Prejudice and Discrimination
Saul McLeod published 2008
Prejudice is an unjustified or incorrect attitude (usually negative) towards an individual based solely on the individual’s membership of a social group.
For example, a person may hold prejudiced views towards a certain race or gender etc. (e.g. sexist).
Discrimination is the behavior or actions, usually negative, towards an individual or group of people, especially on the basis of sex/race/social class, etc.
The Difference Between Prejudice and Discrimination
A prejudiced person may not act on their attitude. Therefore, someone can be prejudiced towards a certain group but not discriminate against them. Also, prejudice includes all three components of an attitude (affective, behavioral and cognitive), whereas discrimination just involves behavior.
There are four main explanations of prejudice and discrimination:
1. Authoritarian Personality
2. Realistic Conflict Theory - Robbers Cave
4. Social identity Theory
Conformity could also be used as an explanation of prejudice if you get stuck writing a psychology essay (see below).
Examples of Discrimination
Apartheid (literally "separateness") was a system of racial segregation that was enforced in South Africa from 1948 to 1994. Non-white people where prevented from voting and lived in separate communities.
World War II - In Germany and German-controlled lands, Jewish people had to wear yellow stars to identify themselves as Jews. Later, the Jews were placed in concentration camps by the Nazis.
This is a type of discrimination against a person or group on the grounds of age.
In Western societies while women are often discriminated against in the workplace, men are often discriminated against in the home and family environments.
For instance after a divorce women receive primary custody of the children far more often than men. Women on average earn less pay than men for doing the same job.
Conformity as an Explanation of Prejudice and Discrimination
Influences that cause individuals to be racist or sexist, for example, may come from peers parents and group membership. Conforming to social norms means people adopt the “normal” set of behavior(s) associated with a particular group or society.
Social norms - behavior considered appropriate within a social group - are one possible influence on prejudice and discrimination. People may have prejudiced beliefs and feelings and act in a prejudiced way because they are conforming to what is regarded as normal in the social groups to which they belong:
The effect of Social Norms on Prejudice
Minard (1952) investigated how social norms influence prejudice and discrimination. The behavior of black and white miners in a town in the southern United States was observed, both above and below ground.
Results: Below ground, where the social norm was friendly behavior towards work colleagues, 80 of the white miners were friendly towards the black miners. Above ground, where the social norm was prejudiced behavior by whites to blacks, this dropped to 20.
Conclusion: The white miners were conforming to different norms above and below ground. Whether or not prejudice is shown depends on the social context within which behavior takes place.
Pettigrew (1959) also investigated the role of conformity in prejudice. He investigated the idea that people who tended to be more conformist would also be more prejudiced, and found this to be true of white South African students. Similarly, he accounted for the higher levels of prejudice against black people in the southern United States than in the north in terms of the greater social acceptability of this kind of prejudice in the south.
A study by Rogers and Frantz (1962) found that immigrants to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) became more prejudiced the longer they had been in the country. They gradually conformed more to the prevailing cultural norm of prejudice against the black population.
Evaluation: Conformity to social norms, then, may offer an explanation for prejudice in some cases. At the same time, norms change over time, so this can only go some way towards explaining prejudice.
Minard, R. D. (1952). Race relationships in the Pocahontas coal field. Journal of Social Issues, 8(1), 29-44.
Pettigrew, T. F. (1959). Regional differences in anti-Negro prejudice. Journal of abnormal psychology, 59(1), 28.
Rogers, C. A., & Frantz, C. (1962). Racial themes in Southern Rhodesia: the attitudes and behavior of the white population (p. 338). New Haven: Yale University Press.
How to reference this article:
McLeod, S. A. (2008). Prejudice and discrimination. Retrieved from www.simplypsychology.org/prejudice.html
There is a self-fulfilling prophecy involved with prejudice and discrimination as well. Those who have been discriminated against begin to expect those around them to be prejudiced. This leads to defensive behavior, further fueling the tension between the in-group and the out-group. Furthermore, members of the in-group then feel justified in their beliefs, because those in the out-group are acting accordingly with the in-group’s preconceived impressions.
Discrimination and its self-fulfilling prophecy play a major role in the maintenance of prejudice and inequality. First, it causes society to play the “blame game”. The victims of discrimination blame those who act in discriminatory ways. In turn, those with prejudice blame the out-group for putting themselves into their own predicament, and harbor resentment against them for pointing fingers. Most often, neither group is willing to cooperate or see from the other’s perspective, and the reality of the situation is ignored. The result of all of this is the perpetuation of stereotypes, which provide a backbone for discriminatory practices.
Take for example the uproar caused by the re-election of President Obama for his second term as President. After his re-election, some states began threatening to secede from the United States for completely asinine reasons; claiming that a black man could not run a country, or that Obama wasn’t truly a US-born citizen. These opinions, which have evidence that prove the contrary, are rooted in racism. In this case, the racism was the prejudice, and the threat to secede was the discrimination. The self-fulfilling prophecy comes into play in several ways. Obama supporters might say that the secessionist states are acting in a typical racist way. Their opposition could respond by saying Obama supporters only support him because of his race. Both of these stigmas have been reinforced, and the conflict continues on.
Another issue which examines many aspects of inequality is the controversy over affirmative action plans in colleges and workplaces. Affirmative action committees were formed in order to provide equal opportunities to minorities, so that every school or professional organization would include a certain quota of people from all races and ethnicities. These programs protect individuals of minority race, religion, gender, and sex. However, some argue that because these programs are focused on socioeconomic factors instead of on individual merit, they are inherently unfair because they are disadvantageous to the majority population, and it is sometimes referred to as “reverse discrimination”. Here, the prejudice stems from good intentions for bettering the life of minorities. The discrimination is the exclusion of the majority population. The self-fulfilling prophecy might hold that the majority population, by opposing affirmative action, is practicing the very oppression that these programs were originally designed to deter. Therefore, the need for these programs seems to be reinforced.
Whether intentional or not, prejudice and discrimination ensure the continuance of inequality in the United States. Even subconsciously, we are furthering inequality through our actions and reactions with others. Our feelings, or prejudices, influence our actions, or discriminations. Because these forces are universally present in our daily lives, the way we use them or reject them will determine how they affect us.