What is a prejudice? Theories that explain it and examples

In general, when it comes to prejudices everyone agrees that they are negative and that it is wrong to have them.

Whether through social pressure or through increased sensitivity and empathy for others, most members of society agree that prejudging others is not fair and that one should strive to overcome them.

However, we don’t realize that everyone has them and that somehow prejudices, which we are going to talk about in this article, play a role.

Let’s see what prejudices are, how they arise, what role they play and some relevant theories on the subject.

    What are the prejudices?

    Bias are predetermined beliefs about a person, object or situation. These beliefs can be true, although in most cases they usually are not, and they are also greatly exaggerated. Assuming what a person is based on different characteristics, such as their gender, race, nationality or sexual orientation, is something that happens unconsciously and usually involves negative feelings and attitudes.

    One of the most notable figures in social psychology who has addressed the phenomenon of prejudice is Gordon Allport. This psychologist, who worked at Harvard University, defines prejudice in The Nature of Prejudice (1954) as negative labeling that is done on the basis of beliefs acquired through people and situations important in the development of “ the individual, especially during childhood and through the family.

    The functionality of prejudices lies in the fact that they allow, in a way, to simplify the world. We are exposed to a lot of information and we have to make decisions quickly, without being able to think about it. Categorizing people based on their most striking features, rather than delving into the way they really are, avoids fatigue and saves effort.

    How are they generated?

    Bias may arise for the sake of convenience. In the most serious cases, the aim of the harm is to submit to a specific group. They usually come from negative attitudes towards a group of which we have little real knowledge..

    It can also be the result of generalization based on past negative experience. In other words, the person who has a stereotypical view of, for example, Romanians, can defend the fact that he was tied up in the past by one of these nationals.

    Cultural factors acquire great weight in the generation of prejudices. It is common for false comments and beliefs about certain people to be promoted in the family or in a particular culture, which may be considered “right” or could be encompassed in the phrase “think badly and you will be right” . In addition, almost by inertia, one is encouraged to criticize others before having an empathetic view and trying to put oneself in the other’s shoes.

    How do they influence us?

    Prejudices, based on stereotypes, are nothing more than generalizations about something about which little is known. This way the world is simplified, even if it is done in a way that can be very bad and harm others.

    Prejudice does not only affect people who are part of the stereotypical group, such as sexist women or refugees from anti-immigration movements. They also influence people who are not in the stereotypical group, making them more overt or hostile when seeing people from the other group.

    Therefore, prejudices tend to promote negative prejudicesAlthough, as we have already mentioned, there may also be situations where there is a false but positive belief about a particular group. For example, to assume that all Finns are very intelligent because Finland has one of the best education systems in the world is in fact prejudging and may imply overestimating their intelligence.

    Although many people say the opposite, prejudice greatly interferes with our daily life. They involve a multitude of attitudes, thoughts, predispositions and feelings that can cause us to change our behavior in striking ways. For example, changing sidewalks when a black person approaches us, speaking more slowly to someone who has an unusual name or who seems foreign, or does not touch a person with HIV for fear of contagion or disgust.

    Theories on this phenomenon

    When we talk about prejudice, we cannot ignore the concepts of outgroup homogeneity and endogroup heterogeneity.. It is common to believe that people belonging to another group are more alike, while people in their own group are more distinguishable from each other.

    This phenomenon can be best understood with an example. A Christian may mistakenly believe that all Muslims are violent and abuse women and children, whereas when it comes to the problem of pedophilia in the Catholic Church, he is more likely to differentiate between good Christians. and bad Christians.

    The Thief’s Cave Experiment, by Muzafer and Carolyn Sherif (1954)

    In this experiment, over 20 11-year-olds who signed up to go camping were captured. The children were divided into two groups and accommodated in remote camps, thus avoiding any initial contact between the two groups.

    A few days later, the researchers brought the groups together through sports competitions and other activities in which they competed against each other group by group. These contacts generated friction, making the two groups hostile to each other.

    This hostility was so strong that the sheriffs had to speed up the final phase of the investigation, In which they encouraged contacts between members of the two groups, so that in order to achieve certain goals they had to collaborate as if they were one team.

    Just as the researchers generated tension between the two groups, they also generated friendship and sympathy reaching the final stage, proving that if people who don’t know each other well work together for good, they can. break down the barrier of stereotypes. .

    Contact hypothesis: can prejudices be reduced?

    Without a doubt, having negative beliefs in others is bad and can cause harm, which is why trying to overcome these stereotypes is beneficial both for those who believe in themselves and for those who do. victims.

    The contact hypothesis argues that in-group prejudices and stereotypes regarding out-grouping could be reduced through continued contact between members of both groups. For this to happen, 6 factors must be satisfied:

    • that the members of the two groups have a certain degree of mutual interdependence
    • both groups must share the same goal
    • they must have the same status
    • opportunities must be given for interpersonal contact between groups
    • there should be many contacts both within and between groups
    • there must be rules that promote equality and that must be taken into account during the process.

    So, if these conditions were met, people in two groups could learn from each other, cooperate to achieve the same goals, and understand that they are not as different as they might think.

    The aspect of having the same social status is very important because it facilitates greater empathy. For example, a white worker and a black worker understand that both can be equally oppressed by their respective bosses or that cisexual and transgender women are oppressed by heteropatriarchal society.

    Bibliographical references:

    • MacRae, C. Neil; Bodenhausen, Galen V. (2001). “Social cognition: perception of the categorical person”. British Journal of Psychology. 92 (Pt 1): 239-55. CiteSeerX doi: 10.1348 / 000712601162059
    • Sherman, Jeffrey W .; Lee, Angela Y .; Bessenoff, Gayle R .; Frost, Leigh A. (1998). The effectiveness of stereotypes has been reconsidered: coding flexibility under cognitive load. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 75 (3): 589-606. doi: 10.1037 / 0022-3514.75.3.589
    • Brandt, M; Crawford, J (2016). Answer unresolved questions about the relationship between cognitive ability and bias. Psychological and social personality sciences. 7 (8): 884-892. doi: 10.1177 / 1948550616660592

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