable characteristics. Consequently, the crime or behavior is seen as an enduring character flaw likely to lead to the behavior again.
This effect of using stereotype-consistent information to make judgments is especially likely to occur when we are faced with a difficult cognitive task. Recall from Chapter 3 that many of us are cognitive misers, and we look for the path of least resistance when using information to make a decision. When faced with a situation in which we have both stereotype-consistent and stereotype-inconsistent information about a person, more stereotype-consistent information than inconsistent information is likely to be recalled (Macrae, Hewstone, & Griffiths, 1993). As Macrae and colleagues suggested, “when the information-processing gets tough, stereotypes (as heuristic structures) get going” (p. 79).
There are also individual differences in the extent to which stereotypes are formed and used. Levy, Stroessner, and Dweck (1998) suggested that individuals use implicit theories to make judgments about others. That is, individuals use their past experience to form a theory about what members of other groups are like. According to Levy and colleagues, there are two types of implicit theories: entity theories and incremental theories. Entity theorists adhere to the idea that another person’s traits are fixed and will not vary according to the situation. Incremental theorists do not see traits as fixed. Rather, they see them as having the ability to change over time and situations (Levy et al., 1998). A central question addressed by Levy and colleagues was whether entity and incremental theorists would differ in their predisposition to form and use stereotypes. Based on the results of five experiments, Levy and colleagues concluded that compared to incremental theorists, entity theorists:
• Were more likely to use stereotypes.
• Were more likely to agree strongly with stereotypes.
• Were more likely to see stereotypes as representing inborn, inherent group differences.
• Tended to make more extreme judgments based on little information about the characteristics of members of a stereotyped group.
• Perceived a stereotyped group as having less intramember diversity.
• Were more likely to form stereotypes.
In addition to the cognitive functions of stereotypes, there is also an emotional component (Jussim, Nelson, Manis, & Soffin, 1995). According to Jussim and colleagues, once you stereotype a person, you attach a label to that person that is used to evaluate and judge members of that person’s group. Typically, a label attached to a stereotyped group is negative. This negative label generates negative affect and mediates judgments of members of the stereotyped group. Jussim and colleagues pointed out that this emotional component of a stereotype is more important in judging others than is the cognitive function (information storage and categorization) of the stereotype.
Discrimination is the behavioral component accompanying prejudice. Discrimination occurs when members of a particular group are subjected to behaviors that are different from the behaviors directed at other groups. For example, if members of a certain racial group are denied housing in a neighborhood open to other groups, that group is being discriminated against. Discrimination takes many forms. For example, it was not uncommon in the 19th through mid-20th centuries to see job advertisements that said “Irish need not apply” or “Jews need not apply.” It was also fairly common practice to restrict access to public places, such as beaches, for Jews and blacks. And in the U.S. South, there were separate bathroom facilities, drinking fountains, and schools, and minorities were denied service at certain businesses. This separation of people based on racial, ethnic, religious, or gender groups is discrimination.
It is important to point out that discrimination often is a product of prejudice. Negative attitudes and assumptions about people based on their group affiliation have historically been at the root of prejudice. So, it is clear that many instances of discrimination can be traced directly to underlying prejudicial attitudes. However, discrimination can occur even in the absence of underlying prejudice. For example, imagine an owner of a small company who lives in a town where there are no minorities. This person hires all white employees. Now, the owner might be the most liberal-minded person in the world who would never discriminate based on race. However, his actions would technically be classified as discrimination. In this case the discrimination is not based on any underlying prejudice. Rather, it is based on the demographics of the area in which the company exists.
The Persistence and Recurrence of Prejudice
Throughout history, members of majoritygroups (those in power) have held stereotypical images of members of minority groups (those not in power). These images supported prejudicial feelings, discriminatory behavior, and even wide-scale violence directed against minority-group members.
History teaches us that stereotypes and prejudicial attitudes are quite enduring. For example, some stereotypes of Jews and Africans are hundreds of years old. Prejudice appears to be an integral part of human existence. However, stereotypes and feelings may change, albeit slowly, as the context of our feelings toward other groups changes. For example, during and just after World War II, Americans had negative feelings toward the Japanese. For roughly the next 40 years, the two countries were at peace and had a harmonious relationship. This was rooted in the fact that the postwar American occupation of Japan (1945–1951) was benign. The Americans helped the Japanese rebuild their war-shattered factories, and the Japanese began to compete in world markets. But in the difficult economic times of the 1980s and early 1990s, many of the beliefs that characterized Japanese-American relations during World War II reemerged, although in somewhat modified form. Compared to how Japanese view Americans, Americans tend to see Japanese as more competitive, hard working, prejudiced, and crafty (see Figure 4.3). Japanese have a slight tendency to see Americans as undereducated, lazy, and not terribly hard working. Americans see Japanese as unfair, arrogant, and overdisciplined, as grinds who do nothing but work hard because of their conformity to group values (Weisman, 1991). Japanese, for their part, see Americans as arrogant and lacking in racial purity, morality, and dedication (Weisman, 1991). The stereotypes on both sides have been altered and transformed by the passage of time, but like short skirts and wide ties, they tend to recycle. The periodicity of stereotypes suggests that they are based more on external factors such as economics and competition than on any stable characteristics of the group being categorized.
It is interesting to note that stereotypes and the cues used to categorize individuals change over time. Some historians of the ancient Mediterranean suggest that there was a time before color prejudice. The initial encounter of black Africans and white Mediterraneans is the oldest chapter in the chronicle of black-white relations. Snowden (1983) traced the images of Africans as seen by Mediterraneans from the Egyptians to Roman mercenaries. Mediterraneans knew that these black soldiers came from a powerful independent African state, Nubia, located in what today would be southern Egypt and northern Sudan. Nubians appear to have played an important role in the formation of Egyptian civilization (Wilford, 1992). Positive images of Africans appear in the artwork and writings of ancient Mediterranean peoples (Snowden, 1983)
The first encounters between blacks and whites were encounters between equals. The Africans were respected for their military skill and their political and cultural sophistication. Slavery existed in the ancient world but was not tied to skin color; anyone captured in war might be enslaved, whether white or black (Snowden, 1983). Prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination existed too. Athenians may not have cared about skin color, but they cared deeply about national origin. Foreigners were excluded from citizenship. Women were also restricted and excluded. Only males above a certain age could be citizens and participate fully in society.
It is not clear when color prejudice came into existence. It may have been with the advent of the African–New World slave trade in the 16th century. Whenever it began, it is likely that race and prejudice were not linked until some real power or status differences arose between groups. Although slavery in the ancient world was not based exclusively on skin color, slaves were almost always of a different ethnic group, national origin, religion, or political unit than their owners. In the next sections, we explore the causes of prejudice, focusing first on its roots in personality and social life and then on its roots in human cognitive functioning.\
Individual Differences and Prejudice:
Personality and Gender
What are the causes of prejudice? In addressing this question, social psychologists have looked not only at our mental apparatus, our inclination to categorize, but also at characteristics of the individual. Is there such a thing as prejudiced personality? Are men or women more prone to prejudice? We explore the answers to these questions in this section.
Social psychologists and sociologists have long suspected a relationship between personality characteristics and prejudice. One important personality dimension relating to prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination isauthoritarianism. Authoritarianism is a personality characteristic that relates to unquestioned acceptance of and respect for authority. Authoritarian individuals tend to identify closely with those in authority and also tend to be prejudiced.
The Authoritarian Personality
In the late 1940s, Adorno and other psychologists at the University of California at Berkeley studied people who might have been the prototypes of Archie Bunker (a character on the popular 1970s TV show All in the Family)—individuals who wanted different ethnic groups to be suppressed and degraded, preferably by an allpowerful government or state. Archie Bunker embodied many of the characteristics of the authoritarian personality, which is characterized by submissive feelings toward authority; rigid, unchangeable beliefs; and racism and sexism (Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswik, Levinson, & Sanford, 1950).
Motivated by the tragedy of the murder of millions of Jews and other Eastern Europeans by the Nazis, Adorno and his colleagues conducted a massive study of the relationship between the authoritarian personality and the Nazi policy of genocide, the killing of an entire race or group of people. They speculated that the individuals who carried out the policy of mass murder were of a personality type that predisposed them to do whatever an authority figure ordered, no matter how vicious or monstrous.
The massive study produced by the Berkeley researchers, known as The Authoritarian Personality, was driven by the notion that there was a relationship, and interconnectedness, between the way a person was reared and various prejudices he or she later came to hold. The study surmised that prejudiced people were highly ethnocentric; that is, they believed in the superiority of their own group or race (Dunbar, 1987). The Berkeley researchers argued that individuals who were ethnocentric were likely to be prejudiced against a whole range of ethnic, racial, and religious groups in their culture. They found this to be true, that such people were indeed prejudiced against many or all groups that were different from themselves. A person who was anti-color tended to be anti-Semitic as well. These people seemed to embody a prejudiced personality type, the authoritarian personality.
The Berkeley researchers discovered that authoritarians had a particularly rigid and punishing upbringing. They were raised in homes in which children were not allowed to express any feelings or opinions except those considered correct by their parents and other authority figures. People in authority were not to be questioned and, in fact, were to be idolized. Children handled pent-up feelings of hostility toward these suppressive parents by becoming a kind of island, warding these feelings off by inventing very strict categories and standards. They became impatient with uncertainty and ambiguity and came to prefer clear-cut and simple answers. Authoritarians had very firm categories: This was good; that was bad. Any groups that violated their notions of right and wrong were rejected.
This rigid upbringing engendered frustration and a strong concealed rage, which could be expressed only against those less powerful. These children learned that those in authority had the power to do as they wished. If the authoritarian obtained power over someone, the suppressed rage came out in full fury. Authoritarians were at the feet of those in power and at the throats of those less powerful. The suppressed rage was usually expressed against a scapegoat, a relatively powerless person or group, and tended to occur most often during times of frustration, such as during an economic slump.
There is also evidence that parental attitudes relate to a child’s implicit and explict prejudice (Sinclair, Dunn, & Lowery, 2005). Sinclair et al. had parents of fifth and sixth graders complete a racial attitudes measure. The children completed measures of strength of identification with the parent and tests of implicit and explicit prejudice. The results showed that parental prejudice was significantly related to the child’s implicit prejudice when the child’s identification with the parent was high. So, it is children who have a strong desire to identify (take on the parent’s characteristics) with the parent who are most likely to show implicit prejudice. A similar effect was found when the child’s explicit prejudice was considered. When the child identified strongly with the parent, the parent’s prejudice was positively associated with the child’s explicit prejudice. This effect was the opposite for children who did not closely identify with the parents, perhaps indicating a rejection of parental prejudice among this latter group of children.
The authoritarian personality, the individual who is prejudiced against all groups perceived to be different, may gravitate toward hate groups. On July 2, 1999, Benjamin Smith went on a drive-by shooting rampage that killed two and injured several others. Smith took his own life while being chased by police. Smith had a history of prejudicial attitudes and acts. Smith came under the influence of the philosophy of Matt Hale, who became the leader of the World Church in 1996. Hale’s philosophy was that the white race was the elite race in the world and that members of any other races or ethnic groups (which he called “inferior mud races”) were the enemy. Smith himself believed that whites should take up arms against those inferior races. The early research on prejudice, then, emphasized the role of irrational emotions and thoughts that were part and parcel of the prejudiced personality. These irrational emotions, simmered in a pot of suppressed rage, were the stuff of prejudice, discrimination, and eventually, intergroup violence. The violence was usually set off by frustration, particularly when resources, such as jobs, were scarce.
Social psychologists have also looked at whether there is a prejudiced personality (Dunbar, 1995; Gough, 1951). An updated version of the older concept of authoritarianism is right-wing authoritarianism (RWA), a concept originated by Altemeyer (1981).
Right-wing authoritarianism is related to higher levels of prejudice. Gough developed a prejudiced scale (PR scale) using items from the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory. Gough (1951) reported that the PR scale correlated with anti-Semitic attitudes among midwestern high school students.
Dunbar (1995) administered the PR scale and two other measures of racism to white and Asian-American students. He also administered a measure of anti-Semitism to see if the PR scale still correlated with prejudiced attitudes. Dunbar found that Asian Americans had higher scores on both the PR scale and the measure of anti-Semitism than did whites, indicating greater anti-Semitism among Asians than whites. However, the only significant relationships on the PR scale between anti-Semitic and racist attitudes were among the white participants.
Social Dominance Orientation
Another personality dimension that has been associated with prejudicial attitudes is the social dominance orientation (SDO).A social dominance orientation is defined as “the extent to which one desires that one’s in-group dominate or be superior to out-groups” (Pratto, Sidanius, Stallworth, & Malle, 1994). In other words, individuals with a high SDO would like to see their group (e.g., racial or ethnic group) be in a dominant position over other groups.
Research also shows that one’s SDO also correlates with prejudicial attitudes. For example, Pratto et al. (1994) found that a high SDO score was related to anti-black and anti-Arab prejudice. The higher the SDO score, the more prejudice was manifested. In a later study SDO was found to correlate with a wide range of prejudices, including a “generalized prejudice, and specific prejudices against homosexuals, the mentally disabled and with racism and sexism” (Ekehammar, Akrami, Gylje, & Zakrisson, 2004).
In an experiment (Kemmelmeier, 2005), white mock jurors were asked to judge a criminal case in which the defendant was black or white. The results showed no difference in how the white participants judged the black or white defendant. However, participants who scored high on a measure of social dominance showed more bias against the black defendant than participants who scored low on the social dominance measure. In fact, low SDO individuals showed a bias in favor of the black defendant. Interestingly, measured differences between groups on the SDO dimension are related to the perceived status differences between the groups being tested (Levin, 2004). For example, Levin found that among American and Irish participants, individuals with high SDO scores saw a greater status difference between their group and an out-group (e.g., Irish Catholics versus Irish Protestants). In other words, an Irish Catholic person with a high SDO score saw a greater status difference between Irish Catholics and Irish Protestants than an Irish Catholic with a lower SDO score. A similar, but nonsignificant, trend was found for Israeli participants.
If we consider the SDO dimension along with authoritarianism, we can identify a pattern identifying highly prejudiced individuals. In a study by Altemeyer (2004), participants completed measures of SDO and right-wing authoritarianism (RWA). Altemeyer found modest correlations between the SDO scale and RWA scale and prejudice when the scales were considered separately. However, when the two scales were considered together (i.e., identifying individuals who were high on both SDO and RWA), stronger correlations were found with prejudice. Altemeyer concluded that individuals with both SDO and RWA are among the most prejudiced people you will find. Fortunately, Altemeyer points out, there are very few such individuals.
There is also evidence that SDO and RWA may relate differently to different forms of prejudice. Whitley (1999), for example, found that an SDO orientation was related to stereotyping, negative emotion, and negative attitudes directed toward African Americans and homosexuals. However, RWA was related to negative stereotypes and emotion directed at homosexuals, but not African Americans. In fact, RWA was related to positive emotions concerning African Americans.
Openness to New Experience and Agreeableness
A currently popular model of personality is the “big five” model of personality (McCrae & Costa, 1987). According to this approach there are five dimensions underlying personality: extroversion/introversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness to experience and culture. As we shall see, two of these dimensions (agreeableness and openness to experience) relate to prejudice. Briefly, agreeableness is a “friendliness dimension” including characteristics such as altruism, trust, and willingness to give support to others (Gerow & Bordens, 2005). Openness to experience includes curiosity, imagination, and creativity (Gerow & Bordens, 2005), along with a willingness to try new things and divergent thinking (Flynn, 2005).
Studies investigating the relationship between the big five personality dimensions and prejudice have shown that agreeableness and openness to experience correlate with prejudice. For example, Ekehammar and Akrami (2003) evaluated participants on the big five personality dimensions and measures of classic prejudice (overt, old-fashioned prejudice) and modern prejudice (prejudice expressed in subtle ways). Ekehammar and Akrami found that two of the big five personality dimensions correlated significantly with prejudice: agreeableness and openness to experience. Those participants high on the agreeableness and openness dimensions showed less prejudice. The remaining three dimensions did not correlate significantly with prejudice.
In another study, consisting of three experiments, Flynn (2005) also explored more fully the relationship between openness to experience and prejudice. The results of her three experiments confirmed that individuals who had high scores on openness to experience displayed less prejudice. For example, individuals who are open to new experiences rated a black interviewee as more intelligent, responsible, and honest than individuals who are less open to new experiences.
Gender and Prejudice
Another characteristic relating to prejudice is gender. Research shows that men tend to be higher than women on SDO (Dambrun, Duarte, & Guimond, 2004; Pratto et al., 1994). This gender difference appears to be rooted in different patterns of social identity orientations among men and women. Although men and women show in-group identification at equivalent levels (i.e., men identifying with the male in-group and women identifying with the female in-group), men more strongly identified with the male in-group than did women with the female in-group (Dambrun et al., 2004). Research in this area has concentrated on male and female attitudes toward homosexuality. Generally, males tend to have more negative attitudes toward homosexuality than women (Kite, 1984; Kite & Whitley, 1998). Do men and women view gay men and lesbians differently? There is evidence that males have more negative attitudes toward gay men than toward lesbians (Gentry, 1987; Kite, 1984; Kite & Whitley, 1998). The findings for females are less clear. Kite and Whitley, for example, reported that women tend not to make distinctions between gay men and lesbians. Other research, however, shows that females show more negative attitudes toward lesbians than gay men (Gentry, 1987; Kite, 1984).
Baker and Fishbein (1998) investigated the development of gay and lesbian prejudice among a sample of 7th, 9th, and 11th graders. They found that males tended to be more prejudiced against gays and lesbians than females were, and male participants showed greater prejudice against gay males than against lesbians. Prejudice against gays and lesbians increased between 7th and 9th grade for both males and females; however, between the 9th and 11th grades, gay prejudice decreasedfor female participants, whereas it increasedfor male participants. Baker and Fishbein suggested that the increase in male antigay prejudice may be rooted in the male’s increased defensive reactions to intimate relationships.
A central question emerging from this research is whether there are gender differences in other forms of prejudice. One study, for example, confirmed that males show more ethnic prejudice than females on measures concerning friendship and allowing an ethnic minority to live in one’s neighborhood. Males and females did not differ when interethnic intimate relations were considered (Hoxter & Lester, 1994). There is relatively little research in this area, and clearly, more is needed to investigate the relationship between gender and prejudice for a wide range of prejudices.
The Social Roots of Prejudice
The research on the authoritarian personality and gender provides an important piece of the puzzle of prejudice and discrimination. However, it is only one piece. Prejudice and discrimination are far too complex and prevalent to be explained by a single, personality-based cause. Prejudice occurs in a social context, and another piece of the puzzle can be found in the evolution of feelings that form the basis of relations between dominant and other groups in a particular society.
To explore the social roots of prejudice, let’s consider the situation of African Americans in the United States. During the years before the Civil War, black slaves were considered the property of white slave owners, and this arrangement was justified by the notion that blacks were in some way less human than whites. Their degraded condition was used as proof of their inferiority.
In 1863, in the middle of the Civil War, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, setting slaves free. But abolition did little to end prejudice and negative attitudes toward blacks. The Massachusetts 54th Regiment, for example, was an allblack Union Army unit—led by an all-white officer corps. Blacks were said to lack the ability to lead; thus no black officers were allowed. Because of these stereotypes and prejudices, members of the 54th were also paid less than their white counterparts in other regiments. Initially also, they were not allowed in combat roles; they were used instead for manual labor, such as for building roads.
Despite prejudice, some blacks did rise to positions of prominence. Frederick Douglass, who escaped from slavery and became a leader and spokesperson for African Americans, was instrumental in convincing President Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation and to allow black troops to fight in the Civil War. Toward the end of the war, over 100,000 black troops were fighting for the North, and some historians maintain that without these troops, the result of the Civil War may have been different.
Over the course of the next hundred years, African Americans made strides in improving their economic and social status. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Educationthat segregated (separate but equal) schools violated the Constitution and mandated that schools and other public facilities be integrated. Since then, the feelings of white Americans toward African Americans have become more positive (Goleman, 1991). This change in attitude and behavior reflects the importance of social norms in influencing and regulating the expression of feelings and beliefs.
Yet there is a curious nature to these feelings. White Americans almost unanimously endorse such general principles as integration and equality, but they are generally opposed
to steps designed to actualize these principles, such as mandatory busing or affirmative action (Katz, Wackenhut, & Hass, 1986). It may be that white Americans pay lip service to the principle of racial equality. They perceive African Americans as being bothdisadvantaged by the system and deviant. In other words, white Americans are aware that African Americans may have gotten a raw deal, but they also see them as responsible for their own plight (Katz et al., 1986). Remember that the human tendency to attribute behavior to internal rather than external causes makes it more likely that people will ascribe the reasons for achievement or lack of it to the character of an individual or group.
Although we may no longer have tarring and feathering of members of different groups, prejudice still exists in more subtle forms. If acquired early enough, prejudice seems to become part of one’s deepest feelings:
Many southerners have confessed to me, for instance, that even though in their minds they no longer feel prejudice toward African Americans, they still feel squeamish when they shake hands with an African American. These feelings are left over from what they learned in their families as children. (Pettigrew, 1986, p. 20)Given the importance of racial issues in U.S. history and given the way people process information in a categorical and automatic way, some observers assume that racist feelings are the rule for Americans (Gaertner & Dovidio, 1986).
Incidents from daily life seem to bear out this conclusion. In 2003 conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh was called to task for comments he made in his role as an ESPN sports commentator. Limbaugh speculated that the sportswriters were pulling for black quarterback Donovan McNabb to succeed because McNabb was black. Most pundits viewed Limbaugh’s comments as racist even though Limbaugh denied his comments were racist. In any event, Limbaugh resigned his ESPN position because of the uproar about his comments.
In July 2006, the Sony Corporation was accused of using a racist advertisement in the Netherlands for its new “White PlayStation Portable” game unit. The advertisement showed a white woman grabbing the face of a black woman aggressively. The slogan on the advertisement read “PlayStation Portable White Is Coming.” Despite the accusations, Sony was sticking by the advertisement. A spokesperson for Sony denied that the advertisement was racist, adding that the women depicted were intended to contrast the new white gaming system with its existing black system (Gibson, 2006).
Even our politicians are not exempt from letting racially charged statements slip out. In 2002, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott made questionable statements at the 100th birthday celebration of Senator Strom Thurmond. Thurmond was one of the so-called “Dixiecrats” in the 1940s. The Dixiecrats comprised a group of Democrats who split off from the main party because of the insertion of a civil rights plank in the Democratic Party platform. In 1948 Thurmond ran as a third-party candidate for president on the Dixiecrat ticket. At his 100th birthday celebration, Lott said “I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years, either.” Once again these statements were labeled as racist. Lott denied any racist intent and apologized for his statements (NPR, 2002). Regardless, he was forced to resign his post as Senate majority leader (although he remained a senator).
Although racist beliefs and prejudicial attitudes still exist, they have certainly become less prevalent than they once were. For example, according to data from the General Social Survey (1999), attitudes toward blacks improved between 1972 and 1996. Figure 4.4 shows some of the data from this survey. As shown in Figure 4.4, responses reflecting more positive racial attitudes can be seen in questions concerning whether whites have a right to keep blacks out of their neighborhood (blacks out), whether one would vote for a black presidential candidate (black president), whether whites would send their children to a school where more than 50% of the children were black (send children), whether they would vote to change a rule excluding blacks from a social club (change rule), and whether they would support a law preventing housing discrimination (housing law).
Despite these gains, prejudice still exists. Why this contradiction? Since the study of the authoritarian personality was published several decades ago, it has become more difficult (socially and legally) to overtly express prejudice against individuals from particular racial groups. It is not unusual, for example, for an individual to be removed from his or her job because of a racist statement. For example, in 1996, WABC (a New York) radio station fired Bob Grant, one of its most popular on-air personalities because of a history of racist statements. Even calling a racist a racist can get you fired. Alan Dershowitz, a prominent attorney, was fired from his talk show after calling Grant despicable and racist. Even if racism was not the intent, one can still be fired for using racial (or other ethnic) slurs. Even the appearance of prejudice from someone in an official position is unacceptable today.
Some social psychologists believe that many white Americans currently are aversive racists, people who truly believe they are unprejudiced, who want to do the right thing but, in fact, feel very uneasy and uncomfortable in the presence of someone from a different racial group (Gaertner & Dovidio, 1986). When they are with members of other groups, they smile too much, are overly friendly, and are sometimes very fearful. These feelings do not lead the aversive racist to behave in a negative way toward members of other groups; rather, they lead him or her to avoid them.
This more subtle prejudice is marked by an uncertainty in feeling and action toward people from different racial groups. McConahay (1986) referred to this configuration of feelings and beliefs as modern racism, also known as symbolic racism. Modern racists moderate their responses to individuals from different racial groups to avoid showing obvious prejudice; they express racism but in a less open manner than was formerly common. Modern racists would say that yes, racism is a bad thing and a thing of the past; still, it is a fact that African Americans “are pushing too hard, too fast, and into places where they are not wanted” (p. 93).
McConahay devised a scale to measure modern racism. In contrast to older scales, the modern racism scale presents items in a less racially charged manner. For example, an item from the modern racism scale might ask participants whether African Americans have received more economically than they deserve. On an old-fashioned scale, an item might ask how much you would mind if an African American family moved in next door to you. According to McConahay, modern racists would be more likely to be detected with the less racist items on an old-fashioned scale. McConahay found that the modern racism scale is sensitive enough to pick up more subtle differences in an individual’s racial feelings and behaviors than the older scales. The modern racism scale tends to reveal a more elusive and indirect form of racism than the older scales.
In one of McConahay’s experiments, participants (all of whom were white) were asked to play the role of a personnel director of a major company. All had taken a version of the modern racism scale. The “personnel director” received a resume of a graduating college senior who was a very ordinary job candidate. The race of the candidate was manipulated: for half of the participants, a photograph of an African American was attached, and for the other half, a photograph of a white person was attached. Another variable was added to the experiment in addition to the race of the applicant. Half of each group of participants were told that there were no other qualified candidates for the job. This was called the no anchorcondition, because the personnel directors had no basis for judgment, no other candidate against which to evaluate the ordinary candidate.
The other half of each group saw the resumes of two other candidates, both white, who were far superior to the ordinary candidate, white or African American. This was called the anchor condition, because the personnel directors now had a basis for comparison.
Personnel directors in all four groups were asked to make a decision about the candidate on a scale ranging from “definitely would hire” to “definitely would not hire.” McConahay’s findings revealed that individuals who have high scores on the modern racism scale (indicating that they are prejudiced) do not treat white candidates any differently than their nonprejudiced counterparts.
Whether they scored 0 or 25 or somewhere in between on the scale, all participants rated the white candidates in both the anchor and the no-anchor condition in a similar way. Participants with low scores (near 0) rated white candidates about the same, whereas high scorers (closer to 25) rated the white no-anchor candidate a little higher than the white anchor candidate.
More interesting are the ratings of African American candidates. For nonprejudiced participants, African Americans, anchored or not, were rated precisely the same. But there was a very large difference between candidates for the prejudiced participants. An unanchored African American candidate was absolutely dismissed, whereas the anchored African American candidate, compared to more qualified whites, was given the highest rating.
Why these differences? Recall that modern racists are rather uncertain about how to feel or act in situations with members of different racial or ethnic groups. They particularly do not want to discriminate when others will find out about it and can label what they did as racist (Donnerstein & Donnerstein, 1973). To reject a very ordinary African American candidate when there were no other candidates probably would not be seen as prejudiced, because the candidate was not qualified. Note how much more favorably the modern racist judged the white candidate in the same anchor circumstances.
But when there is a chance that his or her behavior might be termed racist, the modern racist overvalues African Americans. This is seen when there were qualified white candidates (anchor condition). The modern racist goes out of his or her way to appear unprejudiced and therefore gives the ordinary African American candidate the highest rating. Participants who scored low on the modern racism scale felt confident about how to feel and act in racial situations. People from different racial groups do not make them uncomfortable; they “call it like they see it” (Hass, Katz, Rizzo, Bailey, & Eisenstadt, 1991).
The concept of modern racism is not without its critics. Some suggest that it is illogical to equate opposition to an African American candidate or affirmative action programs with racism (Sykes, 1992). Other critics point out that modern racism researchers have not adequately defined and measured modern racism (Tetlock, 1986). They also point out that high correlations exist (ranging from about r = .6 to .7) between oldfashioned racism and modern racism. That is, if a person is a modern racist, he or she also is likely to be an old-fashioned racist. According to these critics, there simply may not be two forms of racism.
The fact is that race is a complex issue and contains many facets. In the past, according to public opinion surveys, whites were essentially either favorable or unfavorable to the cause of African Americans. But racial feelings are more subtle now. Someone might be against busing of schoolchildren but not opposed to having an African American neighbor (Sniderman & Piazza, 1994). Additionally, a person’s racial attitudes are often affected by his or her politics. Individuals who have favorable attitudes toward African Americans but who perceive affirmative action policies to be unfair may come to dislike African Americans as a consequence (Sniderman & Piazza, 1994).
Changing Social Norms
What accounts for the changes we see in the expression of racist sentiments and for the appearance of modern racism? Our society, primarily through its laws, has made the obvious expression of racism undesirable. Over the past 30 years, social norms have increasingly dictated the acceptance of members of different racial and ethnic groups into mainstream society. Overt racism has become socially unacceptable. But for many individuals, deeply held racist sentiments remain unchanged. Their racism has been driven underground by society’s expectations and standards.
Because of changed social norms, charges of prejudice and discrimination are taken seriously by those against whom they are made. In 2002, the Cracker Barrel restaurant chain was sued by the Justice Department on behalf of several patrons who claimed they had been discriminated against because of their race. In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs alleged that Cracker Barrel showed a pattern of discrimination against African Americans by refusing them service, allowing white waitstaffers not to serve blacks, seating black patrons in a segregated area, and making black patrons wait longer than white patrons to be seated (NAACP, 2002). In 2004 Cracker Barrel settled the suit with the Justice Department. Cracker Barrel agreed to overhaul its manager and employee training (Litchblau, 2004). Despite such cases, it appears that societal norms have been altered, allowing racial and ethnic animosities and prejudices to be expressed. One good example of these shifting norms is the proliferation of hate on the Internet. It is nearly impossible to get an accurate count of the number of hate sites on the Internet. However, according to the Antidefamation League (1999), hate groups such as Neo-Nazis, Skinheads, and the Ku Klux Klan are using the Internet to spread their message of hate. The Internet has allowed hate speech and the advocacy of violence against minorities to cross national boundaries. For example, on one Web site, one can peruse a variety of racist cartoons and purchase hate-related products. Hate-based “educational materials” are also easily obtained on the Internet. One program called The Jew Rats portrays Jews as rats who are indoctrinated to hate others and take over the world. Racist video games are also readily available. One game called Bloodbath in Niggeria involves shooting caricatures of Africans who pop up in huts. Yet another called Border Patrolallows gamers to shoot illegal Mexican immigrants running across the U.S. border. In addition, the Internet provides a medium that can help hate groups organize more easily. In addition to organizing on a local level, hate sites can now easily link hate groups across land and ocean, making the spread of hate and prejudice much easier.
On the other hand, there is evidence that attitudes, although not necessarily behavior, toward specific groups have become more positive. For example, gender stereotypes seem to have lessened recently at least among college students, if not among older individuals (Swim, 1994). In this case, social norms in favor of greater equality seem to be holding. Finally, it is worth noting that social norms operate on a number of levels simultaneously. It is generally true that societal norms have turned against the overt expression of prejudice, and this has reduced prejudice. However, norms also operate on a more “local” level. Not only are we affected by societal norms, but we are also influenced by the norms of those closest to us (e.g., family and friends). If it is normative within your immediate group of family and friends not to be prejudiced or express prejudices, then odds are you won’t. If, however, your immediate family and friends are prejudiced and express prejudices, then you will probably do the same. Generally, we strive to be “good group” members, which often means following the norms established by that group, whether positive or negative (Crandall, Eshleman, & O’Brien, 2002).
The Cognitive Roots of Prejudice: From Categories
Cognitive social psychologists believe that one of the best ways to understand how stereotypes form and persist is to look at how humans process information. As we saw in Chapters 2 and 3, human beings tend to be cognitive misers, preferring the least effortful means of processing social information (Taylor, 1981). We have a limited capacity to deal with social information and therefore can deal with only relatively small amounts at any one time (Fiske & Taylor, 1991).
Given these limitations, people try to simplify problems by using shortcuts, primarily involving category-based processes (Bodenhausen & Wyer, 1985; Brewer, 1988). In other words, it is easier to pay attention to the group to which someone belongs than to the individual traits of the person. It takes less effort and less time for someone to use category-based (group-based) information than to try to deal with people on an individual basis (Macrae et al., 1994). For example, in June 1998 when James Byrd was dragged to death in Texas, he was chosen as a victim purely because of his race. Byrd, a black man, was hitchhiking home from a party when three white men stopped to pick him up. The three men beat Byrd and then chained him to their truck and dragged him to death—all because he was black and in the wrong place at the wrong time. Research studies of the cognitive miser demonstrate that when people’s ability or motivation to process information is diminished, they tend to fall back on available stereotypes. For example, in one study, when a juror’s task was complex, he or she recalled more negative things about a defendant if the defendant was Hispanic than if the defendant did not belong to an identifiable group. When the juror’s task was simple, no differences in judgment were found between a Hispanic and a non-Hispanic defendant (Bodenhausen & Lichtenstein, 1987). When the situation gets more complicated, individuals tend to rely on these stereotypes.
Individuals are more likely to fall back on stereotypes when they are not at the peak of their cognitive abilities (Bodenhausen, 1990). Bodenhausen tested participants to determine if they were “night people”—individuals who function better in the evening and at night—or “day people”—individuals who function better in the morning. He then had participants make judgments about a student’s misconduct. Sometimes the student was described in nonstereotypic terms (his name was “Robert Garner”), and in other situations he was portrayed as Hispanic (“Roberto Garcia”), as African American, or as an athlete.
The experiment showed that when people are not at their peak (morning people at night or night people in the morning), they tend to solve problems by using stereotypes. As shown in Figure 4.5, morning types relied on the stereotype to judge the student when presented with the case in the evening; evening types fell back on stereotypes in the morning. These findings suggest that category-based judgments take place when we do not have the capacity, the motivation, or the energy to pay attention to the target, and these lead human beings into a variety of cognitive misconceptions and errors.
Identifi cation with the In-Group
One of the principal cognitive processes common to all human beings seems to be the tendency to categorize people either as belonging to an in-group (us) or an out-group (them). This tendency has implications beyond simple categorization. We tend to identify with and prefer members of the in-group. We also tend to ascribe more uniquely “human emotions” (e.g., affection, admiration, and pride) to the in-group than the out-group (Leyens et al., 2000). Taken together, these tendencies comprise the in-group bias. This tendency to favor the in-group is accompanied by a simultaneous tendency to identify “different” others as belonging to a less favored out-group, which we do not favor.
Our tendency to favor the in-group and vilify the out-group is related to the type of emotions we experience about those groups. When we feel good about something that the in-group does or is associated with and feel anger over what the out-group does, then we are most likely to strongly identify with the in-group (Kessler & Hollbach, 2005). So, for example, if our country is associated with something good (e.g., winning an Olympic medal) and another country is associated with something bad (e.g., a judging scandal at the Olympics), we feel the most in-group pride and are likely to strongly identify with the in-group. Conversely, we are less likely to identify with the in-group when it is associated with something bad and the out-group is associated with something good (Kessler & Hollbach, 2005). In other words, we are likely to bask in reflected glory (BIRG) when the in-group does something good and cut off reflected failure (CORF) when the in-group does something bad (Kessler & Hollbach, 2005). This might explain why so many people change attitudes quickly (e.g., about the 2003 Iraq War) when news is bad (CORFing). However, when things are going well (e.g., the early stages of the Iraq War), we experience a sense of national pride and are happy with our BIRGing. How we perceive and judge members of an out-group depends, at least in part, on how we perceive the in-group. The in-group is normally used as a standard by which the behavior of out-group members is judged (Gawronski, Bodenhausen, & Banse, 2005). In fact, a contrast effect occurs when in-group and out-group members are compared on the same traits. For example, if members of an in-group perceive that their group possesses a trait, they are likely to perceive that out-group members do not (Gawronski et al., 2005). In short, the way we perceive our own group (the in-group) has a lot to do with how we perceive the out-group.
Henri Tajfel, a social psychologist, studied the phenomenon of in-group favoritism as a way of exploring out-group hostility. He was preoccupied with the issue of genocide, the systematic killing of an entire national or ethnic group. As a survivor of Nazi genocide of European Jews from 1939 to 1945, Tajfel had a personal as well as a professional interest in this issue (Brown, 1986).
Unlike earlier researchers, who emphasized the irrational thoughts and emotions of the prejudiced personality as the source of intergroup violence, Tajfel believed that cognitive processes were involved. He believed that the process of categorizing people into different groups led to loyalty to the in-group, which includes those people one perceives to be similar to oneself in meaningful ways. Inevitably, as in-group solidarity forms, those who are perceived to be different are identified as members of the out-group (Allport, 1954; Billig, 1992).
Tajfel was searching for the minimal social conditions needed for prejudice to emerge. In his experiments with British school boys, he found that there was no situation so minimal that some form of in-group solidarity did not take shape. He concluded that the need to favor the in-group, known as the in-group bias, was a basic component of human nature. What are the reasons for this powerful bias?
As noted in Chapter 2, we derive important aspects of our self-concepts from our membership in groups (Turner, 1987). These memberships help us establish a sense of positive social identity. Think of what appears to be a fairly inconsequential case of group membership: being a fan of a sports team. When your team wins a big game, you experience a boost, however temporary, to your sense of well-being (by BIRGing). You don’t just root for the team; you become part of the team. You say, “We beat the heck out of them.” Think for a moment about the celebrations that have taken place in Detroit, New York, Boston, and elsewhere after home teams won professional sports championships. It is almost as if it wasn’t the Tigers or the Mets or the Celtics who won, but the fans themselves.
When your team loses the big game, on the other hand, you feel terrible. You’re tempted to jump ship. It is hard to read the newspapers or listen to sportscasts the next day. When your team wins, you say, “We won.” When your team loses, you say, “They lost” (Cialdini, 1988). It appears that both BIRGing and jumping ship serve to protect the individual fan’s self-esteem. The team becomes part of the person’s identity.
Social Identity Theory
Tajfel’s (1982) social identity theory assumes that human beings are motivated to positively evaluate their own groups and value them over other groups, in order to maintain and enhance self-esteem. The group confers on the individual a social identity, that part of a person’s self-concept that comes from her membership in social groups and from her emotional connection with those groups (Tajfel, 1981).
Fundamental to social identity theory (SIT) is the notion of categorizing the other groups, pigeonholing them, by the use of stereotypes—those general beliefs that most people have about members of particular social groups (Turner, 1987). People are motivated to hold negative, stereotypes of out-groups; by doing so, they can maintain the superiority of their own group and thereby maintain their positive social (and self) identity.
Generally, any threat to the in-group, whether economic, military, or social, tends to heighten in-group bias. Additionally, anything that makes a person’s membership in a group more salient, more noticeable, will increase in-group favoritism. One series of experiments showed that when people were alone, they were likely to judge an out-group member on an individual basis, but when they were made aware of their in-group membership by the presence of other members of their group, they were likely to judge the out-group person solely on the basis of stereotypes of the out-group (Wilder & Shapiro, 1984, 1991). The increase of in-group feelings promoted judgments of other people on the basis of social stereotypes. When group membership gets switched on, as it does, for example, when you are watching the Olympics or voting for a political candidate, then group values and social stereotypes play a larger role in how you react.
Increase in self-esteem as a result of group membership is central to SIT (Grieve & Hogg, 1999). To increase members’self-esteem, the in-group needs to show that it is distinct from other groups in positive ways (Mummenday & Wenzel, 1999). Central to an extension of SIT, self-categorization theory (SCT)is the notion that self-categorization is also motivated by the need to reduce uncertainty (Hogg & Mullin, 1999). The basic idea is that people need to feel that their perceptions of the world are correct, and this correctness is defined by people—fellow group members—who are similar to oneself in important ways. In a study by Haslam, Oakes, Reynolds, and Turner (1999), when the category Australian was made salient for a group of Australian students, it tended to reduce uncertainty about the characteristics that comprise one’s social group.
Consequently, it regulated and structured the members’social cognition. This is consistent with SCT. When reminded of their common category or group membership, the Australian students were more likely to agree on what it meant to be Australian.
What are the consequences of uncertainty? Grieve and Hogg (1999) showed that when uncertainty is high (i.e., when group members did not know if their performance was adequate or would be successful in achieving group goals), groups were more likely to downgrade or discriminate against other groups. In other words, uncertainty is a threat. Uncertainty was also accompanied by increased group identification. So threat creates a kind of rally-round-the-flag mentality. Self-categorization theory suggests, then, that only when the world is uncertain does self-categorization lead to discrimination against other groups (Grieve & Hogg, 1999). Self-categorization theory adds a bit of optimism to its parent theory’s (SIT) outlook by suggesting that categorization does not always lead to discrimination, and if threat can be managed or alleviated, little discrimination or intergroup antagonism need occur.
A Biological Perspective on the In-Group Bias
Tajfel’s research has shown us that the formation of an in-group bias serves basic social and self needs primarily by maintaining personal self-esteem. Some scientists, specifically sociobiologists—scientists who take a biological approach to social behavior—believe that ethnocentrism (the increased valuation of the in-group and the devaluation of out-groups) has a foundation in human biological evolution. They point out that for the longest part of their history, humans lived in small groups ranging from 40 to 100 members (Flohr, 1987). People had to rely on the in-group and gain acceptance by its members; it was the only way to survive. It would make sense, then, that a strong group orientation would be part of our human heritage: Those who lacked this orientation would not have survived to pass their traits on to us.
Sociobiologists also point out that people in all cultures seem to show a naturally occurring xenophobia, or fear of strangers. This fear may also be part of our genetic heritage. Because early populations were isolated from one another (Irwin, 1987), people may have used similar physical appearance as a marker of blood relationship (Tonnesmann, 1987). Clearly, there was always the possibility that people who looked different could be a threat to the food supply or other necessities of survival. Sociobiologists argue that it is reasonable to expect that people would be willing to cooperate only with humans of similar appearance and biological heritage and that they would distrust strangers (Barkow, 1980).
In modern times, as Tajfel showed, we still derive much of our identity from group membership; we fear being excluded from groups (Baumeister & Tice, 1990). High respect for our own groups often means a devaluing of other groups. This is not necessarily a big problem until groups have to compete for resources. Because the world does not appear to offer a surplus of resources, competition among groups is inevitable. Of particular interest to sociobiologists is a study by Tajfel (1982) and his coworkers in which it was demonstrated that children show a preference for their own national group long before they have a concept of country or nation. Children ranging in age from 6 to 12 years old were shown photographs of young men and were asked how much they liked those men. Two weeks later, the children were shown the same photographs again. They were also told that some of the men belonged to their nation and others did not. The children had to decide which young men were “theirs” (belonged to their country) and which were not. The researchers found that the children were more likely to assign the photographs they liked to their own nation. Therefore, liking and in-group feelings go together at an age when children cannot really comprehend fully the idea of a nation (Flohr, 1987).
In sum, those who offer a biological perspective on intergroup prejudice say that strong in-group identification can be understood as an evolutionary survival mechanism. We can find examples throughout human history of particular ethnic, racial, and religious groups that have strengthened in-group bonds in response to threats from the dominant group (Eitzen, 1973; Myrdal, 1962). Strengthening of these in-group bonds may help the group survive, but this is only one way of looking at the in-group bias. Acceptance of this notion does not require us to neglect our social psychological theories; it simply gives us some idea of the complexity of the issue (Flohr, 1987).
The Role of Language in Maintaining Bias
Categorization is, generally, an automatic process. It is the first step in the impression formation process. As mentioned earlier, it is not the same as stereotyping and prejudice, but it powerfully affects these other processes. One way in which categorizing can lead to prejudice is through language. The way we sculpt our world via the words and labels we use to describe people connects the category to prejudice. Social psychologist Charles Perdue and his colleagues tested the hypothesis that the use of words describing in-groups and out-groups unconsciously forms our biases and stereotypes (Perdue, Dovidio, Gurtman, & Tyler, 1990).
Perdue suggested that the use of collective pronouns—we, us, ours, they, their, theirs—is very influential in how we think about people and groups. We use these terms to assign people to in-groups and out-groups. In one study, Perdue and his colleagues showed participants a series of nonsense syllables (xeh, yof, laj) paired with pronouns designating in-group or out-group status (we, they). Participants were then asked to rate each of the nonsense syllables they had just seen in terms of the pleasantness or unpleasantness of the feelings they evoked. As shown in Figure 4.6, nonsense words paired with in-group pronouns were rated much more favorably than the same nonsense words paired with out-group pronouns or with control stimuli. Out-group pronouns gave negative meaning to previously unencountered and neutral nonsense syllables.
In a second experiment, these investigators demonstrated that in-group and out-group pronouns bias the processing of information about those groups. Participants saw a series of positive- and negative-trait words, such as helpful, clever, competent, irresponsible, sloppy, and irritable.Now, a positive trait ought to be positive under any circumstances, and the same should hold true for negative traits, wouldn’t you agree? Skillfulis generally positive; sloppy is generally negative. But as Figure 4.7 shows, it took participants longer to describe a negative trait as negative when that trait had been associated with an in-group pronoun. Similarly, it took participants longer to describe a positive trait as positive when it had been associated with an out-group pronoun. It took them little time to respond to a positive trait associated with an in-group pronoun and to a negative trait ssociated with an out-group pronoun.
These findings suggest that we have a nonconscious tendency (after all, the participants were not aware of the associations) to connect in-group labels with positive attributes rather than negative ones and out-group labels with negative attributes rather than positive ones. These associations are so strong that they shape the way we process subsequent information. They also seem to be deep and long lasting, a fact that may help explain why stereotypes remain so tenacious.
The tendency to associate negative traits with out-groups is explained by one of the fundamental cognitive bases of stereotyping, the illusory correlation. An illusory correlationis an error in judgment about the relationship between two variables or, in other words, a belief that two unrelated events covary (are systematically related) (Hamilton & Sherman, 1989). For example, a person may notice that each time he wears his old high school bowling shirt when he goes bowling, he bowls very well. He may come to believe that there is a connection between the two events. Similarly, if you think that members of a minority group are more likely than members of a majority group to have a negative trait, then you perceive a correlation between group membership and behavior relating to that trait (Schaller, 1991).
Sometimes this cognitive bias crops up even among trained professionals. For example, a physician diagnosed a young, married African American woman with chronic pelvic inflammatory disease, an ailment related to a previous history of sexually transmitted disease. This diagnosis was made despite the fact that there was no indication in her medical history that she had ever had such a disease. As it turned out, she actually had endometriosis, a condition unrelated to sexually transmitted diseases (Time, June 1, 1992). The physician’s beliefs about young black women, that they are sexually promiscuous, led to a diagnosis consistent with those beliefs. Research supports this anecdote. For example, participants have been found to ascribe different abilities to a girl depending on whether she is portrayed as having a lower or higher socioeconomic-status background (Darley & Gross, 1983).
These examples illustrate the human tendency to overestimate the co-occurrence of pairs of distinctive stimuli (Sherman, Hamilton, & Roskos-Ewoldsen, 1989). In the case of the misdiagnosis, the presence of two distinctive stimuli—a young black woman and a particular symptom pattern—led the physician to conclude that the woman’s disorder was related to her sexual history. The tendency to fall prey to this illusion has been verified in other experiments (Chapman & Chapman, 1967).
The illusory correlation helps explain how stereotypes form. The reasoning goes like this: Minority groups are distinctive because they are encountered relatively infrequently. Negative behavior is also distinctive because it is, in general, encountered less frequently than positive behavior. Because both are distinctive, there is a tendency for people to overestimate the frequency with which they occur together, that is, the frequency with which minority group members do undesirable things (Sherman et al., 1989).
Research shows that if people are presented with information about a majority group and a minority group and these groups are paired with either rare or common traits, people associate the smaller group with the rarer trait (Hamilton & Sherman, 1989). If both a minority and majority group have the same negative trait, say a tendency toward criminal behavior, the negative behavior will be more distinctive when paired with the minority as compared to the majority group. Our cognitive apparatus seems to lead us to make an automatic association between negative behavior and minoritygroup membership.
Distinctive characteristics are also likely to play a critical role in the formation of category-based responses. In any gathering of people, we pay more attention to those who appear to be different from others, such as a white in an otherwise all-black group, or a man in an all-woman group. Skin color, gender, and ethnicity are salient characteristics.
One function of automatic evaluation is to point to events that may endanger the perceiver (Pratto & John, 1991). Certainly, sociobiologists would agree with that notion. The human ability to recognize friend from foe, safety from danger, would have fundamental survival value (Ike, 1987). For example, people automatically responded to an angry (salient) face in a happy crowd (Hansen & Hansen, 1988). An angry person among friends is dangerous. Another study demonstrated that individuals automatically turn their attention from a task to words, pictures, or events that might be threatening (Pratte & John, 1991). Participants attended more rapidly to salient negative traits than to positive ones. This automatic vigilance may lead people to weigh undesirable attributes in those around them differently than positive attributes.
When we encounter other groups, then, it is not surprising that we pay more attention to the bad things about them than the good. Negative social information grabs our attention. This greater attention to negative information may protect us from immediate harm, but it also helps perpetuate stereotypes and may contribute to conflict between groups (Pratto & John, 1991).
From Illusory Correlations to Negative Stereotypes via the Fundamental Attribution Error The fact that a negative bit of information about a different group has grabbed our attention does not necessarily lead to discrimination against that group. There must be a link between the salience of negative information and prejudiced behavior. The fundamental attribution error—the tendency to overestimate internal attributes and underestimate the effect of the situation—supplies this link and plays a role in the formation of discriminatory stereotypes. This is particularly true when perceivers do not take into account the roles assigned to people. Recall the quiz show study described in Chapter 3 in which participants thought that the quiz show questioners were smarter than the contestants (Ross, Arnabile, & Steinmetz, 1977), even though roles had been randomly assigned.
This confusion between internal dispositions and external roles has led to punishing negative stereotypes of different groups. Let’s consider just one example, the experience of the Jews in Europe over the past several hundred years (Ross & Nisbitt, 1991). Historically, Jews had many restrictions imposed on them in the countries where they resided. They were prevented from owning land; they often had to be in certain designated areas; they could not enter politics; and many professions were closed to them.
This exclusion from the greater society left the Jews with two options: either convert to Christianity or maintain their own distinctive culture. Most Jews opted for the latter, living within the walls of the ghetto (in fact, the word ghettois derived from the Venetian word Gheto, which referred to a section of the city where iron slag was cooled and Jews were forced to live) assigned to them by the Christian majority and having little to do with non-Jews. Exclusion and persecution strengthened their in-group ties and also led the majority to perceive them as clannish. However, one segment of the Jewish population was highly visible to the mainstream society—the money lenders. Money lending was a profession forbidden to Christians and open to Jews (Ross & Nisbett, 1991). Although it was held in contempt, it was an essential function in national and international business, especially as capitalism began to develop. Jewish money lenders became important behind-the-scenes figures in the affairs of Europe. Thus, the most distinctive members of the group—distinctive for their visibility, their economic success, and their political importance—were invariably money lenders.
The distinctive negative role of money lending, although restricted to only a few Jews, began to be correlated with Jews in general. Jews were also seen as distinctive because of their minority status, their way of life, their unique dress, and their in-group solidarity. All of these characteristics were a function of the situation and roles thrust on the Jews by the majority, but they came to be seen, via the fundamental attribution error, as inherent traits of Jewish people in general. These traits were then used as a justification for discrimination, based on the rationale that Jews were different, clannish, and money grubbing.
Jews have been depicted in negative ways throughout history. For example, in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, the Jewish money lender, Shylock, is depicted as a bloodthirsty person who will stop at nothing to extract his pound of flesh for repayment of a defaulted debt. However, do these stereotypes still crop up today in “enlightened” American communities? Movie director Steven Speilberg grew up in New Jersey and Arizona but never experienced anti-Semitism until his family moved to Saratoga, California, during his senior year in high school:
He encountered kids who would cough the word Jewin their hands when they passed him, beat him up, and throw pennies at him in study hall. “It was my six months of personal horror. And to this day I haven’t gotten over it nor have I forgiven any of them.” (Newsweek, December 20, 1993, p. 115)
Historically, Jews were not the only group to suffer from majority exclusion and the fundamental attribution error (Ross & Nisbett, 1991). The Armenians in Turkey, the Indians in Uganda, and the Vietnamese boat people were all money middlemen who took on that role because no other positions were open to them. All of these groups suffered terrible fates.
The Confirmation Bias
People dealing with Jews in the 18th century in Europe or with Armenians in Turkey at the turn of the 20th century found it easy to confirm their expectancies about these groups; perceivers could recall the money lenders, the strange dress, the different customs. Stereotypes are both self-confirming and resistant to change.
Numerous studies show that stereotypes can influence social interactions in ways that lead to their confirmation. In one study, some participants were told that a person with whom they would soon talk was in psychotherapy; other participants were told nothing about the person (Sibicky & Dovidio, 1986). In actuality, the individuals they talked to were randomly chosen students from basic psychology courses; none were in therapy. After the interviews, participants were asked to evaluate the person with whom they had interacted. Those individuals identified as therapy clients were rated less confident, less attractive, and less likable than the individuals not described as being in therapy.
We can see from this study that once people have a stereotype, they evaluate information within the context of that stereotype. After all, none of the people being interviewed in the experiment were in fact in therapy. The differences between the ratings had to be due to the participants’stereotypical view of what somebody in therapy must be like. Describing a person as being in therapy seems to lead to a negative perception of that person. People who hold negative stereotypes about certain groups may behave so that group members act in a way that confirms the stereotype (Crocker & Major, 1989). The confirmation bias contributes in many instances to self-fulfilling prophecies. If you expect a person to be hostile, your very expectation and the manner in which you behave may bring on that hostility. In the study just described, participants who thought they were interacting with someone in therapy probably held a stereotypical view of all people with psychological problems. It is likely that they behaved in a way that made those individuals uneasy and caused them to act in a less confident manner.
The Out-Group Homogeneity Bias
An initial effect of categorization is that members of the category are thought to be more similar to each other than is the case when people are viewed as individuals. Because we have a fair amount of information about the members of our own group (the in-group), we are able to differentiate among them. But we tend to view members of other groups (out-groups) as being very similar to one another (Wilder, 1986). This phenomenon of perceiving members of the out-group as all alike is called the out-group homogeneity bias (Linville, Fischer, & Salovey, 1989).
The out-group homogeneity hypothesis was tested in one study involving students from Princeton and Rutgers Universities (Quattrone & Jones, 1980). Participants, who were either Rutgers or Princeton students, saw a videotape of a student supposedly from the other school. The videotaped person had to decide whether he wanted to wait alone or with other people before being a participant in a psychological experiment. The actual participant then had to predict what the average student at the target university (Rutgers for Princeton students and Princeton for Rutgers students) would do in a similar situation.
Would the participants see students at the other university as similar to the student they had viewed? Would they predict that most Princeton students (or Rutgers students) would make the same choice as the Princeton student (or Rutgers student) in the film clip? These questions get at the issue of whether people see out-group members as more similar to one another than to the in-group members. In fact, this is pretty much what the study showed, although there was a greater tendency to stereotype Princeton students than Rutgers students. That seems logical, because it is probably easier to conjure up a stereotype of Princeton student. In general, however, results supported the notion that the out-group homogeneity bias leads us to think that members of out-groups are more similar to one another than to members of in-groups.
A second outcome of out-group homogeneity bias is the assumption that any behavior of an out-group member reflects the characteristics of all group members. If a member of an out-group does something bad, we tend to conclude, “That’s the way those people are.” In contrast, when an in-group member does something equally negative, we tend to make a dispositional attribution, blaming the person rather than our own in-group for the negative behavior. This has been referred to as the ultimate attribution error:We are more likely to give in-group members the benefit of the doubt than out-group members (Pettigrew, 1979).
Once we construct our categories, we tend to hold on to them tenaciously, which may be both innocent and destructive. It is innocent because the process is likely to be automatic and nonconscious. It is destructive because stereotypes are inaccurate and often damaging; individuals cannot be adequately described by reference to the groups to which they belong.
In general, social psychologists have not made a consistent attempt to determine the accuracy of stereotypes. Much of the early research on stereotypes assumed that stereotypes were inaccurate by definition. More recently, the issue of stereotype accuracy has been addressed by Judd and Park (1993). They suggested several technical standards against which the accuracy of a stereotype can be measured. For example, consider the notion that Germans are efficient. One standard that Judd and Park suggested to measure the accuracy of that stereotype is to find data that answers the questions: Are Germans in reality more or less efficient than the stereotype? Is the group attribute (efficiency) exaggerated?
Of course, to apply these standards, we need some objective data about groups. We need to know how groups truly behave with respect to various characteristics. For some attributes, say, kindness or sensitivity, it is probably impossible to obtain such information. For others, there may be readily available data.
In McCauley and Stitt’s 1978 study of the accuracy of stereotypes, white participants’estimates of certain attributes of the African American population were compared with public records (as cited in Judd & Park, 1993). The attributes estimated were percentage of high school graduates, number of crime victims, and number of people on the welfare rolls. This study showed that whites underestimated the differences between African Americans and themselves with respect to these attributes. In other words, whites thought more African Americans graduated from high school than was true, and they thought fewer African Americans were victims of crime than the data showed.
Is it important to know if a stereotype is accurate? Technically it is, because many of the earlier definitions of stereotypes assume that inaccuracy is part of the definition of the concept (Stangor & Lange, 1994). Most stereotypes are unjustified generalizations; that is, they are not accurate. But, even if they are accurate, stereotypes still have a damaging effect on our perception of others. None of us would wish to be judged as an individual by the worst examples of the group(s) to which we belong.
In previous chapters, we have seen how automatic and controlled processing enter into the social cognition process. Some people use controlled processing to readjust initial impressions of others in instances where new information conflicts with existing categorization (Fiske & Neuberg, 1990; Trope, 1986). Automatic and controlled processing again come into play when we consider how stereotypes are maintained and how prejudiced and nonprejudiced individuals differ.
The Difference between Prejudiced and Nonprejudiced
Devine (1989) contends that stereotypes are automatically activated when we encounter a member of a particular social group. According to Devine, some people are able to consciously alter their prejudiced responses, whereas others are not. Devine found that those interested in being nonprejudiced think differently from those who are not. For example, prejudiced individuals are more willing to indulge in negative thoughts and behaviors toward members of different racial and ethnic groups than nonprejudiced individuals. Devine also found that both high- and low-prejudiced whites hold almost the same stereotypes of African Americans. However, nonprejudiced individuals think those stereotypes are wrong.
Devine also found that the main difference between prejudiced and nonprejudiced whites was that nonprejudiced whites are sensitive to and carefully monitor their stereotypes. The nonprejudiced person wants his or her behavior to be consistent with his or her true beliefs rather than his or her stereotypes. When given a chance to use controlled processing, nonprejudiced individuals show behavior that is more consistent with nonprejudiced true beliefs than stereotyped beliefs. In contrast, the behavior of prejudiced individuals is more likely to be guided by stereotypes. In another study, nonprejudiced individuals were more likely than prejudiced individuals to feel bad when they had thoughts about gay men and lesbians that ran counter to their beliefs (Monteith, Devine, & Zuwerink, 1993). When nonprejudiced individuals express prejudicial thoughts and feelings, they feel guilty about doing so (Devine, Montieth, Zuwerink, & Elliot, 1991).
What happens if automatic processing takes over? According to Devine, activating a stereotype puts a person into automatic mode when confronting a person from the stereotyped group. The automatically activated stereotype will be acted on by both prejudiced and nonprejudiced individuals unless there is an opportunity to use controlled processing (Devine, 1989). Devine found that when participants in an experiment were prevented from switching to controlled processing, both prejudiced and nonprejudiced individuals evaluated the behavior of an African American negatively.
We can draw several conclusions from Devine’s research. First, prejudiced individuals are less inhibited about expressing their prejudice than nonprejudiced individuals. Second, no differences exist between prejudiced and nonprejudiced individuals when stereotype activation is beyond conscious control. Third, nonprejudiced people work hard to inhibit the expression of negative stereotypes when they have the opportunity to monitor behavior and bring stereotypes under conscious control. Fourth, nonprejudiced individuals realize that there is a gap between their stereotypes and their general beliefs about equality, and they work continually to change their stereotyped thinking.
How easy is it to identify a prejudiced person? If you see a person in a Ku Klux Klan outfit distributing hate propaganda or burning a cross on someone’s lawn, that’s pretty easy. However, many people do not express prejudices in such obvious ways. When we encounter someone who makes racist or sexist comments, we can pretty easily identify that person as prejudiced (Mae & Carlston, 2005). Further, we will express dislike for that person, even if he or she is expressing ideas with which we agree (Mae & Carlston, 2005). So, it seems we are pretty adept at identifying individuals who express negative prejudices. However, when it comes to detecting positive prejudices, we are less adept. Speakers who espouse negative prejudices are more likely to be identified as prejudiced than those who espouse positive prejudices (Mae & Carlston, 2005).
The Consequences of Being a Target of Prejudice
Imagine being awakened several times each night by a telephone caller who inundates you with racial or religious slurs. Imagine being a second-generation Japanese American soldier on December 8, 1941 (the day after the Pearl Harbor attack), and being told you are no longer trusted to carry a gun in defense of your country. Imagine being an acknowledged war hero who is denied the Medal of Honor because of race-related suspicions of your loyalty to the country for which you had just fought. In each of these instances, a person becomes the target of prejudicial attitudes, stereotypes, and discriminatory behavior directed at him or her. What effect does being the target of such prejudice have on an individual? To be sure, being a target of discrimination generates a great deal of negative affect and has serious emotional consequences for the target (Dion & Earn, 1975). Next, we explore some of the effects that prejudice has on those who are its targets.
Ways Prejudice Can Be Expressed
In his monumental work on prejudice called The Nature of Prejudice, Gordon Allport (1954) suggested that there are five ways that prejudice can be expressed. These are antilocution, talking in terms of prejudice or making jokes about an out-group; avoidance, avoiding contact with members of an out-group; discrimination, actively doing something to deny members of an out-group something they desire; physical attack, beatings, lynchings, and the like; and extermination, an attempt to eliminate an entire group. One issue we must address is the reaction shown by members of an out-group when they are targeted with prejudice. It is fairly obvious that those faced with overt discrimination, physical attack, and extermination will respond negatively. But what about reactions to more subtle forms of prejudice? What toll do they take on a member of a minority group?
Swim, Cohen, and Hyers (1998) characterized some forms of prejudice as everyday prejudice: “recurrent and familiar events that can be considered commonplace” (p. 37). These include short-term interaction such as remarks and stares, and incidents that can be directed at an individual or an entire group. According to Swim and colleagues, such incidents can be initiated either by strangers or by those with intimate relationships with the target and have a cumulative effect and contribute to the target’s experience with and knowledge of prejudice.
How do encounters with everyday prejudice affect the target? Let’s start by looking at one form of antilocution discussed by Allport that most people see as harmless: prejudicebased jokes. Most of us have heard (and laughed at) jokes that make members of a group the butt of the joke. Many of us may have even told such jokes, assuming that they do no harm. But how do those on the receiving end feel? Women, for example, find sexist jokes less funny and less amusing than nonsexist jokes (LaFrance & Woodzicka, 1998). They also tend to report feeling more disgusted, angry, hostile, and surprised by sexist versus nonsexist jokes. They also tend to roll their eyes (indicating disgust) and touch their faces (indicating embarassment) more in response to sexist than to nonsexist jokes (LaFrance & Woodzicka, 1998).
Ryan and Kanjorski (1998) directly compared the reactions of men and women to sexist jokes. They found that compared to men, women enjoyed sexist humor less and found it less acceptable and more offensive. Interestingly, men and women did not differ in terms of telling sexist jokes. A more ominous finding was that for men, there were significant positive correlations between enjoyment of sexist humor and rape myth acceptance, adversarial sexual beliefs, acceptance of interpersonal violence, likelihood of engaging in forced sex, and sexual aggression. In another study, the exposure of men with sexist attitudes to sexist jokes was related to tolerance for sexism and fewer negative feelings about behaving in a sexist manner (Ford, Wentzel, & Lorion, 2001). These findings may lend some credence to Allport’s (1954) idea that antilocution, once accepted, sets the stage for more serious expressions of prejudice.
A study reported by Thomas and Esses (2004) confirms the relationship between sexist attitudes and enjoyment of sexist humor. Male participants completed measures of sexism and authoritarianism. They then evaluated two types of sexist jokes. Half of the jokes were degrading to women and half degrading to men. The results showed that male participants who scored highly on the sexism scale found the jokes degrading females funnier and were more likely to repeat them than male participants who were low on the sexism measure. Sexism did not relate to the evaluation of the jokes that degraded men.
As noted earlier, affiliation with groups often contributes to a positive social identity. What about membership in a group that does not confer a positive social identity? Not all social groups have the same social status and perceived value. What happens when an individual is faced with doing a task for which a negative stereotype exists for that person’s group? For example, it is well-established that blacks tend to do more poorly academically than whites. What happens when a black individual is faced with a task that will indicate academic aptitude?
One intriguing hypothesis about why blacks might not score well on standard tests of IQ comes from an experiment conducted by Steele and Aronson (1995). According to Steele and Aronson, when a person is asked to perform a task for which there is a negative stereotype attached to their group, that person will perform poorly because the task is threatening. They called this idea a stereotype threat. To test the hypothesis that members of a group perform more poorly on tasks that relate to prevailing negative stereotypes, Steele and Aronson conducted the following experiment. Black and white participants took a test comprising items from the verbal section of the Graduate Record Exam. One-third of the participants were told that the test was diagnostic of their intellectual ability (diagnostic condition). One-third were told that the test was a laboratory tool for studying problem solving (nondiagnostic condition). The final third were told that the test was of problem solving and would present a challenge to the participants (nondiagnostic—challenge condition). Steele and Aronson then determined the average number of items answered correctly within each group.
The results of this experiment showed that when the test was said to be diagnostic of one’s intellectual abilities, black and white participants differed significantly, with black participants performing more poorly than white participants. However, when the same test was presented as nondiagnostic, black and white participants did equally well. There was no significant difference between blacks and whites in the nondiagnostic-challenge condition. Overall across the three conditions, blacks performed most poorly in the diagnostic condition. In a second experiment, Steele and Aronson (1995) produced results that were even more pronounced than in their first. They also found that black participants in the diagnostic condition finished fewer items and worked more slowly than black participants in the nondiagnostic condition. Steele and Aronson pointed out that this is a pattern consistent with impairments caused by test anxiety, evaluation apprehension, and competitive pressure.
In a final experiment, Steele and Aronson (1995) had participants perform wordcompletion tasks (e.g., — — ce; la — —; or — — ack that could be completed in a racially stereotyped way (e.g., race; lazy; black) or a nonstereotyped way (e.g., pace; lace; track). This was done to test if stereotypes are activated when participants were told that a test was either diagnostic or nondiagnostic. Steele and Aronson found that there was greater stereotype activation among blacks in the diagnostic condition compared to the nondiagnostic condition. They also found that in the diagnostic condition, blacks were more likely than whites to engage in self-handicapping strategies (i.e., developing behavior patterns that actually interfere with performance, such as losing sleep the night before a test). Blacks and whites did not differ on self-handicapping behaviors in the nondiagnostic condition.
These findings help us understand why blacks consistently perform more poorly than whites on intelligence tests. Intelligence tests by their very nature and purpose are diagnostic of one’s intellectual abilities. According to Steele and Aronson’s (1995) analysis, when a black person is faced with the prospect of taking a test that is diagnostic of intellectual ability, it activates the common stereotype threat that blacks are not supposed to perform well on tests of intellectual ability. According to Steele and Aronson, the stereotype threat impairs performance by generating evaluative pressures. Recall that participants who were under stereotype threat in the diagnostic condition spent more time doing fewer items. As they became more frustrated, performance was impaired. It may also impair future performance, because more self-handicapping strategies are used by blacks facing diagnostic tests. In short, the stereotype threat creates an impairment in the ability to cognitively process information adequately, which in turn inhibits performance. So, lower scores on IQ tests by blacks may relate more to the activation of the stereotype threat than to any genetic differences between blacks and whites.
Steele and his colleagues extended the notion of the stereotype threat to other groups. For example, Spencer, Steele, and Quinn (cited in Aronson, Quinn, & Spencer, 1998) found that men and women equated for math ability performed differently on a math test, depending on whether they were told that there were past results showing no gender differences in performance on the test (alleviating the stereotype threat) or given no information about gender differences (allowing the stereotype threat to be activated). Specifically, when the “no gender differences” information was given, men and women performed equally well on the test. However, when the stereotype threat was allowed to be activated (i.e., that women perform more poorly on math tests than do men), men scored significantly higher than women. Aronson and Alainas reported similar effects for Latino versus white participants and white males versus Asian males (cited in Aronson et al., 1998).
In a more direct test of the relationship between gender, stereotype threat, and math performance, Brown and Josephs (1999) told male and female students that they would be taking a math test. One-half of the participants of each gender were told that the test would identify exceptionally strong math abilities, whereas the other half were told that the test would uncover especially weak math skills. Brown and Josephs reasoned that for males the test for strong math skills would be more threatening, because it plays into the stereotype that males are strong in math. On the other hand, the test for weakness would be more threatening to females, because females stereotypically are viewed as being weak in math. Their results were consistent with Steele and Aronson’s stereotype threat notion. Males performed poorly on the test that supposedly measured exceptional math skills. Conversely, females performed poorly on the test that was said to identify weak math skills. In both cases, a stereotype was activated that was relevant to gender, which inhibited performance. According to Brown and Josephs, the stereotype threat for math performance is experienced differently for males and females. Males feel more threatened when faced with having to prove themselves worthy of the label of being strong in math skills, whereas females feel more threatened when they face a situation that may prove a stereotype to be true.
Stereotype threat also operates by reducing positive expectations a person has going into a situation. For example, based on a person’s previous experience, he or she may feel confident about doing well on the SATs, having a positive expectation about his or her performance on the exam. Now, let’s say that a stereotype of this person’s group is activated prior to taking the exam. The resulting stereotype threat may lower that person’s expectations about the test, and as a consequence, the person does not do well.
The fact that this scenario can happen was verified in an experiment by Stangor, Carr, and Kiang (1998). Female participants in this experiment all performed an initial task of identifying words. Afterward, some participants were told that their performance on the task provided clear evidence that they had an aptitude for college-level work. Other participants were told that the evidence concerning college performance was unclear. Next, participants were told that there was either strong evidence that men did better than women on the second test (stereotype threat) or that there were no sex differences (no stereotype threat). Before working on the second task, participants were asked to rate their ability to perform the second task successfully. The results of this experiment, shown in Figure 4.8, were clear. When a stereotype threat was not activated, performance was affected by the feedback given after the first task. Those participants who believed that there was clear, positive evidence of college aptitude had higher expectations of success than those given unclear feedback. In the stereotype threat condition, the two groups did not differ in their expectations concerning the second task.
Thus, in addition to arousing anxiety about testing situations, stereotype threats also lower one’s expectations about one’s performance. Once these negative expectations develop, a self-fulfilling prophecy is most likely developed that “Because I am a female, I am not expected to do well on this task.” Poor performance then confirms that prophecy.
Whether the arousal related to a stereotype threat adversely affects performance depends, in part, on the nature of the task individuals must perform. A consistent finding in social psychology is that arousal enhances performance on a simple task but inhibits performance on a more difficult task (we discuss this effect in detail in Chapter 8). Ben Zeev, Fein, and Inzlicht (2005) conducted a study to investigate this effect. Participants performed either a simple task (writing their names in cursive several times) or difficult task (writing their names in cursive backwards) under stereotype threat or no threat. Ben Zeev et al. found that the arousal associated with the stereotype threat enhanced performance on the simple task and inhibited performance on the difficult task. In a second experiment Ben Zeev et al. found that how participants attributed the cause for their arousal affected performance. Once again, participants were exposed to either a stereotype threat condition or no-threat condition. Participants were told that one purpose of the study was to investigate performance while being exposed to subliminal noise. Participants in the misattribution condition were told that the subliminal noise would produce physical symptoms such as arousal and nervousness. Participants in the control group were told that the subliminal noise would have no physical side effects. All participants completed a moderately difficult math test while being exposed to the noise. The results showed that participants in the control group showed the usual stereotype threat effect (poorer performance under threat versus no threat). However, in the misattribution condition there was no significant threat effect on performance. Hence, if you can attribute your arousal to something other than a stereotype, you will perform well. Arousal related to stereotype threat appears to be an important mediator of performance, as is how the source of the arousal is attributed.
Finally, activating a stereotype threat does not always lead to a decrement in performance. In one experiment, Keller and Bless (2005) manipulated the ease of activating stereotype information (easy versus difficult) along with whether a stereotype threat was activated. Participants completed a questionnaire that they believed tested “emotional intelligence” but actually measured verbal ability. Keller and Bless found the typical stereotype threat effect when activation of stereotype information was easy. That is, when activation was easy, participants who experienced stereotype threat performed more poorly on the test of verbal ability than participants who did not experience stereotype threat. However, when activation was difficult, there was no significant difference in performance between the two stereotype threat groups. In fact, the results showed a slight reversal of the effect. Keller and Bless suggest that when a stereotype can be easily activated, it may reinforce the validity of the stereotype in the mind of the individual. The stereotype that is presumed to be valid is then more likely to inhibit performance than one that is harder (and presumably less valid) to activate. The impact of a stereotype threat also is mediated by one’s locus of control. Locus of control is a personality characteristic relating to whether a person believes he or she controls his or her outcomes (internal locus of control) or external events control outcomes (external locus of control). Cadinu, Maass, Lombardo, and Frigerio (2006) report that individuals with an internal locus of control exhibited a greater decrease in performance under stereotype threat than individuals with an external locus of control.
The preceding studies show how being the target of a stereotype can affect individual behavior in a very specific context (i.e., testing). Stereotypes can also have a broader, more general effect by making members of stereotyped groups sensitive to the stigmatizing effects of the stereotype. In other words, a person from a stereotyped group may become overly concerned that a transgression by a member of one’s group may reflect badly on him or her as an individual (Cohen & Garcia, 2005). Cohen and Garcia refer to this as collective threat. Collective threat flows from “the awareness that the poor performance of a single individual in one’s group may be viewed through the lens of a stereotype and may be generalized into a negative judgment of one’s group” (Cohen & Garcia, 2005, p. 566).
Cohen and Garcia conducted a series of studies to assess the effects of collective threat. In their first study junior and senior high school students completed a questionnaire that included measures of collective threat (concern that behavior of other members of one’s group will reflect badly on the group as a whole), stereotype threat (concern that one’s own behavior will reflect badly on one’s group), and a more generalized threat of being stereotyped (concern that people will judge the participant based on what they think of the participant’s racial group). Cohen and Garcia (2005) compared the responses from students representing three racial/ethnic groups: blacks, whites, and Latinos. Garcia and Cohen found that minority students (blacks and Latinos) were more likely to experience each of the three types of threats than white students. They also found that experiencing collective threat was negatively related to self-esteem. The more a student experienced collective threat, the lower the student’s self-esteem, regardless of the race of the student. Collective threat was also related to a drop in student grade point averages. High levels of perceived collective threat were related to significant drops in grade point average.
A series of follow-up experiments confirmed the results from the questionnaire study. Black students who were randomly assigned to a condition that created collective threat (compared to control students) experienced lower self-esteem and also performed more poorly on a standardized test. Additionally, the students tended to distance themselves from a group member who caused the collective threat. Finally, Cohen and Garcia (2005) found that the effects of collective threat were not limited to racial groups. In their last experiment reported, the effects of collective threat were replicated using gender stereotypes (lower math ability than men) rather than racial stereotypes. Women distanced themselves (sat further way from) another woman who confirmed the math inability stereotype.
Expecting to Be a Target of Prejudice
Another way that being the target of prejudice can affect behavior occurs when people enter into a situation in which they expect to find prejudice. Imagine, for example, that you are a minority student who will be meeting his white roommate for the first time. Could your behavior be affected by your belief that your white roommate might harbor prejudices and negative stereotypes about your group? The answer to this question is that it certainly could.
Research reported by Shelton, Richeson, and Salvatore (2005) confirmed this very effect. They found a relationship between the expectation of encountering prejudice and how they perceived interracial interactions. Specifically, Shelton et al. found that the more a minority student expected prejudice from another white student, the more negative they viewed interaction with that person. This relationship was found in a diary study (students kept a diary of their experiences with their white roommates) and in a laboratory experiment in which prejudice was induced. Shelton et al. also assessed the perceptions of the white students in their studies. Interestingly, they found that the more the minority student expected the white student to be prejudiced, the more positivethe encounter was seen by the white student. This latter finding suggests a major disconnect between the perceptions of the minority and white students. Minority students who expect prejudice (and probably experienced it in the past) may misinterpret white students’behaviors as indicative of prejudice, making the interaction seem more negative than it actually is. White students who do not have the history of experiencing prejudice may be operating in a state of ignorant bliss, not realizing that innocent behaviors may be misconstrued by their minority counterparts.
Coping with Prejudice
It should be obvious from our previous discussion that being a target of prejudice has a variety of negative consequences. Individuals facing instance after instance of everyday prejudice must find ways to deal with its effects. How, for example, can an overweight person who is constantly the target of prejudice effectively manage its consequences? In this section, we explore some strategies that individuals use to cope with being a target of prejudice.
Raising the Value of a Stigmatized Group
One method of coping with prejudice when your group is stigmatized, oppressed, or less valued than other groups is to raise its value. This is done by first convincing group members of their own self-worth and then convincing the rest of society of the group’s worth. The function of all consciousness-raising efforts and positive in-group slogans is to persuade the members of scorned or less-valued groups that they are beautiful or smart or worthy or competent. This first step, maintaining and increasing self-esteem, can be approached in at least two ways (Crocker & Major, 1989; Crocker, Voelkl, Testa, & Major, 1991): attributing negative events to prejudice of the majority and comparing oneself to members of one’s own group.
First, for example, supposed that an African American woman is denied a job or a promotion. She can better maintain her self-esteem if she attributes this outcome to the prejudice of the person evaluating her. Of course, people are usually uncertain about the true motives of other people in situations like this. Although a rejection by a majority group member can be attributed to the evaluator’s prejudice, the effects on the self-esteem of the minority person are complex.
Some of these effects were investigated in a study in which African American participants were evaluated by white evaluators (Crocker & Major, 1989). When participants thought that evaluators were uninfluenced by their race, positive evaluations increased their self-esteem. But when participants knew that evaluators were influenced by their race, positive evaluations decreased their self-esteem. Compared to whites, African Americans were more likely to attribute both positive and negative evaluations to prejudice. Any judgment, positive or negative, that the recipient thought was based on racism led to a decrease in self-esteem (Crocker et al., 1991). Uncertainty about such evaluations thus has important consequences for self-esteem. In our society, African Americans are often evaluated primarily by whites, which suggests that they may always feel uncertain about their evaluators’motives (Crocker et al., 1991). This uncertainty may be exacerbated for African American females who are evaluated by white males (Coleman, Jussim, & Isaac, 1991).
Even when race (or some other characteristic) works in one’s favor, uncertainty or attributional ambiguitymay be aroused. For example, a minority group member who receives a job where an affirmative action program is in effect may never know for certain whether he or she was hired based on qualifications or race. This attributional ambiguity generates negative affect and motivation (Blaine, Crocker, & Major, 1995). In one study participants who believed that they received a job due to sympathy over a stigma experienced lower self-esteem, negative emotion, and reduced work motivation than those who believed they received the job based on qualifications (Blaine et al., 1995).
Making In-Group Comparisons
Second, members of less-favored groups can maintain self-esteem by comparing themselves with members of their own group, rather than with members of the more favored or fortunate groups. In-group comparisons may be less painful and more rewarding for members of stigmatized groups. Research supports this hypothesis in a number of areas, including pay, abilities, and physical attractiveness (Crocker & Major, 1989). Once group members have raised their value in their own eyes, the group is better placed to assert itself in society.
As the feelings of cohesiveness and belonging of the in-group increase, there is often an escalation in hostility directed toward the out-group (Allport, 1954). History teaches us that self-identifying with an in-group and identifying others with an out-group
underlies many instances of prejudice and intergroup hostility.
Anticipating and Confronting Prejudice
Swim, Cohen, and Hyers (1998) suggested that another strategy for individuals from a stigmatized group is to try to anticipate situations in which prejudice will be encountered. By doing this, the individual can decide how to best react or to minimize the impact of prejudice. The individual may decide to alter his or her demeanor, manner of dress, or even where he or she goes to school or lives in an effort to minimize the likelihood of encountering prejudice (Swim et al., 1998).
Once a person has made an assessment of a situation for anticipated prejudice, that person must next decide what course of action to take. The individual could choose to confront the prejudice and move toward the original goal or choose to avoid the prejudiced situation and find some alternative (Swim et al., 1998). Confronting prejudice means “a volitional process aimed at expressing one’s dissatisfaction with discriminatory treatment to a person or group of people who are responsible for engaging in a discriminatory event” (Kaiser & Miller, 2004, p. 168). For example, a woman who has just been told a nasty, sexist joke can confront the joke teller and point out the inappropriateness of the joke. Although it may be noble to confront prejudice and discrimination, the reality is that many of us don’t do it. In one experiment, for example, in which women were subjected to sexist comments, only 45% of the women confronted the offender. However, privately, a vast majority of the women expressed private distaste for the comments and the person who made them (Swim & Hyers, 1999). Why would the women who experienced sexism be reluctant to confront it? Unfortunately, there is not a lot of research on this issue. One study (Kaiser & Miller, 2004), however, did look into this question. Women were asked to recall instances of sexism that they had encountered in their lives (e.g., sexism in the workplace, experiencing demeaning comments, or exposure to stereotyped sex role concepts). The women also completed measures of optimism and cognitive appraisals of confronting sexism. The results showed that women who perceived confronting prejudice as cognitively difficult (e.g., not worth the effort, anxiety producing) were less likely to have reported confronting the sexism they had experienced. Kaiser and Miller also found a relationship between optimism and cognitive appraisals. Women with a more optimistic outlook viewed confrontation as less threatening than women with a pessimistic outlook. In short, women with optimistic outlooks are more likely to confront prejudice than those with a pessimistic outlook. Thus, both personality characteristics and cognitive evaluations are involved in the decision to confront prejudice. Of course, this conclusion is tentative at this time, and we don’t know if similar psychological mechanisms apply to coping with other forms of prejudice.
Compensating for Prejudice
Members of a stigmatized group can also engage in compensation to cope with prejudice (Miller & Myers, 1998). According to Miller and Myers, there are two modes of compensation in which a person can engage. When secondary compensation is used, individuals attempt to change their mode of thinking about situations to psychologically protect themselves against the outcomes of prejudice. For example, a person who wants to obtain a college degree but faces prejudice that may prevent reaching the goal would be using secondary compensation if he or she devalued the goal (a college education is not all that important) or disidentified with the goal (members of my group usually don’t go to college). On the other hand, primary compensationreduces the actual threats posed by prejudice. Coping strategies are developed that allow the targets of prejudice to achieve their goals. For example, the person in the example could increase his or her effort (study harder in school), use latent skills (become more persistent), or develop new skills to help achieve goals that are blocked by prejudice. When primary compensation is used, it reduces the need for secondary compensation (Miller & Myers, 1998).
Interestingly, coping with prejudice is different if you are talking about individual coping as opposed to group coping. Mummendey, Kessler, Klink, and Mielke (1999) tested coping strategies tied to two theories relating to being a target of prejudice: social identity theory and relative deprivation theory. As you read earlier, social identity theory proposes that individuals derive part of their self-concept from affiliation with a group. If the group with which you affiliate has negative stereotypes attached to it, the social identity will be negative. According to relative deprivation theory, members of a stereotyped group recognize that they are undervalued and reap fewer benefits from society than more preferred groups. In theory, negative social identity should lead to individually based coping strategies, whereas perceived relative deprivation should lead to group-based coping (Mummendey et al., 1999).
To test this hypothesis, residents of former East Germany were administered a questionnaire concerning social identity and relative deprivation. The questionnaire also measured several identity management strategies. Mummendey and colleagues (1999) found that social identity issues were handled with management strategies (e.g., mobility and recategorization of the self to a higher level in the group) that stressed one’s individual attachment with an in-group. Management techniques relating to relative deprivation were more group based, focusing on group-based strategies such as collective action to reduce relative deprivation. In addition, social identity issues were tied closely with cognitive aspects of group affiliation, whereas relative deprivation was mediated strongly by emotions such as anger.
A rather gloomy conclusion that may be drawn from the research on the cognitive processing of social information is that normal cognitive functioning leads inevitably to the development and maintenance of social stereotypes (Mackie, Allison, Vorth, & Asuncion, 1992). Social psychologists have investigated the strategies that people can use to reduce prejudice and intergroup hostility. In the following sections, we explore some of these actions.
Contact between Groups
In his classic book The Nature of Prejudice (1954), Gordon Allport proposed the contact hypothesis. According to this hypothesis, contact between groups will reduce hostility when the participants have equal status and a mutual goal. However, evidence for the contact hypothesis is mixed. On the one hand, some research does not support the contact hypothesis (Miller & Brewer, 1984). Even if there is friendly contact, people still manage to defend their stereotypes. Friendly interaction between individual members of different racial groups may have little effect on their prejudices, because the person they are interacting with may be seen as exceptional and not representative of the out-group (Horwitz & Rabbie, 1989). On the other hand, some research does support the contact hypothesis (Van Laar, Levin, Sinclair, & Sidanius, 2005). Van Laar et al. looked at the effects of living with a roommate from a different racial or ethnic group. They found that students who were randomly assigned to live with an out-group roommate showed increasingly positive feelings as the academic year progressed. The most positive effect of contact was found when the out-group roommate was African American. Even better, the increasing positive attitudes toward African Americans were found to generalize to Latinos. Interestingly, however, both white and black participants showed increasingly negativeattitudes toward Asian roommates as the year progressed. In one early study, two groups of boys at a summer camp were made to be competitive and then hostile toward each other (Sherif, Harvey, White, Hood, & Sherif, 1961). At the end of the camp experience, when the researchers tried to reduce the intergroup hostility, they found that contact between the groups and among the boys was not sufficient to reduce hostility. In fact, contact only made the situation worse. It was only when the groups had to work together in pulling a vehicle out of the mud so that they could continue on a long-awaited trip that hostility was reduced. This cooperation on a goal that was important to both groups is called a superordinate goal, which is essentially the same as Allport’s notion of a mutual goal.
Further evidence that under certain circumstances contact does lead to a positive change in the image of an out-group member comes from other research. In one study, for example, college students were asked to interact with another student described as a former patient at a mental hospital (Desforges et al., 1991). Students were led to expect that the former patient would behave in a manner similar to a typical mental patient. Some of the participants were initially prejudiced toward mental patients, and others were not. After working with the former mental patient in a 1-hour-long cooperative task, the initially prejudiced participants showed a positive change in their feelings about the former patient.
As shown in Figure 4.9, participants experienced a three-stage alteration. At first, they formed a category-based impression: “This is a former mental patient, and this is the way mental patients behave.” But equal status and the necessity for cooperation (Allport’s two conditions) compelled the participants to make an adjustment in their initial automatically formed impression (Fiske & Neuberg, 1990). This is the second stage. Finally, once the adjustment was made, participants generalized the change in feelings to other mental patients (although they might have concluded, as tends to be more common, that this patient was different from other former mental patients). Note that the readjustment of the participants’feelings toward the former mental patient was driven by paying attention to the personal characteristics of that individual.
In another setting (a schoolroom), Eliot Aronson found that the use of tasks that require each person to solve some part of the whole problem reduces prejudice among schoolchildren (Aronson, Blaney, Stephan, Sikes, & Snapp, 1978). This approach, called the jigsaw classroom, requires that each group member be assigned responsibility for a part of the problem. Group members then share their knowledge with everyone else. The concept works because the problem cannot be solved without the efforts of all members; thus each person is valued. This technique also tends to increase the selfesteem of members of different ethnic groups because their efforts are valued.
Does the contact hypothesis work? Yes, but with very definite limits. It seems that both parties have to have a goal they both want and cannot achieve without the other. This superordinate goal also has to compel both to attend to each other’s individual characteristics. It also seems to be important that they be successful in obtaining that goal. A recent meta-analysis confirms that contact strategies that conform to the optimal conditions have a greater effect on prejudice than those that do not (Tropp & Pettigrew, 2005a). Additinally Tropp and Pettigrew (2005a) found that the prejudice-reducing effects of contact were stronger for majority-status groups than minority-status groups.
Even when all these conditions are met, individuals may revert to their prior beliefs when they leave the interaction. Palestinians and Israelis meeting in Egypt to resolve differences and negotiate peace may find their stereotypes of the other side lessening as they engage in face-to-face, equal, and (perhaps) mutually rewarding contact. But when they go home, pressure from other members of their groups may compel them to take up their prior beliefs again.
Finally, research has investigated how contact reduces prejudice. Recent evidence suggests that intergroup contact mediates prejudice through emotional channels rather than directly reducing stereotypes and other cognitive aspects of prejudice (Tropp & Pettigrew, 2005b).
Personalizing Out-Group Members
According to Henri Tajfel (1982), the Nazis attempted to deny Jews and others their individuality, their identity, by defining them as outside the category of human beings, as Untermenschen, subhumans. This dehumanization made it easy for even humane individuals to brutalize and kill because they did not see the individual men, women, and children who were their victims (Horwitz & Rabbie, 1989).
If dehumanizing people makes it easier to be prejudiced, even to carry out the worst atrocities, then perhaps humanizing people, personalizing them, can reduce stereotyping and prejudice. People are less likely to use gender stereotypes, for example, when they have the time to process information that tells them about the distinctive traits of individual males and females (Pratto & Bargh, 1991). Humanizing members of a group does not necessarily mean that we must know or understand each individual in that group (Bodenhausen, 1993). It means we understand that we and they have a shared humanity and that we all feel the same joys and pains. Overall, although personalization is not always successful, especially if the individual is disliked, it does make it more difficult for people to act in a prejudiced manner (Fiske & Neuberg, 1990).
In the 1993 movie Schindler’s List, an event occurs that illustrates the notion of humanizing the other group. Schindler has managed to save 1,200 Jews otherwise destined for the gas chambers by employing them in his factory. Schindler knows that the German guards have orders to kill all the Jews should the war end. When news comes that the war is over, the guards stand on a balcony overlooking the factory floor, their weapons pointed at the workers. But these Germans have had contact with the Jews; they have seen Schindler treat them humanely, and they have heard them praying and celebrating the Sabbath. Schindler, desperate to save his charges, challenges the Germans: “Do you want to go home as men or as murderers?” The guards hesitate and then slowly leave. Did the Germans put up their weapons out of a sense of shared humanity, or were they simply tired of killing people? In any event, the Jews survived.
Reducing the Expression of Prejudice through Social Norms
In the spring of 1989, four African American students at Smith College received anonymous notes containing racial slurs. The incident led to campus-wide protests. It also inspired an experiment designed to determine the most effective way to deter such expressions of hatred (Blanchard, Lilly, & Vaughn, 1991). The answer? Attack the behaviors—the acts of hatred themselves—not people’s feelings about racial issues.
In one experiment, students were asked how they felt the college should respond to these anonymous notes. Some participants then “overheard” a confederate of the experimenters express the opinion that the letter writer, if discovered, should be expelled. Other participants “overheard” the confederate justify the letters by saying the African American students probably did something to deserve it. The study showed that clear antiracist statements (the person should be expelled) set a tone for other students that discouraged the expression of racial sentiment. Because, as we have seen, racial stereotypes are automatically activated and resistant to change, the best way to discourage racial behavior is through the strong expression of social norms—disapproval from students, campus leaders, and the whole college community (Cook, 1984).
Another kind of prejudice, heterosexism, has been deflected in recent years by appeal to social norms as well as by the threat of social sanctions. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), increasingly supported by public opinion, has targeted pop musicians who sing antigay lyrics and make antigay statements. In 2004, GLAAD issued a statement denouncing singer Beenie Man for his antigay lyrics. One of Man’s songs included lyrics such as “I’m dreaming of a new Jamaica; we’ve come to execute all the gays” (Testone, 2004). As a result of pressure from gay rights groups, MTV cancelled an appearance by Man on its music awards show in 2005.
Reducing Prejudice through Training
Another strategy employed to reduce prejudice is training individuals to associate positive characteristics to out-group members or to dissociate negative traits from those members. This strategy has been adopted in many contexts. Industries, colleges and universities, and even elementary and high school programs emphasize diversity and attempt to improve intergroup relations and reduce prejudice and stereotyping. In this section we will see if such strategies are effective.
Evidence for the effectiveness of training against stereotypes was found in an experiment by Kawakami, Dovidio, Moll, Hermsen, and Russin (2000). Kawakami et al. had participants respond to photographs of black and white individuals associated with stereotypic and nonstereotypic traits associated with the photographs. Half of the participants received training to help them suppress automatic activation of stereotypes. These participants were trained to respond “No” to a white photograph associated with stereotypical white characteristics and “No” to a black photograph associated with stereotypical black characteristics. They were also trained to respond “Yes” when a photograph (black or white) was associated with a nonstereotypic trait. The other half of the participants were provided with training that was just the opposite. The results showed that after extensive training participants who were given stereotype suppression training were able to suppress stereotypes that were usually activated automatically.
In a similar experiment, Kawakami, Dovidio, and van Kamp (2005) investigated whether such training effects extended to gender stereotypes. During the training phase of the experiment, some participants were told that they would see a photograph of a face along with two traits at the bottom of the photograph. Participants were instructed to indicate which of the two traits was notculturally associated with the person depicted. So, for example, a face of a female was shown with the traits “sensitive” (a trait stereotypically associated with females) and “strong” (a trait not stereotypically associated with females). The correct answer for this trial would be to select “strong.” Participants in the “no training” condition did not go through this procedure. All participants then evaluated four potential job candidates (all equally qualified). Two of the applicants were male and two were female. Participants were told to pick the best candidate for a job that involved leadership and supervising doctors. Half of the participants in the training condition did the applicant rating task immediately after the training, whereas the other half completed a filler task before completing the applicant rating task (this introduced a delay between the training and rating task).
Kawakami et al. (2005) found that participants in the no training and the training with no delay before the rating task were more likely to pick a male candidate than female candidate for the leadership position. These participants displayed sexist preferences. However, when the training and application-rating task were separated by a filler task, sexist preferences were significantly reduced. Kawakami et al. (2005) suggest that when there was no filler task, participants may have felt unduly influenced to pick a female applicant. Because of psychological reactance (i.e., not liking it when we are told to do something), these participants selected the male applicants. Reactance was less likely to be aroused when the training and task were separated. How about more realistic training exercises? In one study, Stewart et al. (2003) exposed participants to a classic racial sensitivity exercise. This exercise involves using eye color as a basis for discrimination. For example, blue-eyed individuals are set up as the preferred group and brown-eyed individuals in the subordinate group. During the exercise the blue-eyed individuals are treated better, given more privileges, and given preferential treatment. Participants in a control group did not go through this exercise. The results showed that participants in the exercise group showed more positive attitudes toward Asians and Latinos than participants in the control group (the exercise produced only marginally better attitudes toward African Americans). Participants in the exercise group also expressed more displeasure with themselves when they caught themselves thinking prejudicial thoughts. Hogan and Mallot (2005) assessed whether students enrolled in a course on race and gender experienced a reduction in prejudice (measured by the Modern Racism Scale). Participants in the study were students who were either currently enrolled in the course, had taken the course in the past, or had not taken the course. Hogan and Miller found that participants who were currently enrolled in the class showed less racial prejudice than participants in the other two groups. The fact that the participants who had completed the course showed more prejudice than those currently enrolled suggested to Hogan and Miller that the effects of the race/gender course were temporary. What is clear from these studies is that there is no simple, consistent effect of training on racial prejudice. Of course, this conclusion is based on only a few studies. More research is needed to determine the extent to which diversity or racial sensitivity training will reduce prejudice.
A Success Story: The Disarming of Racism in the U.S. Army
During the Vietnam War, race relations in the U.S. Army were abysmal (Moskos, 1991). Fights between white and African American soldiers were commonplace in army life in the 1970s. By the early 1980s, the army was making an organized and determined effort to eliminate racial prejudice and animosities. It appears to have succeeded admirably. Many of the strategies the army used are based on principles discussed in this chapter. Let’s consider what they were.
One important strategy used by the army was the level playing field (Moskos, 1990, 1991). This means that from basic training onward, everyone is treated the same—the same haircuts, the same uniforms, the same rules and regulations. This helps to reduce advantages and handicaps and make everyone equal. The army also has a basic remedial education program that is beneficial for those with leadership qualities but deficits in schooling.
A second factor is a rigid no-discrimination policy. Any expression of racist sentiments results in an unfavorable rating and an end to a military career. This is not to say that officers are free of racist sentiments; it merely means that officers jeopardize their careers if they express or act on such sentiments. A racial insult can lead to a charge of incitement to riot and is punishable by time in the brig. The army uses social scientists to monitor the state of racial relations. It also runs training programs for equal-opportunity instructors, whose function is to see that the playing field remains level.
The army’s ability to enforce a nonracist environment is supported enormously by the hierarchy that exists both within the officer corps and among the noncommissioned officers. The social barriers that exist in the army reflect rank rather than race. A sergeant must have a stronger identification with his or her peer sergeants than with members of the same race in lower ranks.
Finally, the army’s nondiscriminatory environment is visible in its leadership. Many African Americans have leadership roles in the army, including General Colin Powell, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
What lessons can we learn from the U.S. Army’s experience? First, a fair implementation of the contact hypothesis is a good starting point for reducing prejudice. Equal-status interaction and clear mutual goals, even superordinate goals, are essential ingredients of effective contact. Clear and forceful support of the program by leadership is another ingredient. Anyone who violates the policy suffers. At the same time, positive action is taken to level prior inequalities. The army’s special programs ensure that everyone has an equal chance.
Some of these lessons cannot be transferred from the army setting. Civilian society does not have the army’s strict hierarchy, its control over its members, or its system of rewards and punishments. But the fundamental lesson may be that race relations can best be served by strengthening positive social norms. When social norms are very clear, and when there is a clear commitment to nondiscrimination by leadership—employers, politicians, and national leaders—individual members of society have the opportunity to transcend their prejudices and act on their shared humanity.
The Mormon Experience Revisited
We opened this chapter with a discussion of the experience of the Mormons in the 1800s. The Mormons were the victims of stereotyping (branded as heretics), prejudice (negative attitudes directed at them by the population and the press), and discrimination (economic boycotts). They were viewed as the out-group by Christians (the in-group) to the extent that they began living in their own homogeneous enclaves and even became the target of an extermination order. Once the “us” versus “them” mentality set in, it was easy enough for the Christian majority to pigeonhole Mormons and act toward individual Mormons based on what was believed about them as a group. This is what we would expect based on social identity theory and self-categorization theory. By perceiving the Mormons as evil and themselves as the protectors of all that is sacred, the Christian majority undoubtedly was able to enhance the self-esteem of its members.
The reaction of the Mormons to the prejudice also fits nicely with what we know about how prejudice affects people. Under conditions of threat, we tend to band more closely together as a protection mechanism. The Mormons became more clannish and isolated from mainstream society. This is an example of using primary compensation to cope with the prejudice. The Mormons decided to keep to themselves and tried not to antagonize the Christian majority. Unfortunately, this increased isolation was viewed by the majority as further evidence for the stereotypes about the Mormons. Ultimately, the cycle of prejudice continued until the Mormons were driven to settle in Utah.
1. How are prejudice, stereotypes, and discrimination defined?
Prejudice is defined as a biased, often negative, attitude about a group of people. Prejudicial attitudes include belief structures housing information about a group and expectations concerning the behavior of members of that group. Prejudice can be positive or negative, with negative prejudice—dislike for a group—being the focus of research and theory. A stereotype is a rigid set of positive or negative beliefs about the characteristics of a group. A stereotype represents pictures we keep in our heads. When a prejudiced person encounters a member of a group, he or she will activate the stereotype and fit it to the individual. Stereotypes are not abnormal ways of thinking. Rather, they relate to the natural tendency for humans to categorize. Categorization becomes problematic when categories become rigid and overgeneralized. Stereotypes may also form the basis for judgmental heuristics about the behavior of members of a group. Discrimination is the behavioral component of a prejudicial attitude. Discrimination occurs when prejudicial feelings are turned into behavior. Like stereotyping, discrimination is an extension of a natural tendency to discriminate among stimuli. Discrimination becomes a problem when it is directed toward people simply because they are members of a group. It is important to note that discrimination can occur in the absence of prejudice, and prejudice can exist without discrimination.
2. What is the relationship among prejudice, stereotypes, and discrimination?
Prejudice, stereotypes, and discrimination are related phenomena that help us understand why we treat members of certain groups with hostility. Prejudice comes in a variety of forms, with sexism (negative feelings based on gender category) and racism (negative feelings based on apparent racial category) being most common. Stereotyped beliefs about members of a group often give rise to prejudicial feelings, which may give rise to discriminatory behavior.
Stereotypes also may serve as judgmental heuristics and affect the way we interpret the behavior of members of a group. Behavior that is seen as stereotype-consistent is likely to be attributed internally and judged more harshly than behavior that is not stereotype-consistent.
3. What evidence is there for the prevalence of these concepts from a historical perspective?
History tells us that stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination have been with human beings for a long time. Once formed, stereotypes and prejudices endure over time. Stereotyped views of Japanese by Americans (and vice versa) endured from the World War II era through the present. Prejudicial feelings also led to religious persecution in the United States against groups such as the Mormons.
4. What are the personality roots of prejudice?
One personality dimension identified with prejudice is authoritarianism. People with authoritarian personalities tend to feel submissive toward authority figures and hostile toward different ethnic groups. They have rigid beliefs and tend to be racist and sexist. Social psychologists have also explored how members of different groups, such as whites and blacks, perceive each other. An updated version of the authoritarian personality is right-wing authoritarianism (RWA), which also relates to prejudice. Social dominance orientation (SDO) is another personality dimension that has been studied. People high on social dominance want their group to be superior to others. SDO is also related to prejudice. When SDO and RWA are considered together, they are associated with the highest levels of prejudice. Finally, two dimensions of the “big five” approach to personality (agreeableness and openness) are negatively related to prejudice. There is also evidence that SDO and RWA may relate differently to different forms of prejudice. SDO is related to stereotyping, negative emotion, and negative attitudes directed toward African Americans and homosexuals, and RWA is related to negative stereotypes and emotion directed at homosexuals, but not African Americans.
5. How does gender relate to prejudice?
Research shows that males are higher on SDO than females and tend to be more prejudiced than females. Research on male and female attitudes about homosexuality generally shows that males demonstrate a more prejudiced attitude toward homosexuals than do females. Males tend to have more negative feelings toward gay men than toward lesbians. Whether females show more prejudice against lesbians than against gay men is not clear. Some research shows that women don’t make a distinction between gays and lesbians, whereas other research suggests greater prejudice against lesbians than against gay men. Other research shows that males tend to show more ethnic prejudices than females.
6. What are the social roots of prejudice?
Prejudice must be considered within the social context within which it exists. Historically, dominant groups have directed prejudice at less dominant groups. Although most Americans adhere to the notion of equity and justice toward minorities such as African Americans, they tend to oppose steps to reach those goals and only pay lip service to the notion of equity.
7. What is modern racism, and what are the criticisms of it?
In modern culture, it is no longer acceptable to express prejudices overtly, as it was in the past. However, prejudice is still expressed in a more subtle form: modern racism. Adherents of the notion of modern racism suggest that opposing civil rights legislation or voting for a candidate who opposes affirmative action are manifestations of modern racism.
Critics of modern racism point out that equating opposition to political ideas with racism is illogical and that the concept of modern racism has not been clearly defined or measured. Additionally, the correlation between modern racism and old-fashioned racism is high. Thus, modern and old-fashioned racism may be indistinguishable.
8. What are the cognitive roots of prejudice?
Cognitive social psychologists have focused on stereotypes and intergroup perceptions when attempting to understand prejudice. As humans, we have a strong predisposition to categorize people into groups. We do this even when we have only the most minimal basis on which to make categorizations. We classify ourselves and those we perceive to be like us in the in-group, and others whom we perceive to be different from us we classify in the out-group. As a result of this categorization, we tend to display an in-group bias: favoring members of the in-group over members of the out-group.
Tajfel proposed his social identity theory to help explain in-group bias. According to this theory, individuals are motivated to maintain a positive self-concept, part of which comes from membership in groups. Identification with the in-group confers us with a social identity. Categorizing dissimilar others as members of the out-group is another aspect of the social identity process. When we feel threatened, in-group bias increases, thereby enhancing our self-concept. Self-categorization theory suggests that self-esteem is most likely to be enhanced when members of the in-group distinguish themselves from other groups in positive ways.
The in-group bias may also have biological roots. We have a strong wariness of the unfamiliar, called xenophobia, which sociobiologists think is a natural part of our genetic heritage. It may have helped us survive as a species. It is biologically adaptive, for example, for a child to be wary of potentially dangerous strangers. The in-group bias may serve a similar purpose. Throughout history there are examples of various groups increasing solidarity in response to hostility from the dominant group to ensure group survival. Prejudice, then, may be seen as an unfortunate by-product of natural, biologically based behavior patterns.
Because it is less taxing to deal with a person by relying on groupbased stereotypes than to find out about that individual, categorizing people using stereotypes helps us economize our cognitive processing effort. Quick categorization of individuals via stereotypes contributes to prejudicial feelings and discrimination. Automatic language associations, by which we link positive words with the in-group and negative words with the out-group, contribute to these negative feelings.
9. How do cognitive biases contribute to prejudice?
Cognitive biases and errors that lead to prejudice include the illusory correlation, the fundamental attribution error, the confirmation bias, the out-group homogeneity bias, and the ultimate attribution error. An illusory correlation is the tendency to believe that two unrelated events are connected if they are systematically related. If you have a tendency to believe that members of a minority group have a negative characteristic, then you will perceive a relationship between group membership and a behavior related to that trait. Additionally, illusory correlations help form and maintain stereotypes. A prejudiced person will overestimate the degree of relationship between a negative trait and a negative behavior. The fundamental attribution error (the tendency to overestimate the role of internal characteristics in the behavior of others) also helps maintain stereotypes and prejudice. Because of this error, individuals tend to attribute negative behaviors of a minority group to internal predispositions rather than to situational factors. The confirmation bias maintains prejudice because individuals who hold negative stereotypes about a group look for evidence to confirm those stereotypes. If one expects a minority-group member to behave in a negative way, evidence will be sought to confirm that expectation. The out-group homogeneity bias is the tendency to see less diversity among members of an out-group than among members of an in-group. As a consequence, a negative behavior of one member of an out-group is likely to be seen as representative of the group as a whole. The ultimate attribution error occurs when we attribute a negative behavior of a minority group to the general characteristics of individuals who make up that group, whereas we attribute the same behavior of an in-group member to situational factors.
10. Are stereotypes ever accurate, and can they be overcome?
There are studies that show that some stereotypes sometimes are accurate. However, accurate or not, stereotypes are still harmful, because they give us a damaging perception of others. There is a tendency to judge individuals according to the worst example of a group represented by a stereotype. Stereotypes can be overcome if one uses controlled processing rather than automatic processing when thinking about others.
11. How do prejudiced and nonprejudiced individuals differ?
One important way in which more- and less-prejudiced individuals differ is that the latter are aware of their prejudices and carefully monitor them. Less-prejudiced persons tend not to believe the stereotypes they hold and act accordingly. Prejudiced individuals are more likely to use automatic processing and energize stereotypes than are less-prejudiced individuals who use controlled processing. However, even nonprejudiced persons will fall prey to stereotyping if stereotypes are activated beyond their conscious control.
12. What is the impact of prejudice on those who are its target?
There are many ways that prejudice can be expressed, some more serious than others. However, it is safe to say that even the lowest level of expression (antilocution) can have detectable emotional and cognitive consequences for targets of prejudice. Everyday prejudice has a cumulative effect on a person and contributes to the target’s knowledge and experience with prejudice. Targets of prejudice-based jokes report feelings of disgust, anger, and hostility in response to those jokes.
Another way that targets of prejudice are affected is through the mechanism of the stereotype threat. Once a stereotype is activated about one’s group, a member of that group may perform poorly on a task related to that threat, a fact confirmed by research. Another form of threat is collective threat, which occurs when a person from a stereotyped group becomes overly concerned that a transgression by a member of one’s group may reflect badly on him or her as an individual. Collective threat comes from a concern that poor performance by one member of one’s group may be viewed as a stereotype and generalized to all members of that group.
13. How can a person who is the target of prejudice cope with being a target?
Usually, individuals faced with everyday prejudice must find ways of effectively managing it. If one’s group is devalued, stigmatized, or oppressed relative to other groups, prejudice can be countered by raising the value of the devalued group. This is done by first convincing group members of their own self-worth and then by convincing the rest of society of the worth of the group. Another strategy used by individuals from a stigmatized group is to try to anticipate situations in which prejudice will be encountered. Individuals can then decide how to best react to or minimize the impact of prejudice, for example, by modifying their behavior, the way they dress, or the neighborhood in which they live. A third way to cope with stress is through the use of compensation. There are two modes of compensation in which a person can engage. When secondary compensation is used, an individual attempts to change his or her mode of thinking about situations to psychologically protect him- or herself against the outcomes of prejudice. For example, a person who wants to obtain a college degree but faces prejudice that may prevent reaching the goal would be using secondary compensation if he or she devalued the goal (a college education is not all that important) or disidentified with the goal (members of my group usually don’t go to college). On the other hand, primary compensation reduces the actual threats posed by prejudice. Coping strategies are developed that allow the target of prejudice to achieve his or her goals.
14. What can be done about prejudice?
Although prejudice has plagued humans throughout their history, there may be ways to reduce it. The contact hypothesis suggests that increased contact between groups should increase positive feelings. However, mere contact may not be enough. Positive feelings are enhanced when there is a superordinate goal toward which groups work cooperatively. Another strategy is to personalize out-group members; this prevents falling back on stereotypes. It is also beneficial to increase the frequency of antiracist statements that people hear, a form of strengthening social norms. A strong expression of social norms, disapproval of prejudice in all of its variations, is probably the best way to discourage and reduce prejudiced acts. Prejudice may also be reduced through training programs that seek to dissociate negative traits from minority group members. Although these programs have met with some success, there is no simple, consistent effect of training on racial prejudice.
Kenneth S. Bordens Indiana University—Purdue University Fort Wayne
Irwin A. Horowitz - Oregon State University
Social Psychology, 3rd Edition
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