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The psychology of prejudice and discrimination
Te gebruiken bij
Auteur(s): B. Whitley, M. Kite
Druk/Jaar van uitgave: 2e druk/2009
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Samenvatting is in het Engels
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Chapter 1. Introducing stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination
Since Martin Luther King Jr. gave his speech, race relations have improved. We find ourselves ‘modern’ and ‘civilized’, when it comes to racial questions and can’t believe that fifty years ago things were so different. Still, things are not so optimistic as they seem. There still are racial tensions in modern countries. In some countries there seems to be a double standard. Blacks, for example, get a harsher punishment than Whites for the same crime. One research also showed that the darker a person is, the bigger his punishment will be.
Race is an important factor in psychological research (just as sex and age). That’s obvious because that’s one of the first things we see when we meet someone. Taking in information about the race, age and sex is an automatic process and we (therefore) make assumptions on the basis of this information. This can lead to stereotyping. This text specifically says can, because sometimes people view others through the lens of race and sometimes they don’t. For example, in 1988 a centre was opened in an all white neighbourhood in Indianapolis. Convicted child molesters were supposed to be treated in that centre. Not one resident complained about this centre. When authorities decided to change the centre into a homeless centre for veterans and some of these veterans turned out to be black, the neighbourhood started complaining.
Views of social groups can change quickly. After 9/11, Americans started to have an extreme negative view of people from the Middle East. There was an increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes and violence against mosques. The ‘biggest’ example of changing views of social groups is probably people’s view of Italian immigrants. When the Italian immigrants came to the United States in the early 1900s, they were ridiculed. They were even seen as non-Whites. Italians, Jews from Eastern Europe and people from Ireland who came to the States were seen as another race back in the days while they were all white. Nowadays, these people are seen as being white and immigrants from Europe don’t find disadvantages from their ethnical background anymore.
Culture and race
Usually when you ask somebody to determine what race another person is, he or she will base the answer on the skin colour of that person. Why do we base this on the skin colour and not on another physical characteristic?
The word ‘race’ was not used until the 1600s and in that time it had another meaning than it has now. Race referred to any group of people with the same characteristics, like a group of nurses, teachers or doctors. In the late 1700s the word ‘race’ took on the meaning it has now, namely indicating groups of people that share common physical characteristics, like skin colour.
This shift in meaning began when Europeans were sailing the seas and discovering other continents. The native inhabitants of the continents (Africans, Asians and native Americans) had a different skin colour from the Europeans. The racial categories were used to ‘prove’ the superiority of Europeans and justifying their actions against the other races.
Race is a social category and not a biological one. Scientists find more differences within a racial group than between racial groups. People often say that black people or Latin people have bigger lips than white people, but this is superficial and not a reliable way to distinguish between groups of people. These differences in skin colour, hair colour and other features are adaptations to the climate (because Africa is so warm, the people developed a darker skin). When racial segregation in the United States was legal, people could change their racial classification because race was defined by law. Over the years, 63 racial categories existed. Race could never be changed by law if it were a biological fact. This only shows that there is just one race: the human race. Race is a set of social categories and is therefore an important psychological subject. Race plays a huge part in cultures. The people from one culture share attitudes, beliefs and behaviour with one another and that’s why culture can influence stereotyping. People usually don’t know that they operate according to their cultural background. Their actions are (unconsciously) driven by cultural expectations.
Cultural impact on stereotyping may lead to group privileges. White people, for example, don’t think a lot about their race. This is because they are the dominant group in the society and everything they believe or do seems normal to them. When Whites buy a car or house, their race doesn’t play a huge role. When Blacks have a really good job, Whites are kind of surprised by that. They don’t expect Blacks to have had a really high education. Privileges for groups are not limited to race. Men usually are privileged over women and heterosexuals over homosexuals. When one group gets an unearned favoured state because of their race, gender or social class we call this ‘group privilege’. One group has certain advantages over the other group(s) and the members of that group usually don’t really know that they have an advantage over the other groups. These advantages are usually unearned; they are not handed to people who worked hard for it, but to people who belong to a certain group. Some people might think that the advantages one certain group gets are small and don’t have a huge impact. But all these little advantages have a big impact together. Every disadvantage against a person will hurt his or her self-esteem. Members of the privileged group usually think that discrimination is someone else’s problem and that they don’t have to do anything about it. So basically, discrimination is a problem for Blacks, gays and women.
Lippman gave a great definition of stereotypes. He said that stereotypes are pictures in our head, not based on certain knowledge but made by oneself. Lippman’s definition still fits the definition of what we call stereotypes. Stereotypes are beliefs and opinions about certain groups. Stereotypes are pictures in our head that can come from shared beliefs we got from our culture. These beliefs can be learned from parents, friends, media and books. People also get beliefs by observing the world.
Stereotypes are not always completely false; they may be based partly on truth (from observation). But this truth may be exaggerated and used on all members of certain groups. Then there are really ‘stupid’ stereotypes. People once thought that if women were to be educated, the blood would rush to their brains and it would reduce their reproductive capacities. Another aspect of stereotypes is that they can also be prescriptive. They tell us what group members should be like. So when we think about educators at the elementary school, we usually think about women and not men. Stereotypes can also be positive. An example of a positive stereotype is that Asians are high achievers or that men are good with reasoning. But don’t think that stereotypes are not as bad as they seem. Even positive stereotypes can have negative consequences. One example is that women are good with children and that they would make good elementary school teachers. This positive stereotype has a negative effect on men who want to become elementary school teachers.
If stereotypes are bad, why did we start using them? Well, we use stereotypes to organize the complex social world around us. We would otherwise have too much information to deal with and that’s why we use stereotypes.
Prejudice is the reaction or attitude towards people of certain groups. The reactions towards certain people can stem from emotions, either good or bad. These emotions are usually automatic and rise without conscious consideration. One group might react to the other if the other group threatens their own group or if the other group is interfering with their goals (especially competition between jobs). But the other group may also be seen as threatening because it has other goals. Emotional reactions can also be caused by a reaction with other group members. People would feel disgusted when they interact with foreigners or gays. Also, emotional reactions can also be constantly there. There are people who are always intolerant of other social groups.
People who think of themselves as not being prejudiced, might unconsciously be prejudiced. Usually these feelings are not extreme but feelings of unease and anxiety. These people don’t want to be prejudiced, but learned these things from their social background.
Discrimination is treating people differently because they are member of a certain group. This does not have to be a negative treatment. Just as with prejudice and stereotyping, there could also be positive discrimination. That’s treating people better because of their group membership. Discrimination can manifest itself in different ways. It can be verbally and behaviourally. People from certain groups can be ignored, made fun of, be insulted, intimidated and assaulted.
Interpersonal discrimination is when one person gets treated unfairly by another because of the person’s group membership. This occurs from the person-to-person level. This may occur because the assaulters hold certain stereotypic beliefs. This leads people to think (and behave) that their own group is superior to the other. This can be passive, like personally ignoring Blacks and helping Whites first or it can be active, by making mean remarks.
Organizational discrimination is the discrimination that occurs at the workplace and is caused by the company itself. Usually this is racial or gender discrimination. White men are over represented as managers and white women and minority groups are underrepresented. Women are over represented in clerical jobs and men in skilled jobs (like electricians). Minority men are over represented as labourers (working in a factory) and white men are over represented in the prestigious jobs. People may argue that these findings are misleading, because minority workers didn’t have the same chances as white people did. One research, however, showed that white people get paid more than black and Hispanic people, even if they all have the same degree of education and the exact same job. White men were paid better than any other group, except the group of Asian men.
Institutional discrimination is the type of discrimination that occurs when the norms or policies of a social institution (like family, education and criminal justice system) result in different outcomes for members of one group than for another group. Usually, decisions are made that are neutral to sexual orientation, sex and race but they end up having an impact on a certain group. This type of discrimination usually occurs subtle. Examples of this type of discrimination are the segregation of schools and the events that occurred when hurricane Katrina came to New Orleans. Some people said that the United States president of that time, George W. Bush, did not enough to help the people in New Orleans because they were mostly Blacks.
Cultural discrimination is when a certain group retains the power within a culture and decides what the cultural values should be. They reward people who hold these values and punish people who have different cultural values. The culture of minority groups is in danger that way. Cultural discrimination can occur in subtle ways, like in advertisement or toys. Dolls usually are white and blond and have European features. It kind of tells us that the more European someone looks, the more beautiful he or she is. One research showed that even Blacks perceived people with a lighter skin as being more attractive than people with a darker skin. This can have serious outcomes. Black people convicted of murdering a white person are more likely to get the death penalty if they have black (stereotypical) features.
There are governments that endorse cultural discrimination. In Australia part-Aboriginal children were taken from their homes and put in schools miles and miles from their parental home. The government did this, because it thought that by not having a lot of contact with the Aboriginal culture, these children would ‘loose’ their Aboriginal side and would behave according to the white culture. The characteristics of their white ancestry were valued, but the characteristics of their Aboriginal side were not.
It is really hard to recognize cultural and institutional discrimination and especially by those who are not affected by it.
Relationship among stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination
The relationship between these three things is complex. Knowing something about stereotypical beliefs does not mean that you are prejudiced. A research showed that low-prejudiced and high-prejudiced individuals knew the same things about a certain stereotype, but the low-prejudiced people rejected that stereotype while the high-prejudiced people accepted it. As said before, people learn these stereotypic beliefs from the media, friends and family, but it does not mean that they accept it.
A bigger problem is that people can access stereotypes unconsciously and that even people who are low in prejudice can be influenced by this. Luckily, people who are aware that prejudice is wrong and try to eliminate their prejudice can do so successfully.
People usually categorize race-related information like they categorize gender-related information. Specific targets of prejudice are usually described with the word ‘ism’, like sexism and racism. Isms are not the same as prejudice. They go further. Isms have certain characteristics, with the first characteristic being that they combine prejudice with a group-centred worldview. This leads to a superiority of one group over the other. The second characteristic is that isms are based on the desire to control other groups. This is done by law and social issues and these groups try to prove scientifically that their ideas are valid. The last characteristic is that isms are reflected on behaviour. This can be done by hate crimes, by making jokes /verbally assaulting others or by ignoring others.
When people hear the word prejudice, they usually think of discrimination. Most research on racial prejudice focuses on anti-black discrimination. This is not weird, because Blacks were treated really badly during the ‘slave period’ and even after that. They were seen as the bottom of society and even seen as lesser than human. Although other minority groups have been treated badly, Blacks had to suffer the most. Also, anti-black prejudice is more pervasive than prejudice against other groups. That’s also a reason why psychologists focus on Blacks. The third reason why psychologists focus on Blacks is that the prejudice has changed. It used to be extreme and since the 1980s it reached a more subtle form.
Nowadays, racism manifests itself in different ways in the United States. One way by which it manifests itself is by denigrating the other group’s culture. Rap music is usually identified with Black culture and is condemned in the United States. But one might wonder if this is because the violent and sexist lyrics or because it’s part of the Black culture.
One study gave a set of violent lyrics to a group of white adults. The lyrics were from a folk song and one group was told that the lyrics were from a rap song, the second group was told that the lyrics were from a country song and the third group was told that the lyrics were from a folk song. When the song was labelled as a rap song, it got the most negative ratings. Also, when people learned that the song was performed by a Black person it got more negative ratings than a song performed by a white person. Another example is that minority groups are pulled over more frequently than white drivers. This is because people think that minorities are more likely to commit a crime (like drug trafficking).
Prejudice based on religion has existed for a very long time, but has been studied less than racial prejudice. This is maybe because prejudice based on religion has been less salient. During World War II anti-Semitism became salient and when the anti-Muslim prejudice rose, researchers started to research religious prejudice.
Although the United States is a wealthy nation, it still has some poverty and different social classes. A person’s place in the social hierarchy is determined by one’s economic status, racial group or religious group. Classism (therefore) is prejudice against a person’s social class. Usually people hold negative views against the poor and positive views against the wealthy. Poor people are more too often blamed for their situation. They are seen as lazy and not very intelligent and that’s the reason why they are poor (at least, this is what prejudiced people think).
Researchers bought fruit from a supermarket in a low socio-economic status neighbourhood, a middle class neighbourhood and an upper class neighbourhood. Participants had to evaluate the fruit for taste and appearance and they said that fruit from a low socio-economic neighbourhood was less fresh than the fruit from the other neighbourhoods. Some people even refused to taste the fruit from the low class neighbourhood. These results show there’s a strong relationship between social class and race: low status neighbourhoods have a higher percentage of minority residents than the other neighbourhoods.
Gender and sexuality
Women were (sometimes still are) portrayed as weak and vulnerable. This is used against them: their social roles in society are limited. Hostile sexists belief women demand special treatment and that they are (therefore) allowed to treat them badly or harass them. Heterosexism is the belief that relationships and communities should only be heterosexual. This leads to prejudice against homosexuals or bisexuals. This is also called homophobia. Heterosexism seems to be more socially acceptable than other forms of prejudice.
Age, appearance and ability
Ageism refers to negative reactions to older people. Ageism has almost invisible forms of discrimination. Physicians sometimes don’t take a good look at old people’s age problems because they think every old person has some health issues. They let them go home without even checking them adequately.
People with disabilities are also ridiculed. People feel sympathy for them, but also feel discomfort when they are in their presence. The media also paints a negative picture about people with disabilities and this is probably the reason that kids with disabilities have a hard time making friends and have a low self-esteem.
Physical appearance can also be a source of prejudice, especially against fat people. People who are prejudiced against fat people often think it’s their own fault that they are fat. They are lazy and have no self-discipline. Also, prejudiced people dislike others who violate values. One value people hold dear is self-restraint. They often think that fat people violate this rule.
Theories of prejudice
There are a lot of theories of prejudice, but not one covers the whole deal. Each theory usually covers one aspect of prejudice.
Sometimes research results are interpreted to show minority groups in a negative light. Scientific racism was used to prove the superiority of the dominant group and to justify their actions against other groups. Before the 1920s scientists agreed that Whites were superior to Blacks. They showed that Whites were more intelligent than Blacks. The actions of Whites against Blacks were justified that way.
In the 1920s scientists saw that prejudice wasn’t natural and that it’s a social problem, created by wrong beliefs. In the 1930s and 1940s social scientists searched for the reason why people turn to prejudice. They found their answer in the psychodynamic theory and found that people tended to blame the bad situations of that time (like the Great Depression) on somebody. They had to direct their frustration towards somebody and decided to do this toward minority groups.
After World War II scientists tried to figure out how scientists could support something like the Holocaust. They found that there are certain types of individuals who are more susceptible to prejudice than others. Adorno found that type of person: the authoritarian personality. These people are more likely to do and believe what authority figures tell them. This type of personality rooted in early childhood. Children who had to obey strict rules and were physical punished were more likely to develop an authoritarian personality. The psychodynamic perspective also shows that prejudice is used to improve one’s self-esteem.
In the late 1950s the U.S. civil rights movement arose and scientists started to view prejudice and stereotyping from a sociocultural perspective. The sociocultural perspective sees stereotypes as something that culture gives and that can’t be taken away easily. There are two underlying perspectives in this model: the structural-functionalist view and the conflict perspective. The first perspective thinks that people use/learn the culture’s stereotypes to gain social acceptance. The conflict perspective believes that a society exists out of groups with different values and that people adopt the viewpoint of their particular subgroup. The conflict perspective allows different attitudes toward a certain group.
An upcoming theory about stereotypes is the sociocultural theory. This theory thinks that from observing certain groups in social settings, we learn their roles and base our stereotypes on them. Nurses are usually women and we think that nurses are kind and concerned for others. That’s why we think that all women are kind and concerned for others.
Intergroup relations theory
The sociocultural perspective evolved into an intergroup relations theory. This theory thinks that prejudice derives from the competition between groups. The relative deprevation theory is an example of the intergroup relations theory. This theory thinks that prejudice is the result of the resentment people feel when they think that their group has been deprived of certain resources and that another group receives their resources. Some Whites might think that Blacks get more than a fair share of the resources and might be angry at Blacks because of this. More recent research shows that people’s own identities play a big part in stereotyping. According to the social identity theory, people want to have a positive self-identity. A big part of one’s identity is made up of a group identity. People need to feel positively about the group they belong to, to reach this identity. The way to do this is to see one’s own group better than other groups.
In the 1980s the cognitive theory played a huge part. The reason why psychologists moved to the cognitive theory was that everybody started to believe that prejudice was universal and inevitable and that social structural explanations could not account for this. Also, cognitive psychology became really popular in that time and so psychologists tried to find an explanation for prejudice in that field. According to the cognitive theory, stereotyping is a process people use to reduce a complex stimulus to a manageable level. Human beings use this to understand the massive amount of information that is given to them every day. A mechanism that is often used is simplification. It is much easier for our mind to think that every member of a certain group is the same than to think that every member is a complex individual. Stereotypes might be very helpful and don’t need to be bad. However, stereotypes might have negative outcomes.
The evolutionary theory tries to explain universal processes underlying prejudice and discrimination. Evolution is all based upon mechanisms fulfilling functions that promote the transmission of a certain gene. Relatives decided to work together so their genes would have more chance to be passed on to the next generation. This is called ‘kin favouritism’. When societies started to develop, people began working together with non-relatives. They did this, because sometimes working with others helps the survival of one’s own genes, like hunting together. People developed cues to distinguish with whom it was safe to work together and whom not to work together (because this person might not return the favour). The people who were perceived as potentially dangerous, were avoided, disliked and competed against. Although evolutionary psychology is new, psychologists from this field have found explanations for stereotyping. People wanted to protect their families from dangerous individuals and they evolved fear for strangers. Prejudice was a by-product of this. Outgroups are rejected because they may pose a threat towards the ingroup.
There is a lot of evidence for the evolutionary theory. Scientists have found that distinguishing between groups, favouring members of one’s group and believing that one’s group is better than others is universal. Also, it is found all over the world that people classify things into categories. There are, however, also problems with the evolutionary approach. The first one is that the evolutionary theory suggests that people always protect their kin. Research, however, has pointed out that women and children who were raped by somebody from the outgroup, were killed by their own group members. Another point can be made against evolutionary theory, is that it can’t explain why prejudice doesn’t occur always. An example of this is the frequent contact between the Romans and Black Africans. There was no prejudice against these groups. Evolutionary psychology can’t explain why racial prejudice is not present in certain cultures.
It is important to keep in mind that even if the evolutionary point of view is true, prejudice is not excusable!
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