Prejudice is defined as the affective or evaluative component of the tripartite attitude structure of social bias. As such, prejudice consists of the emotional reaction evoked by social group members, is informed by the cognitive component or stereotype held about the perceived social group, and predicts the discrimination or behavior exhibited toward the group members. Prejudice as a concept has interested social scientists since World War II (1939–1945). The Holocaust drove a number of Jewish psychologists from Europe to the United States, where they initiated relevant research on conformity, obedience, aggression, and prejudice.
Prejudice initially had been considered simple animosity or negative affect toward out-groups. However, beginning with Gordon Allport’s The Nature of Prejudice (1954), social scientists began to analyze the psychological construct in a more nuanced, differentiated manner. As a result, prejudice is now viewed as more than simple animosity. Led by Allport’s influential work, social psychologists in the late 1990s and early 2000s posited various intergroup emotion models to predict the types of prejudice elicited by different types of out-groups. These theories borrowed from work across the social sciences, including political science, economics, and evolutionary psychology. The gist of the models was that when we encounter an out-group member, an initial threat appraisal is based on his or her perceived social category. For instance, Susan Fiske and colleagues’ Stereotype Content Model argues that the interaction of perceived warmth (good or ill intention) and competence (ability to enact the intention) predict four types of emotional prejudices evoked by the out-group member. These models therefore allow for ambivalent emotions (e.g., pity, envy) beyond a simple like-dislike (e.g., pride, contempt) dimension, and, as a result, have allowed the landscape of prejudice to become much more detailed and comprehensive.
Prejudice occupies a dual-process model of attitude processes. Attitudes comprise the evaluations of attitude-objects, and research in the 1990s unearthed the central insight that attitudes include both an explicit and implicit component. The explicit component is the easily self-reported attitude in conscious awareness. The implicit component is often hidden from our consciousness, but does inform unintentional responses to out-groups. Moreover, the implicit attitude results from learned associations picked up from social environments. Prejudice is therefore thought to have an implicit and explicit component.
A dispute followed the adoption of this dual-process framework, and the field of prejudice serves as a primary battleground. The conflict involves whether one’s implicit attitude is really an attitude, and if it is, is it the same as one’s explicit attitude? For instance, one may hold egalitarian beliefs about social groups and as a result, not report any prejudiced feelings toward a certain social group. However, one’s implicit attitude is informed by the society one inhabits, and a stronger association between a group and negativity may lie deep in one’s unconscious. Hence, even though one does not explicitly hold any prejudiced attitudes, one’s implicit beliefs may contradict this position.
Nevertheless, prejudice continues to be conceived in lay terms as simple animosity—a conception that makes it a taboo topic. The advent of the civil rights movement of the 1960s changed the social norm against prejudice, and expressing overtly prejudiced attitudes slowly became unacceptable, particularly to members of minority racial and ethnic groups. This norm change did not eliminate these prejudices, however; to the contrary: Institutional imbalances alone point to continued bias. Instead, social scientists argued that prejudiced attitudes are now more often held implicitly, adding more fire to the dual-process debate.
This antiprejudice social norm’s demands persist today, preventing social science researchers from measuring prejudice simply by self-report. As a result, researchers tend to use subtle, indirect measures. For instance, instruments such as David Sears’s and John McConahay’s Modern Racism Scale assesses prejudiced attitudes toward black Americans via indirect questions that ask participants to make judgments about concerns related to disadvantaged minorities. The scale also has a component that measures traditional, “old-fashioned” blatant prejudice, as well as the modern, subtle component described above. This scale correlates with antiminority voting, among other behaviors.
Conceiving of prejudice in a dual-process framework also has led to the creation of implicit measures of prejudice. These measures test the strength of association between the attitude-object and negative constructs. The most popular such measure, the Implicit Association Test (IAT) developed by Anthony Greenwald and Mahzarin Banaji, uses reaction times to detect differences between the strength of prejudiced and unprejudiced associations. The test asks participants to categorize a prompt (either a word or a picture of a face) in the middle of a computer screen to either the left or the right category. In some trials one side is positive valence, the other negative, and in others, one represents a social category (black people) and the other another (white people). After several trials, valence and social category are both represented on either side (white-positive on one, black-negative on the other side) and the speed of categorization is assessed. These congruent trials are subtracted from incongruent trials where the opposite pairings are represented. A resulting faster time categorizing white-positive and black-negative pairings indicates that the association between the opposite pairings is more difficult for participants to make and thus, people show an implicit association, for example, between black and bad, white and good. The score on the IAT predicts a number of related phenomena such as nonverbal behavior in an interracial interaction, discrimination against out-groups, location on a liberal-conservative continuum, support for antidiscrimination policies such as affirmative action, and even neural activity in brain regions associated with negative affect (disgust and fear in particular).
Developments in technology and in social neuroscience have illuminated the neural underpinnings of prejudice. Both white and black participants have viewed white and black faces while their neural activity was recorded using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI). Participants across a number of studies consistently show greater brain activity in structures associated with emotional vigilance (amygdala) and disgust (insula) when viewing unfamiliar black faces than when viewing unfamiliar white faces (although the effect is always smaller for the black participants). Further, the amount of participants’ brain activity correlated with their scores on the IAT. These fMRI studies support the idea that prejudice may result in part from social learning, both because an IAT score indicates knowledge of the negative stereo-types about the social group, and because blacks also show the effect.
Social context can reduce this neural activity simply by changing the social goal of the participants. When forced to think of people as individuals, not just category members, the increased activation in the amygdala provoked by viewing black faces diminishes below significance. Converging evidence also comes from electroencephalography (EEG). This technique likewise measures brain activity, but by detecting small electrical signals produced by neural cells as they fire. These studies also demonstrate that once the social goals change, social processing changes within 200 milliseconds. Changed social goals carry over even to subsequent nonsocial tasks, as whites’ efforts to appear unprejudiced cost them executive control in purely cognitive tasks.
Other than changing social goals, a few strategies reduce or eliminate prejudice, with varying degrees of success. The most successful, and ironically the most heavily debated, is the intergroup contact hypothesis proposed by Allport. According to the hypothesis, because social learning of stereotypes influences prejudice, contact with out-group members will eliminate the category-based dependence on stereotypes for information; instead, information will result from the nuanced interaction itself. The contact hypothesis utilizes potential friendship to diminish the limited, categorical perception of the out-group member based on stereotypes and replace it with a more nuanced, individuated perception. However, contact works to reduce prejudice under only certain conditions—cooperation rather than competition, equal status in the social interaction, authority endorsement, and meaningful interactions.
Certain individual differences make one more likely to hold prejudiced attitudes than not. Political ideologies, particularly right-wing authoritarian (RWA) beliefs, predict explicit levels of prejudice. An authoritarian individual demonstrates conformity to convention, authority-sanctioned aggression against deviants, and submission to authorities. Additionally, dominance-oriented personalities also tend to be more likely to hold prejudiced beliefs because they endorse the inevitability of group hierarchy. In this view, societies minimize group conflict by promoting ideologies that endorse discrimination and the dominant social hierarchy. Essentially, social dominance orientation prefers hierarchy over equality and dominance over parity. As a result, scales that measure these two constructs have also been used as indicators of prejudice. Prejudice level therefore can be predicted by political ideologies.
Allport, Gordon. 1954. The Nature of Prejudice. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
Banaji, Mahzarin, and Anthony Greenwald. 1994. Implicit Stereotyping and Prejudice. In The Psychology of Prejudice: The Ontario Symposium, vol. 7, ed. Mark P. Zanna and James M. Olson, 55–76. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Fiske, Susan T., Amy J. Cuddy, Peter Glick, and Jun Xu, Jun. 2002. A Model of (often mixed) Stereotype Content: Competence and Warmth Respectively Follow from Perceived Status and Competition. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 82: 878–902.
Sears, David. 1998. Symbolic Racism. In Eliminating Racism: Profiles in Controversy, ed. Phyllis A. Katz and Dalmas A. Taylor, 53–84. New York: Plenum.
Lasana T. Harris
Susan T. Fiske
"Prejudice." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 18, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/prejudice
"Prejudice." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Retrieved July 18, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/prejudice
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