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Prejudice and Discrimination

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    Prejudice, discrimination, stereotype and racism are terms used in everyday conversation. We hear and read about these daily on the news and in the media. How do we define them? Where do they come from and what do they mean? “Many people believe prejudice and discrimination as meaning the same thing, In fact, prejudice is an attitude or belief, whereas discrimination refers to behaviour or action. Smith and Mackie (2000, p 156)

    According to Baron and Byrne (1991, p183) prejudice: “Is an attitude (usually negative) toward the members of some group based solely on their membership in that group” Prejudice has three components this model is known as the ABC model of attitudes. Affective components are primarily the feelings we hold about a person or group of people that we have little knowledge off. It can lead society to believe that every member of that group is the same. A typical example of this would be assuming everyone from the Far East carrying a back pack is a terrorist simply because of what happened in New York.

    The second component is behavioural this relates to how we behave in the presence of such groups. Finally the Cognitive component is made up of beliefs we hold about that person or group. However it is only when we act on the behaviour aspect of these components that we may actually discriminate against a person or group. “Discrimination is the behaviour or actions, usually negative, towards an individual or group of people, especially on the basis of sex, race, social class etc… ” (McLeod, S. A. (2008).

    Prejudice and Discrimination

    A typical example of this that most of us are familiar with is the atrocities of World War ll. The Nazi’s committed mass murder of Jews and any Jewish citizen was made to identify themselves by the outward sign of wearing a yellow star to indicate visually they were a Jew. Again in South Africa this was very evident in Apartheid. From 1948 – 1994 anyone that was not white was prevented from voting and literally separated from white or mixed communities and clearly discriminated against living in often poor squalor like conditions with little or no access to education or health facilities.

    Gender discrimination is more evident in Western societies; a typical example of this would be that mothers generally will get custody of the children after a divorce. Closer to our own door step in Northern Ireland we have dealt with the conflict of Catholics killing Protestants and Protestants killing Catholics. (McLeod, S. A. (2008). Prejudice and Discrimination [internet] Allport (1954) has suggested Discrimination has five stages: Anti Location more commonly known as ‘hate speech’ and usually involves verbal attacks that are directed towards a specific group or person.

    Avoidance tactics are deliberately used to isolate a person or group. An example of this would be people directly avoiding someone from a different culture solely based of the fact they know nothing about their background. Discrimination is where a person or group deliberately denies opportunities to another person or group in achieving their goals or in education or getting a job. A typical example of this is where in Northern Ireland the actively discriminated in the past by only employing Catholic or Protestant people for specific jobs or areas.

    However there is also positive discrimination where they now actively advertise for a certain gender or religion if they need to balance the workplace ratio. Physical Attack where a group or person is physically attacked and damage is caused to their property. Finally extermination, this is the ultimate act of discrimination where deliberate attempts are made to kill off all members of a specific group. The greatest example of this is where the Nazi’s gassed the Jews in a bid to eradicate them.

    It has been suggested that negative stereotypes can be dangerous and regarded as unacceptable, however not all lead to prejudice or discriminatory acts as stated in Allport’s theory above. One of the theories surrounding prejudice is that it can depend on the persons personality and their characteristics another thought is that environmental and cultural factors can effect if a person becomes prejudice. La Pierre demonstrated that the cognitive and affective elements of prejudice are not necessarily expressed in discrimination.

    In his experiment La Pierre travelled around America with a Chinese couple, he expected discrimination due to the high hostile feelings towards the Chinese. After he returned home some months later he decided to test if the places they had previously visited knew in advance that he was coming with a Chinese couple would it enhance their view and lead to prejudice and discrimination and therefore shade their view on the intended visit. However after contacting the establishments they had previously visited they were actually only refused at one of them.

    These results reveal a remarkable gap between the attitudes expressed by these businesses and their actual behaviour when confronted by Chinese couple in person. It should also be noted that the Chinese couple LaPierre travelled with spoke good English and this too would have influenced the various establishments. However LaPierre’s study was not completely impartial. There were flaws that could have impacted on the experiment and affected the result. It was unknown if the people from the establishments visited by the Chinese couple on the first visit were the same people who dealt with the written request on the second occasion.

    Only half of the original places and establishments took the time to respond to the written request thus not giving a complete picture of all the establishments visited. Ajzen and Fishbein (1980) argued that LaPierre was trying to predict specific behaviour from general attitudes (i. e. taking into account general attitudes towards Chinese People, instead of taking into account specific attitudes demonstrated towards the Chinese Couple)This is what prompted Azjen and Fishbein(1980) to produce their theory of reasoned action. (www. psychologyattitudesandbehaviour. tm)s Jane Elliott was an American teacher and anti-racism activist. She created the famous “Blue eyed/brown eyed” exercise in the 1960’s. Following the assassination of Martin Luther King Elliott decided to have a class discussion about it and racism in general. As the children arrived and settled in for their class, Elliott began her exercise by asking what they knew about black people. The response was typical and what she has expected. Ignorance, unemployment etc… She then began her exercise. She began by designating the blue-eyed children as the superior group.

    She gave them a visual mark in the form of a collar that made them instantly visible while also easily identifying the minority group. The blue-eyed children had extra privileges in the form of food, play and games whereas the brown eyed children were left out and excluded from activities. Elliott observed the children’s reaction to the discrimination exercise and noted the instant changes in their behaviour and interaction with each other. The next day, Elliott reversed the exercise, making the brown-eyed children superior.

    Although the brown-eyed children did taunt the blue-eyed in ways similar to what had occurred the previous day, Elliott reports it was much less intense. At 2:30 on that Wednesday, Elliott told the blue-eyed children to take off their collars and the children cried and hugged each other. Although there was a lot of controversy with her exercise many supported her exercise as beneficial. However it was also argued that the exercise was not appropriate or ethical for children at such a young age and there were serious concerns for the health and well being.

    Some even considered that the exercise was cruel and biased and not fairly levied or monitored. Given that it was not scientifically monitored it was difficult to generalise. Adorno et al (1950) first introduced the concept of the ‘Authoritarian Personality’ He believed that prejudice is the result of the individual’s personality type. Adorno developed the famous questionnaire known as the F-scale (F for fascism). To support his claim he used case studies, e. g. Nazis. Psychometric testing e. g. F – Scale and information from interviews from people that where brought up by strict parents.

    He believed those with an authoritarian personality tended to be fairly rigid in their opinions and beliefs, that they were hostile to those who are of inferior status, but obedient of people with high status, conventional, upholding traditional values. However the findings contradicted the theory because according to Brown (1965), “Questions were all worded in such a way that agreement with them always implies anti-Semitism, ethnocentrism and potential fascism respectively. Adorno et al. (1950) recognised the possibility that acquiescent response set might be a problem”(Gross,R (2012) p388.


    Adorno believed that people brought up in strict authoritarian home where indeed more likely to develop an authoritarian personality themselves. He also believes that people with an authoritarian personality tended to categorize people into two groups ‘them’ and ‘us’ and that they believed that they were more superior. He concluded they were not able to show any hostility towards their parents hence why they repressed their feelings and later displaced their aggression and hostility onto weaker groups or people.

    Adorno believes; “Obedience and respect for authority are the most important virtues children should learn,” “Most of our social problems would be solved if we could somehow get rid of the immoral, the crooked, and feeble-minded people”, and “People can be divided into two distinct classes: the weak and the strong” (Psychology fifth Edition p 512)( Adorno et al. , 1950) Adorno suggested that people with an authoritarian personality were more likely to be prejudiced.

    However critics argue that this is not always the case for if it were given how much society has moved on and that ‘Authoritarian figure’ is literally nonexistent now given all the power of equal status then surely we would be seeing a serious decline in prejudice and discrimination. There are many weaknesses to Adorno’s explanation of prejudice. Harsh parenting style does not always produce prejudice, and even if that were true not all people conform to the authoritarian personality type and it does not explain what makes a person or group prejudice towards certain groups only.

    You cannot generalize that everyone in a certain group is prejudiced as this would mean in effect that all members of a group (e. g. Nazis) would have an authoritarian personality, which is most unlikely. According to Sherif (1966), prejudice often results from inter-group conflict. This is when two groups compete for the same goals. According to realistic conflict theory, such conflicts of interest cause prejudice. Sherif set up his experiment by setting up the infamous Robbers Cave Experiment, 22 boys split into two teams called the Eagles and the Rattlers.

    He drove competition continuously between the groups through different activities and sporting events and created competition and conflict between them and noted their reactions. The group that won event was rewarded with medals, knives and prizes where as the ‘loosing group’ got nothing all the time building the negative atmosphere. As the competition heightened the two groups turned against each other and this manifested itself in the form of the groups displaying extreme hostility towards each other with constant rows and physical attacks and fighting.

    To then resolve issues and reduce the tension and hostility Sherif then developed a number of common goals and strategies that would involve the groups actively having to unite and work as one team to achieve the same goal. This in effect saw new friendships forming and the inter group conflict reduced dramatically. It was evident competition resulted in dislike and hostility and where a common goal led to building of bridges and indeed friendship and general good feeling amongst the groups.

    However It has been argued that while they develop through adolescence girls are rewarded for co operation, whereas boys are rewarded for competitiveness. It might also be argued that it was unfair and the sample was biased. The suggestion that competition always leads to prejudice and inter-group conflict was discarded by Tyerman and Spencer (1983) They believed that if there was prior friendship between the groups before a competition that the competition would not produce and hostility as was the case in the Robbers Cave Experiment.

    Tyerman and Spencer went on to prove this by carrying out their own similar experiment with a group of scouts. (Eysenck, 2001 P514) Fiske’s (2004) research begins by exploring the ease of categorization of others based on their race, gender, age and class anything beyond that requires willingness and motivation to want to learn more about the individual. Fiske believes that prejudice, discrimination and stereotyping, are encouraged or discouraged by social relationships. According to Henry Tajefl’s Social Identity Theory 1978,1981. We all have a need to understand and evaluate ourselves.

    This is when we categorise ourselves by deciding what social group we belong to and feel comfortable with. These identities are our inner beliefs they depict our beliefs on nationality, work group, gender etc… Tajefl’s theory proposed that we all strive for self enhancement, believing or identifying ourselves as being better or superior to others. Social identity theory does not take into account other reasons which may effect and influence behaviour. It does not address or explain why there are different levels of prejudice within groups.

    Nor does it explain that there can be different levels of in-group favouritism as suggested by Tajefl’s. It is practically impossible to measure prejudice and discrimination with any degree of accuracy. We often have stereotyped views of out groups and this can lead to prejudice. However prejudice and discrimination can be reduced and overcome if there is a common goal. It may well be that the only people that truly understand prejudice and discrimination are the ones that have experienced it firsthand.


    1. Eysenck, M W, 2000, Psychology A Students Handbook, Psychology Press Ltd, 27 Church Road, Hove, East Sussex, BN3 2FA, p507
    2. Gleitman, H, Fridlund,J, Reisberg, D, 1999, Psychology fifth Edition, W.W.Norton & Company, New York, LondonPsychology fifth edition, Gross, R (2012) Psychology: The Science of mind and Behaviours. London, Hadder Arnold.

    Internet Sources

    2. Saul McLeod. (2008). Prejudice and Discrimination. Available: Last accessed 22.11.2012.

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