Psychological Perspectives on Prejudice
[This is the result of research I did in 1989.
I just wanted to share it because I think it answers questions we
all need the answers to. I certainly learned from doing this...
a personality trait which exists in all human beings in various
degrees, from intense to tolerant. Due to the destructive nature
of prejudice, there has been a great deal of research to determine
what causes a human being to make an "unjustifiable, usually negative
prejudgement" towards a group and its members. The majority of the
research has been from the cognitive, social and humanistic perspectives;
each relying on one another to provide a complete picture of prejudice.
perspective in personality psychology explains traits in terms
of the learning and thinking processes. In relationship to prejudice,
the cognitive perspective centers on how we form our thinking towards
other groups and develop prejudicial attitudes.
In order to
simplify the world, human beings categorize. Since there are millions
of observations a person will never make first hand, the tendency
is to generalize based on the most memorable cases. This allows
for misconceptions, the organization of information into the wrong
categories, because when we encounter a new situation, we naturally
try to fit it into an existing category.
can begin, we must have words, which also overgeneralize. The label
begins to take on more meaning than originally intended. Even a
person's last name can conjure up ethnic assocations which in turn
activate all of the other ethnic perceptions held by the individual
hearing it. The essence of the person is lost, and instead the person
of categorization is essential to human mentality; without it we
would drown in chaos. The prejudgements we make are not necessarily
wrong. They only become prejudicial when they are not altered or
abandoned after exposure to new knowledge. People have a tendency
to select certain experiences from memory, exaggerate them and interpret
them into a prejudiced opinion. Since these opinions simplify life,
they are not eager to let go of them. This makes prejudice difficult
to guage, because a person will defend his attitude by providing
a deceptive, yet plausible, excuse for it. No one readily admits
his dislike or hatred for others without trying to justify it.
processes of an intensely prejudiced person generally differ from
those of a tolerant one. An intensely prejudiced person is given
to two-valued judgements (good or bad, black or white), is less
likely to admit ignorance and prefers his categories to be as definite
and few as possible. The tolerant personality has greater skepticism
toards broad categories, more readily admits ignorance and prefers
differentiated, multiple categories.
interact with and influence each other is researched through a social
perspective.In terms of prejudice, it tried to understand the
important of belonging to groups and the inclination towards hostility
against other groups.
in life, a child understands that he is a member of particular groups,
such as a gender, religious or ethnic group. The self and all the
groups it has membership in, called ingroups, are considered precious
and good. Likewise, those groups to which we do not belong, called
outgroups, can be considered "bad." Ethnocentrism, the common condition
of separateness from other groups, provides ease, least effort and
promotes cultural pride. While it does not necessarily mean hostility
towards the outgroup, having a common enemy does cement ingroup
It is important
to note that hate-prejudice could not exist without love-prejudice.
A person must love his ingroups (ie., race, family, church) before
he can define an outgroup to be wary of.
towards an outgroup is formed, it can be manifested in a sequence
of degrees, from common to less common. The most common expression
of prejudice is antilocution, the communication of prejudicial attitudes
amongst ingroup members. This leads to avoidance, discrimination
and physical attack on the outgroup. Finally, prejudice may culminate
in the most horrifying degree possible, extermination of the outgroup,
as in Hitler's Germany.
depends upon stereotyping to gain strength. Stereotypes are exaggerated
beliefs affixed to a category. They are images created by the individual
to justify a prejudice, but not a full justification for rejection.
Stereotyping acts as a justification for categorical rejection or
acceptance, and a selective tool to maintain simplicity in perception
and thought. Usually stereotypes grow from a grain of truth, in
total defiance of all evidences against them. These myths are spread
like an illness through the society, by word of mouth, cementing
and allowing their dislike for the outgroup.
perspective emphasizes the human capacity to choose and to allow
our lives to grow to greater maturity and fulfillment. Applied to
prejudice, it seeks to explain which needs are met by prejudicial
atittudes. Generally, prejudice serves a functional significance
for its bearer, existing not just as a matter of blind conformity.
cannot accept a situation without knowing a cause for it. When hardship
arises, a scapegoat must be found immediately. Providing us with
scapegoats is therefore one of the needs prejudice provides for
when we feel anxious, fearful or angry. Even in the earliest civilizations,
people felt that guilt and misfortune could be shifted from one
man's back to another, known in modern times as projection. Another
need prejudice helps to fill is self-esteem. One guaranteed way
to maintain high self-esteem is by having someone to look down on.
Stereotyped characteristics are, in some cases, a displacement of
personality traits which ae undesirable. In studies of stereotypes
of African Americans and Jewish Americans, it was found that people
personify their id impulses (ie., immorality, aggression, laziness)
in the African American stereotype, and their super-ego violations
such as greed, in Jewish stereotypes. By seeing others in an outgroup
as more evil than ourselves, our self-esteem is kept intact.
The force of
economic insecurity or greed is a powerful catalyst for prejudice.
Whether a person is protecting his livelihood, or trying to increase
his fortune, prejudice is very handy. It can produce a reason for
economic woes, or rationalize grabbing what does not belong to us.
Greed itself can be easily justified by the prejudiced person. By
creating a belief that the outgroup is less deserving or happier
without the object of desire, the individual stands to gain from
exploitation and control over the outgroup. When the outgroup is
forced to work in degrading and low paying jobs, a financial gain
is won. Having a group to look down on creates a comfortable status
gain. Political and sexual gains are also possible from prejudicial
greed and exploitation.
anger, anxiety, and greed are some of the most prominent, but not
the only emotions for which prejudice serves a functional significance.
The cognitive, social and humanistic perspectives rely heavily on
each other to provide a full explanation of prejudice. It would
seem that, considering how deeply interwoven prejudice is with the
fabric of human psychology, it will always exist. Even the most
tolerant person can never achieve the "virtue" of open minded thought
because, in a cognitive sense, each new experience must be held
up to the previous before it can be processed. Love of the ingroup
and protecting the self image is only natural and necessary. Based
on what has been learned about prejudice so far, human beings have
a great deal to learn about each other and themselves before prejudice
can be reduced.
written in 1989 by Eileen