The psychological origins of prejudice, discrimination, and racism

prejudice, discrimination, and stereotyping

Are people “hard-wired” to discriminate based on skin color, ethnicity, religion, place of origin, gender, sexual identity, etc.? Is it hereditary? Do we have no choice?

Or, is it learned? As children, are we taught to discriminate by our parents, our greater family, in school, in church, by our friends?

If we learn to be racist, can we learn not to be racist? If so, what does that take?

Bibliography: Recent and classic publications on the psychological and social underpinnings of prejudice, discrimination, and racism.

**updated September 2020**

*Brewer, M. B. (1999). The psychology of prejudice: Ingroup love or outgroup hate? Journal of Social Issues, 55(3), 429-444. [PDF] [Cited by]

“Allport (1954) recognized that attachment to one’s ingroups does not necessarily require hostility toward outgroups. Yet the prevailing approach to the study of ethnocentrism, ingroup bias, and prejudice presumes that ingroup love and outgroup hate are reciprocally related. Findings from both cross‐cultural research and laboratory experiments support the alternative view that ingroup identification is independent of negative attitudes toward outgroups and that much ingroup bias and intergroup discrimination is motivated by preferential treatment of ingroup members rather than direct hostility toward outgroup members. Thus to understand the roots of prejudice and discrimination requires first of all a better understanding of the functions that ingroup formation and identification serve for human beings. This article reviews research and theory on the motivations for maintenance of ingroup boundaries and the implications of ingroup boundary protection for intergroup relations, conflict, and conflict prevention.”

*Crandall, C. S., Eshleman, A., & O’Brien, L. (2002). Social norms and the expression and suppression of prejudice: The struggle for internalization. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82(3), 359-378.  [Cited by]

“The authors studied social norms and prejudice using M. Sherif and C. W. Sherif’s (1953) group norm theory of attitudes. In 7 studies (N=1, 504), social norms were measured and manipulated to examine their effects on prejudice; both normatively proscribed and normatively prescribed forms of prejudice were included. The public expression of prejudice toward 105 social groups was very highly correlated with social approval of that expression. Participants closely adhere to social norms when expressing prejudice, evaluating scenarios of discrimination, and reacting to hostile jokes. The authors reconceptualized the source of motivation to suppress prejudice in terms of identifying with new reference groups and adapting oneself to fit new norms. Suppression scales seem to measure patterns of concern about group norms rather than personal commitments to reducing prejudice; high suppressors are strong norm followers. Compared with low suppressors, high suppressors follow normative rules more closely and are more strongly influenced by shifts in local social norms. There is much value in continuing the study of normative influence and self-adaptation to social norms, particularly in terms of the group norm theory of attitudes.”

*Fiske, S. T. (1998). Stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination. In D. T. Gilbert, S. T. Fiske & G. Lindzey (Eds.), 4th ed.; The handbook of social psychology (vols. 1-2, 4th ed.) (4th ed., pp. 357-411, Chapter x, 1085 Pages). McGraw-Hill, New York, NY.  [Cited by]

Examines why stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination are enduring phenomena. Social psychological research, reviewed here in 4 major sections, explains that stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination have (1) some apparently automatic aspects and (2) some socially pragmatic aspects, both of which tend to sustain them. But, as research also indicates, change is possible, for (3) stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination seem individually controllable, and consequently, (4) social structure influences their occurrence. Past and present theoretical approaches to these issues are also discussed.”

*Gaines, S. O., Jr., & Reed, E. S. (1995). Prejudice: From Allport to DuBois. American Psychologist, 50(2), 96-103.  [Cited by]

“The differences between the accounts of Gordon Allport (1954/1979) and W. E. B. DuBois (1903/1969) regarding the origins of prejudice and the impact of discrimination on the personality and social development of African Americans are examined. The authors contend that even though Allport’s universalist approach to the causes and consequences of prejudice essentially has gone unchallenged in the mainstream social-psychological literature, DuBois’s social-historical approach to personality psychology questions the assumptions that have guided theory and research on prejudice since the time of Allport. The authors argue that racism is not a universal feature of human psychology but a historically developed process. Racism begins with the exploitation of people or peoples and with the psychological consequences to which that exploitation leads. The differential implications of Allport’s and DuBois’s respective accounts for the future of race relations in the United States are discussed.”

*Han, S. (2018). Neurocognitive basis of racial ingroup bias in empathy. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 22(5), 400-421.  [PDF] [Cited by]

Racial discrimination in social behavior, although disapproved of by many contemporary cultures, has been widely reported. Because empathy plays a key functional role in social behavior, brain imaging researchers have extensively investigated the neurocognitive underpinnings of racial ingroup bias in empathy. This research has revealed consistent evidence for increased neural responses to the perceived pain of same-race compared with other-race individuals in multiple brain regions and across multiple time-windows. Although ingroup bias in empathic brain activity has been widely documented, both laboratory manipulations and real-life interracial experiences can reduce racial ingroup bias in empathy by increasing empathic neural responses to other-race pain.  These findings have important implications for understanding racial ingroup favoritism in social behavior and for improving interracial communication.”

*Herek, G. M. (2000). The psychology of sexual prejudice. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 9(1), 19-22.  [PDF] [Cited by]

Sexual prejudice refers to negative attitudes toward an individual because of her or his sexual orientation. In this article, the term is used to characterize heterosexuals’ negative attitudes toward (a) homosexual behavior, (b) people with a homosexual or bisexual orientation, and (c) communities of gay, lesbian, and bisexual people. Sexual prejudice is a preferable term to homophobia because it conveys no assumptions about the motivations underlying negative attitudes, locates the study of attitudes concerning sexual orientation within the broader context of social psychological research on prejudice, and avoids value judgments about such attitudes. Sexual prejudice remains widespread in the United States, although moral condemnation has decreased in the 1990s and opposition to antigay discrimination has increased. The article reviews current knowledge about the prevalence of sexual prejudice, its psychological correlates, its underlying motivations, and its relationship to hate crimes and other antigay behaviors.”

For additional research about racism, prejudice, and discrimination, please see the Science Primary Literature Database.

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