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Social psychological explanations of Prejudice highlight reasons how and why prejudicial thoughts and beliefs occur. Prejudice is often negative and unwarranted attitudes towards an individual based solely on the fact that they belong to a specific social group.
According to Gordon Allport (1954), prejudice is derived from the Latin ‘praejudicium’, a judgement based on previous actions or decisions i.e. it is a “prejudgement”. (Allport, 1954) Prejudice can manifest itself through many forms in society. Sexism is one of the most widely publicised forms of prejudice today. Sexism is a bias that develops because of an individual’s gender.
(Hogg ; Vaughan, 2014) In a 2012 study, biology, physics and chemistry professors were asked to analyse the applications of undergraduate science students applying for a position. All participants either received the application form of a male student or a female student. Participants were asked to rate the student’s competence, as well as the quantity of guidance and amount of salary they were willing to give. Results found male and female professors both determined that female students were seen to be less competent and less deserving of job offers, with reduced guidance compared to a male student of similar abilities.
(Moss-Racusin, Dovidio, Brescoll, Graham, & Handelsman, 2012) Many other biases and prejudicial behaviour exist still today; thus, this essay aims to highlight psychological explanations for such prejudicial behaviour, both social and cognitive Given the variation in beliefs and suggestions presented, it would be reasonable to assume a great amount of difference is seen when discussing the psychological explanations of Prejudice. Prejudice could be considered a construct of society. The way society is structured can give explanation for prejudicial behaviour.
The Frustration-Aggression hypothesis provides one explanation. John Dollard and his colleagues proposed the hypothesis, which argues that frustration defined as “the state that emerges when circumstances interfere with a goal response”, is a contributing factor for the occurrence of aggressive behaviour (Dollard et al, 1939). Dollard et al (1939) insisted that personal goals and achievements require mental energy to be achieved, with the achievement of goals being a cathartic process, a process of releasing which leads to relief from repressed emotions (Catharsis, 2018). But, if the achievement process of the goal is interupted, frustration that occurs ultimately leads to an aggressive response or action occuring. The researchers also highlighted the belief that if aggression/frustration occurs, it can often become “displaced” – the frustration is directed towards an alternative object or subject, rather than the one the frustration is truly aimed at. This can be referred to as “scapegoating”.
(Dollard et al 1939, cited in Hogg & Vaughan, 2014) One historical example of ‘scapegoating’ is Adolf Hitler’s genocide of the Jewish community during World War 2. Hitler and Nazi society instigated prejudical and discriminatory behaviour against the Jewish community due to belilef that the increasing ecomoic crisis occuring throughout Germany was caused by the Jewish population, leading to the development of Jewish extermination through concetration camps. (Glick, 2002) Although this theory is widely accepted, Zillman (1979) opposed this, instead arguing that “the blockage of a goal reaction, in and of itself… generally will not induce interpersonal hostility or aggression”.
This proposes the suggestion that other interplaying factors may produce stereotypical and prejudicial behaviour, rather than frustration i.e. environmental factors. (Zillman, 1979) cited in (Berkowitz, 1989) Contrarily, other explanations would argue a more cognitive basis for prejudicial behaviour. A cognitive explanation would be the use of Stereotypes.
Stereotypes are extensively held assumptions about the attitudes, beliefs, behaviour or personality of an individual based upon the group they belong to i.e. ethnicity, race, gender or class, (Hogg ; Vaughan, 2014) which in turn passionately influence individual’s impressions of those around them. Previous research suggests that stereotypical behaviour is a consequence of an individual’s innate organisational ability. (Allport, 1954) This may imply that stereotypical beliefs, behaviours and attitudes are automatically assigned to a specific social group. (Hogg ; Vaughan, 2014) Additionally, some would argue that stereotypes would provide justification for behaviour and actions against a member or members of a specific group within society.
Stereotypes arise as a way of effectively understanding the behaviour that causes groups to be treated differently. Rutland and Brown (2001) investigated the notion that stereotypes provide justification for such behaviour. Scottish psychology students (N-157) were assigned to one of four conditions; “differentiation and intergroup judgement condition, fairness and intergroup judgement, differentiation only and a control condition”. Firstly, participants were asked if they considered themselves Scottish, answering with ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Those who answered ‘yes’ were presented with false feedback, the strategy of movement when allocating money to different countries.
Participants in the ‘fairness and intergroup’ condition were shown a graph that suggested 65% of Scottish students dispense their money equally. In contrast, participants in differentiation and intergroup judgement and differentiation only condition were shown an opposing graph, depicting the notion that 65% of Scottish students prefer to allocate their money within their own group i.e. Their own country. Results found that participants in the differentiation group displayed more intergroup – based discrimination compared to those participating in the ‘fairness and intergroup’ condition of the study, suggesting that these participants were better able to identify with others of a different group.
Evidentiary support can be found in this study for the belief that stereotypes serve as a justification for the prejudicial behaviour displayed within society. (Rutland ; Brown, 2001). Researchers would further argue an opposing suggestion towards the belief that Stereotypes influence prejudicial behaviour. Social psychologists suggest a Realistic Conflict Theory. The theory was initially proposed by Muzafer Sherif, who indicated that hostility within a group-based environment is a result of existing conflict in goal achievement i.e. competition between individuals within an inter-group environment.
(Sherif, 1966 cited in Jackson, 1993). He proclaimed that it is essential for individuals who share similar goals to have mutual understanding in order to achieve group formation, whilst indivudals centred around indivudalistic and exclusive goal achievement such as winning in a chess game, , eventually lead to the breakdown of a created group. (Sherif, 1966 cited in Hogg ; Vaughan, 2014) This, in turn, influences how individuals in a group interact with eachother. As a belief in intergroup superiority arises, discriminatory, prejudical behaviour and the use of stereotypes in a derogatory manner also arise for those deemed to be member of an “outgroup”. In a 2016 study, researchers aimed to understand the terroristic actions of Uighur terroritstic perpetrated against the Chinese government. The conflict has arisen as a result of the control sezied by the People’s Republic of China over a Northwestern region inhabitated by the Uighurs, predominatly a Muslim group.
Due to complications and conflicts occuring, including heightened hostitlity and ostracisation, the Uighur had tried to create their own independent state, free from the Chinese Republic. Unable to, they resorted to terroristic actions. Due to a lack of suffcient resources, enough to sustain both the Uighur people and the People’s Republic of China, hostitlity arose, as previosuly stated by Sherif (1966), defined as “ingroup-outgroup conflict” (Terhune ; Matusitz, 2016) Other research has provided evidentiary support for the psychological explanation of a Realsitic Conflict theory in prejudical behaviour development. Haney, Banks ; Zimbardo (1973) Stanford Prison Experiment highlights how goal achievement within a group-based environment induces an increase in aggression, as well as hostility between ‘in-groups’ and ‘out-groups’ within an environment. Participants were either assigned to a “guard” conditon or a “prisoner” conditon, within the simulated prison. These conditions may have been suggested as often, high levels of hostility and aggression can be expressed between these groups within a prison environment, due to conlficts in their beliefs or behaviours.
Those assigned to the prisoner condiiton were “arrested” Within a few days, after conforming to the role assigned to them, partcipants began to display hostility and aggression towards eachother; A situation occurred, whereby prisoners locked themselves in, leading the guards to display aggressive actions as a way of controlling the prisoners. The study was eventually stopped. (Zimbardo, 2007)This study suggests that if individuals believe they belong to a specific social group, when faced with an opposing group (out-group), due to competition that arises, hostile and aggressive behaviours can be seen, which in turn, develop prejudical thoughts and beliefs. However, some ethical issues could be considered. The study failed to prevent participants from experiencing psychological harm such as humiliation or embarrassment. Often, the ‘guards’ would become aggressive and abusive towards the prisoners, as they embraced their role.
In order to combat this in future studies, strict guidlelines and regulations should be conformed to. (Haney, Banks ; Zimbardo, 1973)Given the variation and difference in opinion regarding the issue of Prejudice, it is undoubtedly certain that no set answer, belief or explanation can be suggested for prejudicial behaviour. However, in my opinion, prejudice is a social construct, influenced by society and culture, and therefore the answer to the question posed must be found in a societal explanation.