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Prejudice Definition

Based on their perceived membership in a group, a person may experience affective feelings of bias. The phrase is frequently used to refer to an assumption or categorization of another person based on that person's perceived political affiliation, sex, gender, gender identity, beliefs, values, age, disability, religion, sexuality, race, ethnicity, language, nationality, culture, complexion, beauty, height, body weight, occupation, wealth, education, criminality, sport-team affiliation, music preferences, or other personal characteristics.

Prejudice Definition

The term "prejudice" can also be used to describe irrational attitudes that are unusually resistant to rational influence and baseless or definite ideas. "Feeling, favourable or unfavourable, towards a person or object, before, or not founded on, experience" is how Gordon Allport defined prejudice. According to Auestad (2015), discrimination is characterized by "symbolic transfer," which is applying a meaning-laden value to a socially constructed category before being applied to the persons believed to fall within that category, reluctance to change, and overgeneralization.

Historical Approaches

In the 1920s, the first psychological studies on prejudice were done. This research sought to prove white superiority. One 1925 article that analyzed 73 studies on race concluded that they seemed to reflect the mental power of the white race. These investigations and other research convinced many psychologists that prejudice is a normal reaction to races that are perceived as inferior.

This viewpoint started to shift in the 1930s and 1940s when anti-Semitism became a bigger worry because of the Nazi ideology. Theorists at the time considered racism a pathological trait, so they searched for personality syndromes connected to racism. Theodor Adorno thought that an authoritarian personality was the root of prejudice and that persons with these types were most inclined to harbor prejudices towards lower-status groups. According to him, authoritarians "imposed rigorous obedience to social rules and hierarchies, regarded the world as black and white, and were rigid thinkers who obeyed authority".

Gordon Allport established a connection between bias and categorical thinking in his seminal essay, The Nature of Prejudice, from 1954. According to Allport, prejudice is a normal and natural human activity. "The human mind must think with the aid of categories," he asserts. Category formation serves as the foundation for typical prejudgment. We cannot stop this process, and life in order depends on it."

Research on prejudice emerged in the 1970s, demonstrating that bias typically stems from fondness for one's group rather than hostility towards another. Discrimination "may arise not because outgroups are loathed, but because positive emotions like admiration, pity, and trust are reserved for the ingroup, claims Marilyn Brewer.

Thomas Pettigrew first discussed the ultimate attribution error and how it contributed to prejudice in 1979. The highest error in attribution occurs when individuals from the ingroup: "(1) Ascribe negative outgroup behavior to dispositional factors (more than they would for similar ingroup behavior), and (2) Attribute positive outgroup behavior to one or more of the following causes: (A) fluke or uncommon circumstance, (B) good fortune or a unique advantage, (C) intense motivation and effort, and (D) environmental element.

According to Young-Bruehl (1996), prejudice cannot be viewed as a singular concept; rather, one should speak of several prejudices as indicative of various character types. In her view, prejudices are social defenses that can be classified as either obsessional (mainly related to anti-semitism), hysterical (mostly associated with racism), or narcissistic (primarily associated with sexism) character types.

Contemporary Theories and Empirical Findings

According to the outgroup homogeneity effect theory, outsiders are thought to be more homogeneous (similar) than insiders. Social psychologists Quattrone and Jones conducted a study with pupils from the competing universities of Princeton University and Rutgers University to demonstrate this. Each school showed its students videos of other students choosing a musical style to listen to for an experiment on auditory perception. The next step was to ask the participants to predict what proportion of the recorded students' peers would make the same decision. Participants projected that members of the competitor school's outgroup would be significantly more similar than members of their ingroup.

Christian Crandall and Amy Eshleman developed the justification-suppression model of prejudice. The contradiction between the impulse to exhibit bias and they want to uphold a positive self-concept is explained by this paradigm. Because of this conflict, people look for reasons to despise an outside group and utilize those reasons to prevent having conflicting thoughts about themselves when they act on those reasons.

According to the realistic conflict theory, there is more bias and discrimination because of competition for few resources. Even with a little help, this is still evident. The Robber's Cave experiment fostered hatred and unfavorable prejudice between two summer camps due to sporting contests for little rewards. After the two opposing camps were made to work together to complete tasks to accomplish a shared objective, the hatred subsided.

The integrated threat theory (ITT), created by Walter G. Stephan, is another modern theory. It incorporates and expands upon several different psychological theories that explain racism, ingroup/outgroup behaviour, realistic conflict theory, and symbolic racism. It also bases its validity on the social identity theory perspective, which holds that because people work in groups, their membership in those groups becomes a component of their identity. According to ITT, people who view an outgroup as threatening in some way are more likely to engage in outgroup bias and discrimination. ITT identifies four dangers:

  • Realistic threats
  • Symbolic threats
  • Intergroup anxiety
  • Negative stereotypes

The rivalry for a natural resource or a threat to one's livelihood are examples of realistic threats. A perceived power imbalance or difference in cultural norms between groups can give rise to symbolic threats (such as when an ingroup believes an outgroup's religion is incompatible with their own). Intergroup anxiety is a threat-based feeling of unease from encounters with other groups. It is experienced in the presence of an outgroup or an outgroup member (e.g., a threat to comfortable interactions). Negative stereotypes are related to threats in that people expect outgroup members to act negatively by the stereotype they perceive (for example, that the outgroup is violent). These misconceptions are frequently connected to feelings like fear and rage. Intergroup anxiety and unfavourable preconceptions are included as threat types in ITT, which sets it apart from other threat theories.

Furthermore, according to the social dominance hypothesis, hierarchies based on groups can be seen in society. While competing for scarce resources like housing or work, dominant groups invent prejudiced "legitimizing myths" to justify their dominance over other groups on moral and intellectual grounds and to support their claim to the resources. Myths that keep these prejudiced hierarchies include discriminatory recruiting practices and biased merit standards.

One of the main causes of depression may be prejudice. This can happen when someone is the victim of discrimination, the target of prejudice, or when someone has a bias towards themselves that contributes to their own sadness.

Paul Bloom contends that prejudice is normal and frequently quite sensible, even though it can be irrational and have terrible effects. This is so because preconceptions are based on people's propensity to classify things and people according to their prior experiences. Thus, people tend to make predictions that are accurate in most cases regarding items in a category based on their previous experience with that category (though only sometimes). To support his assertion that this categorization and prediction process is essential for survival and normal interaction, Bloom quotes William Hazlitt as saying, "Without the aid of prejudice and custom, I should not be able to find my way my across the room; nor know how to conduct myself in any circumstances, nor what to feel in any relation of life."

Researchers have recently claimed that prejudice research has historically been too constrained. Since prejudice is defined as having a bad feeling towards someone who belongs to a particular group, it is argued that many groups are acceptable targets for bigotry (such as rapists, fathers who leave their families, pedophiles, neo-Nazis, drink-drivers, line-jumpers, murderers, etc.), but these prejudices aren't investigated. It has been argued that research on bias has focused too much on an evaluative approach rather than a descriptive strategy that examines the psychological processes that underlie prejudiced opinions. It is stated that this restricts research to groups thought to be targets of bias, whereas those researchers believe to be treated justly or worthy of prejudice are ignored. As a result, research on discrimination has started to broaden, making it more possible to analyse the connection between psychological characteristics and bias.

Several scholars have argued that comprehending prejudice should be approached from the standpoint of social values rather than merely as a psychological mechanism that is prejudiced and varied definitions of prejudice, such as what ordinary people consider to be prejudice. This is owing to worries that the operationalization of bias does not adhere to its psychological definition and that it is frequently used to suggest a view is incorrect or irrational without actually demonstrating this to be the case.

According to several studies, those who exhibit the dark triad personality traits of Machiavellianism, grandiose narcissism, and psychopathy are more prone to harbor prejudices against people of other races, women, or the color of people.

Types of Prejudice

Every trait a person finds uncommon, or undesirable can lead to bias or preconceived ideas about them. Prejudice based on someone's color, gender, nationality, social standing, sexual orientation, or religious affiliation is a few common examples, although disagreements can occur on any subject.

Gender identity

Because their gender identity is different from the sex they were given at birth, people who identify as transgender or non-binary may experience discrimination. It may be discriminatory to refuse to use their preferred pronouns or to claim that they are not the gender they identify with if certain criteria are met. Particularly if the prejudiced victim has repeatedly expressed what their chosen identification is. Discrimination against people based on their gender identity is now illegal. Because of this, employers are required to prevent discrimination based on gender identity, and serious instances of this discrimination may result in criminal penalties or prosecution (not to be confused with persecution, which is synonymous with prejudice).


While these two ideas are linked, they are not the same. Sexism is prejudice or discrimination based on a person's sex or gender. Gender is related to an individual's identity, whereas sex is determined by evaluating biological characteristics. Sexism can afflict people of any gender, but it is known to impact women and girls more frequently than men. In general, the term "female" refers to sex but can also refer to the corresponding gender of Homo sapiens. Yet, it doesn't always align. Discussions of these ideas, as well as actual gender inequalities and prejudices, are still divisive issues. Women have historically been treated less favorably than men and are frequently disregarded or marginalized in fields like academia. In the past, men were thought to be more powerful than women, both physically and emotionally. Studies on prejudice, such as the "Who Likes Capable Women" study, paved the way for prejudice research based on gender in social psychology. This led to the development of two major themes or foci in the area: the first was an emphasis on attitudes toward gender equality, and the second was an emphasis on people's perceptions of men and women. Psychologists are still researching sexism today as they work to understand how people's attitudes, feelings, and behaviors affect and are influenced by others.

Misandry (prejudice or discrimination against men) and misogyny (prejudice or discrimination against women) are two different types of sexism, depending on the perspective of the gender.


A sentiment known as nationalism, founded on shared cultural traits, unites people and frequently results in a policy of national independence or separatism. It implies a "shared identity" among a nation's citizens that stresses perceived borders between the group and outsiders and downplays distinctions within the community. Because of this, people falsely assume that the country's population is "culturally unified," even though inequalities exist based on status and race. Nationalism is contentious when there is inter-national conflict because it can shield a country from criticism when it comes to its issues by making its internal conflicts and hierarchies appear normal. It could also mobilize the populace behind a specific political objective. Nationalism typically comprises a desire for conformity, obedience, and togetherness among the nation's people due to the exclusion of persons who are perceived as outsiders. This can lead to emotions of civic obligation and a limited sense of community. The appearance of outsiders who do not share this commitment may lead to antagonism because nationalists' identities are tied to their loyalty to the state.


Classism is "a biased or discriminatory attitude on distinctions formed between social or economic classes." Class division as a concept is contentious in and of itself. Some contend that because there will always be economic inequality, there will always be a ruling elite. Some people also claim that social ranking still occurs, even in the most egalitarian cultures in history. Thus, social classes are a necessary part of society.

Some make the opposite case. According to anthropological evidence, humans have lived in a way where the land and resources have not been privately held throughout the vast majority of the time the human race has existed. Also, unlike the modern class system, social ranking did not occur in an adversarial or hostile manner. This research has supported the argument that a social class system is unnecessary. Overall, society has not been able to resolve the conflict and prejudice brought on by the class system, nor has it been able to agree on whether it is necessary.

Sexual discrimination

The "direction of one's sexual desire towards individuals of the same, opposite, or both sexes" is called sexual orientation. Homosexuals and bisexuals are not exempt from prejudice or misconceptions from the dominant group, like most minority groups. They could encounter hatred from others because of their sexual orientation; this extreme hatred is known as homophobia. The term "queer" can refer to anyone in the LGBT+ community (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and others). Yet, there are other labels for discrimination against particular sexualities that are more precise, such as biphobia.

The vast majority of people frequently reach the idea that gay people flaunt their sexuality due to what social psychologists refer to as the vividness effect, or the tendency to focus solely on specific distinguishing qualities. Due to their vividness, such images can be easily recalled in the memory, making it more difficult to evaluate the entire issue. In addition to incorrectly believing that homosexuals flaunt their sexuality or are "too gay," the general public may also mistakenly think that homosexuals are simple to recognize and categorize as gay or lesbian when contrasted to those who are not homosexual.

It has been observed that the concept of heterosexual privilege thrives in society, and studies and questionnaires are designed to be representative of the heterosexual majority. Heteronormativity is the state of assimilating or adhering to heterosexual standards. It can also refer to the notion that heterosexuality is the only or main social norm.

All groups are not always treated equally by the law in the US legal system. The term "gay or queer panic defense" refers to defenses or arguments that defense attorneys may use to support their clients' alleged hate crime against a victim they believed to be LGBT. When defense attorneys cite the victim's minority status as an explanation or justification for crimes committed against them, this raises controversy. This could be considered an instance of victim blaming. Claiming that the victim's sexual orientation, bodily movement patterns (such as their walking or dancing movements), or appearance that is linked with a minority sexual orientation triggered a violent reaction in the defendant is one strategy of this defense, known as homosexual panic disorder. This phrase is used to describe certain acts of violence but is not a confirmed disorder, the DSM no longer recognizes it, and as a result, it is not a disorder that is recognized medically.

According to research, discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation is a common occurrence. For instance, research suggests that gay men in the United States earn 10-32% less than heterosexual men and that employment practices frequently discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation.


Racism is the idea that some groups are superior to others based on physical attributes and racial characteristics. It has been suggested that unequal treatment of various groups of people is fair due to their genetic variations by classifying people into hierarchies based on their race. Racism can exist within any group that can be recognized by their physical attributes or even by aspects of their culture. Even though people may be grouped and given a specific racial name, only some fit neatly into these categories, making it difficult to define and effectively characterize a race.

Scientific Racism

With the advent of the internet, the world has become a much smaller place. The internet has made it possible for people to communicate with each other in a way that was before unimaginable. This idea focuses on how hierarchies are necessary and how some people will inevitably be at the bottom of the pyramid. Although racism has been a prevalent topic throughout history, there is still disagreement on the existence of race, making the subject of race contentious. The impacts of racism are clear, even though the definition of race is still up for debate. Racism and other forms of prejudice can affect a person's behavior, beliefs, and feelings, and social psychologists attempt to research these effects.

Religious discrimination

There have historically been wars, pogroms, and other acts of violence driven by hatred of certain religious groups, even though many religions instruct their followers to be tolerant of people who are different and to have compassion.

Researchers in western, educated, industrialized, wealthy, and democratic nations have conducted several studies in the modern world to examine the relationship between religion and prejudice; thus far, they have had varying degrees of success. According to a survey conducted among college students in the US, individuals who said religion had a significant impact on their life also appeared to experience discrimination at a higher rate than those who said they were atheists. According to other studies, religion has a beneficial impact on people in terms of prejudice. The participants' different religious practices or interpretations may be to blame for this outcome discrepancy. Bias is more likely to rise among those practicing "institutionalized religion," emphasizing the social and political components of religious activities. The most likely group to have a decline in prejudice is those who engage in "interiorized religion," in which adherents dedicate themselves to their beliefs.

Linguistic discrimination

The sole basis for the unfair treatment of individuals or groups may be how they use language. This language use may include the person's original tongue or other speech traits like an accent or dialect, vocabulary size (if the person employs sophisticated and varied terms), and grammar. It also concerns a person's capacity for using one language over another.

Tove Skutnabb-Kangas, a linguist, coined the term "linguicism" in the middle of the 1980s to describe this concept of linguistic prejudice. The ideologies and systems that "legitimate, effectuate, and maintain the unequal division of power and resources (both material and non-material) amongst groups which are defined based on language" are known as linguicism, according to Kangas".

Neurological discrimination


Those who do not fit the expectations of personality and behavior associated with neurotypicality are generally assigned a low social standing. When people who are high functioning enough to exist outside of diagnostic criteria refuse to (or are unable to) conform their behavior to traditional patterns, this might show that they have a handicap. Many disciplinary approaches are spreading contradictory messages about what constitutes normality, acceptable individual variability within that category, and the exact requirements for what constitutes a medical condition. This is a contentious and rather modern topic. In the case of high-functioning autism, when direct cognitive advantages increasingly seem to come at the expense of social intelligence, this has been most noticeable.

Discrimination may also extend to other high-functioning persons with abnormal traits, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and bipolar spectrum illnesses. In these situations, there are suggestions that socially disadvantageous cognitive qualities, perceived or actual, are strongly connected with positive mental traits in other areas, such as creativity and divergent thinking. However, these advantages may be routinely disregarded.

The expectation that one's professional skill may be assessed by the caliber of one's social interactions, which can, in such situations, be an erroneous and discriminating criterion for occupational appropriateness, makes a case for "neurological discrimination" as such.

It's a good idea to have a backup plan. This is a particularly relevant topic for discussion due to recent developments in behavioral genetics and neuroscience, and existing frameworks need to be significantly updated to take into account the strength of discoveries during the past ten years.


Those with mental disease or condition symptoms may be judged on their IQ or worth. "Low-Functioning" may describe those who struggle to fit in with neurotypical norms and society. Individuals with neurological illnesses or disorders linked to suicidal conduct, lack of self-control, low intelligence, or other variables may be discriminated against. Facilities used to conduct risky experiments or abuse the subjects included mental hospitals, Nazi concentration camps, unethical pediatric research and care centers, and eugenics labs.

Most prejudice in society today takes the form of remarks spoken about or physical abuse done to low-functioning people. However, certain institutions engage in harmful practices with these people.


According to psychologists Richard J. Crisp and Rose Meleady, humans have an innate tendency to categorize social groups. This tendency is evident in cognitive processes and has extensive consequences for public and political support of multicultural policies. They proposed a cognitive-evolutionary theory of human adaptation to social diversity that accounts for widespread opposition to multiculturalism. They also issue a reorientation call to academics and decision-makers looking for intervention-based remedies to the prejudice problem.

Reducing Prejudice

The contact hypothesis

According to the contact hypothesis, prejudice can only be diminished when the ingroup and outgroup members are brought together. Specifically, as was fostered in Elliot Aronson's "jigsaw" teaching method, six requirements must be followed to lessen prejudice. First, some mutual reliance between the in and outgroups must be mutual. Second, there must be an objective that unites both factions. Thirdly, there must be parity between the two groups. Fourth, opportunities for casual and interpersonal contact between groups must be plentiful. Five, there must be numerous interactions between the in and outgroups. Finally, social standards of equality must be present to promote prejudice reduction.

Empirical research

Thomas Pettigrew and Linda Tropp conducted a meta-analysis of 515 research involving a quarter of a million individuals in 38 countries to investigate how intergroup contact lessens bias. They discovered three crucial mediators: Intergroup contact reduces tendency by promoting outgroup knowledge, lowering intergroup contact anxiety, and boosting empathy and perspective-taking. Although all three of these mediators had mediational effects, the benefit of greater understanding in mediation was less significant than that of kindness and reduced anxiety. Additionally, some people speak out against discrimination when they witness it. According to research, people are more inclined to speak out when they see benefits for themselves and are less likely to speak out when worried about how others may react.

Problems with psychological models

One issue with the idea that prejudice developed as a result of the need to simplify social classifications due to limited brain capacity and that prejudice can be reduced through education is that the two contradict one another, which is equivalent to saying that the issue is a lack of hardware while also claiming that the solution is to cram even more software into hardware that one has just said is overloaded with software. The historical example of Hitler and other male Nazis believing that intergroup sex was worse than murder and would destroy them permanently instead of thinking that war itself would destroy them is used to criticize the distinction between men's hostility to outgroup men being based on dominance and aggression and women's hostility to outgroup men being based on fear of sexual coercion.

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