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The Psychology Of Prejudice & Racism

Updated: Jul 19, 2020

How do we define prejudice and racism?

Prejudice and Racism both refers to a negative view of a group of people based solely on their membership in that group. Racism is a specific form of prejudice, involving prejudicial attitudes or behavior towards members of an ethnic group. The definition of race is somewhat variable but commonly refers to an ethnic group originating from a specific continent, such as people of African, European or Asian descent.

What is stereotyping and how does it relate to social prejudice?

Stereotyping goes hand in hand with prejudice. The term stereotype as used in social science was first introduced by the journalist Walter Lippmann in 1922. Previously the term had been used in the printing business. When we stereotype people, we attribute a series of traits to them based on that one trait which signals their membership to a particular group. Common contemporary stereotypes are that Asians are hardworking and studious, Hispanics are macho, and that librarians are introverts. By definition, stereotypes are limiting and disregard people’s individuality. They also lend themselves to negative and derogatory assumptions. When that happens the stereotype blends into prejudice.

How does our tendency to categorize lend itself to stereotyping?

The tendency to classify our experience into categories is a fundamental and universal aspect of human cognition. We create concepts in order to make sense of the endless complexity we encounter in our environment. This is a necessary part of human thought, allowing us to process information efficiently and quickly. If we did not create categories our entire life would be a buzzing mass of confusion. In social categorization, we place people into categories. People also reflexively distinguish members of in-groups (groups of which the subject is a member) from members of out-groups. Furthermore, people tend to evaluate out-groups more negatively than in-groups. In this way, social categories easily lend themselves to stereotypes in general and to negative stereotypes in particular.

How do we reduce social prejudice?

Given our diverse and multi-ethnic world, it is of great importance to understand ways to reduce social prejudice. In the 1950’s, Gordon Allport introduced the inter group-contact hypothesis. In this view, inter-group contact under positive conditions can reduce social prejudice. The necessary conditions include cooperation towards shared goals, equal status between groups, and the support of local authorities and cultural norms. In other words, different groups can come together as part of one overarching group, for example as part of one community or of a common humanity.

Do cross-group friendships reduce social prejudice?

Positive emotional experiences with members of different groups can also reduce negative stereotypes. Having close friends from different groups is especially effective in this regard. There are several reasons for this. For one, it is nearly impossible to hold onto a simplistic, negative stereotype of someone you know well. Secondly, close friendships and relationships promote identification with the other person and of the groups they belong to. In other words, your relationships with other people become a part of who you are as a person and help in personality development under the present influence. This is referred to as including the other in the self, a notion introduced by Stephen Wright.

Written By: Eshita Attri


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