What is prejudice and why is is causing so much suffering in the world?

It's causes are not only psychological, but also economic, political and religious. We have so many different ways of rationalizing treating another as 'unequal' that an entire sociology and social psychology is involved in the study of topics such as stratification, racial and ethnic conflict, and gender inequities.

PREJUDICE is broadly defined as a negative prejudgment of a group and its members. A person or group can hold attitudes, beliefs, and feelings that lock them into a stereotypical view of another person or another group. Such prejudice can exist at the personal level or the institutional level. Note the examples provided in the text.

The greatest level of prejudice is noticed when people of the prejudiced group come in intimate contact with those who feel prejudiced against them. These intimate situations can include sitting with one another in the same room or transportation system, dancing together, or wishing to marry one another.

Even when a social actor resists being prejudiced, prejudicial thoughts and feelings may continue to persist in the person. This leads us to wonder whether prejudice is not like any other habit that is difficult to set aside but not impossible to change.

Often, prejudice can remain dormant and unavowed until an angry exchange brings forth outright hatred. If you observe videos of the original civil rights marches in the U.S. you will see blacks and whites in open confrontation with one another. The situation of the march served to trigger sentiments that might have otherwise remained restrained.

Prejudices that are involved through very early socialization can become more ingrained than racial and ethnic prejudice. GENDER prejudice is usually much stronger that racial prejudice because it remains automatic and relatively unconscious. Experiments have shown that women are assigned less power in society in a variety of situations. Women are seen as being more kind and understanding while men are seen as the purveyors of authority and leadership. Herbert Spencer, the British 19th century sociologist, even suggested that women stay home and be responsible for the family because men were deficient in pro-social behavior and required women's socializing influence.

Around the world, two out of 3 unschooled children are of the female gender. In some countries, women are forbidden to drive or participate in certain activities. In history, some cultures have been known to kill female infants in order to favor male children.


Unequal status is always present in cases of prejudice. It causes prejudices as well as maintains its continuance.

There is a self-fulfilling prophecy involved in prejudice. Those who are discriminated against, being aware of the prejudice directed against them, begin acting defensively, expecting to be discriminated against. This fuels the discrimination even further. So even when social policies are adopted to end prejudice, the effects of former prejudice continue to be felt. Time is the healer and normalizer. Some who feels discriminated against may even end up blaming and hating themselves...or they may take to blaming others for their situation and feel helpless even in situations in which they do have relative freedom of self-determination.

STEREOTYPE THREAT THEORY: Tests and experiments how that people do worse in tests if they feel or are told that their performance is expected to be deficient. Consider how this might be a major source of pedagogical wisdom in schools...can we improve student performance by assuming that they will do well and minimizing references to failure. The Stereotype threat theory suggests that people can become 'spooked.' So the question I would like you to consider is: can positive stereotypes enhance performance and social harmony?

SOCIAL IDENTITY: The entire sentiment of belonging to an 'in-group' is based on the notion that there is an out-group out there somewhere. The mere formation of groups brings with it the possibility of group bias and prejudice and in-group favoritism. Also, the existence of in-groups and out-groups makes smaller groups that are surrounded by larger groups feel extremely conscious of their identity. This can cause a lack of integration into the larger group and serve to keep groups separated from one another. Consider then the pros and cons of multiculturalism. How might it foster peaceful relations between groups while also keeping groups from meshing in a larger social unit?

CONFORMITY: Conformity plays an important role in the maintenance of prejudice. It creates a certain inertia. People who are prejudiced may be motivated more by the need to belong to an in-group that approves of them than by actual hatred. Conformity can create and maintain prejudice as well as be used to decrease it. The same group may change its attitudes over time and, if it does, its members will in most probability conform to the new position.

EMOTIONAL SOURCES OF PREJUDICE: Frustration and aggression are linked. The blocking of a goal can lead to frustration which then becomes displaced onto a scapegoat. Jews who were persecuted in Germany were singled out as a 'contributing cause' to Germany's economic woes. Similarly, migrant laborers are now regarded suspiciously as people taking jobs away from nationals. Certainly, socio-economic prosperity and equality has a dampening effect on scapegoating and prejudice (Realistic Group Conflict Theory).

PERSONAL DYNAMICS OF PREJUDICE: Remember what we learned about shame, embarrassment and the need to keep up a front and save face. Sometimes, to counter sentiments of unworthiness, we need to see ourselves as superior to others. Personal insecurity can contribute to the making of harsh judgments against others.

THE AUTHORITARIAN PERSONALITY: the study of authoritarianism by Adorno and his associates is a landmark in the study of the authoritarian personality. They suggest that cultures that permit and facilitate authoritarianism are those in which 'obedience' and 'respect' are very valued. Consider this: we are more informal than before and less deferential than we used to be five decades ago when it comes to relations with people older than us....has this had an effect on promoting a democratic culture? To what extent does 'social dominance' characteristics change as we move from individualistic to interdependent cultures?

COGNITIVE SOURCES OF PREJUDICE: Our need to 'categorize' reality can predispose us to becoming prejudiced. All men are......All women are....may help us categorize, but it creates prejudiced and unconsidered attitudes and sentiments. We rely on categorization when we are overloaded....when we are stressed, fearful, tired, preoccupied, and pressed for time.

We are also predisposed to prejudice because of the looking mirror effect. Those who are not similar to us are perceived to be more distant from us than our own selves. As a result, we tend to be more sympathetic to ourselves and those who resemble us than to those who are distinctly different from us. People who look distinctively different will attract stares and comments. Have you ever looked weirdly at someone because they looked weird to you?

THE JUST WORLD PHENOMENON: seeing the world as being just and just as it should be predisposes us to remain with the status quo. If we no injustice we will have less of a motivation to be socially active and work for social change.