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Prejudice and how it can be reduced

We will debate the many psychologists; Adorno, La Pierre, Tajfel & Turner and Minard and the experiments they carried out such as the Chinese couple that travelled around America, the F-Scale test, the Social Identity Theory (SIT) and the theory within the West Virginian miners.

In particular we will be discussing the three main responses towards attitudes which are; cognitive, affective and behavioural. Additionally to this, we shall be reviewing the two types of explanations; psychological and social. Finally we shall look at the ways in which prejudice can be reduced.

The term ‘prejudice’ is defined in the English dictionary as follows: ‘Intolerance of or dislike for people of a specific race/religion’. Adorno et al argues that certain personalities are most likely to form some kind of prejudice. Namely authoritarians, who are people that favour absolute obedience to authority, as against individual freedom. Authoritarians have very rigid traditional views and believe in harsh punishment for violation of these traditional norms.

Prejudice is described as a personal attitude (usually negative) towards a group or an individual member, such as, a person may dislike another due to that persons colour or race. Prejudice must not be mistaken for discrimination; they are very similar, however discrimination is based on behavioural actions only. There are many types of prejudice such as race, gender, age and sexuality. People generally assume attitudes and behaviour go together consistently; however this is not the case, behaviour is shaped by much more than just attitudes.

La Pierre in 1934 found out that there was much more between attitude and behaviour. He travelled around America with a Chinese couple, requesting service at 251 hotels. The oriental couple were only discriminated against in one of the places they visited; however, La Pierre sent a questionnaire to the hotels months later, to see if they would be happy in allowing Chinese couple’s to stay. They all replied to say that they would not be happy. La Pierre was able to prove the American attitude at that time was that they did not like Chinese immigrants, yet the behaviour of the hotel owners were very different, proving that the two do not always go hand in hand. This experiment would not work in today’s environment. People do not want to be seen as being prejudice.

Adorno et al, developed a number of scales designed to measure prejudice and try to find out where it has originated from. The most famous of these is the ‘F’ Scale. The ‘F’ stands for fascism. This scale is designed as a personality questionnaire. A high score would indicate a person to be prejudice. Adorno et al interviewed people that achieved a high score, and found out that they had parents who were over strict and had unrealistic expectations for their children (authoritarians). These childhood experiences played a huge part in what they become as adults. Although the people interviewed rarely criticised their parents, they did express hostility towards them. This hostility finds release through various defence mechanisms, for example they move their feelings towards minority groups who cannot fight back, or by projecting their own weaknesses on these groups. This projected anger is called displacement.

One criticism of this experiment is that people do not always tell the truth, so the results might not be true. The ‘F’ Scale may be useful to explain the origins of some people that are prejudice, but not all.

Tajfel and his associate Turner developed the Social Identity Theory (SIT), this theory believes that inter-group discrimination occurs even without threat or competition. This happens due to people wanting to perceive themselves in a positive light and boost their own self esteem. Tajfel experimented by splitting a group into two. The participants did not know each other nor had no reason to interact with them in the future, however members of both groups began to identify themselves preferring other members and favouring them with rewards to maximise their own group’s outcomes.

A number of studies support the idea that types of prejudice is conformity to norms. Minard (1952) studied a West Virginian mining community and found that in the mines 80 per cent of white miners were friendly with the black miners, yet only 20 per cent continued their friendship above the ground. This showed that different social norms existed above and below ground, and these norms had a much stronger influence on behaviour than the attitudes did.

There are three main responses towards attitudes of prejudice as mentioned earlier on.

Firstly cognitive, this is the belief about the object or person involved. It is the mental processes of perception and judgement. This belief can be changed due to an experience which doesn’t support the attitude, we call this cognitive dissonance. A perfect example of cognitive dissonance would include no-smoking health campaigns.

Someone that has always smoked may then change their mind and quit due to advertisements persuading them.

Another response is Affective. These are the feelings about the object or person involved. This response is to do with the emotions a person has, and how they control these emotions. Attitude change may be possible, with persuasion.

The final type of response is called Behavioural. This is how a person intends to respond. The action taken by the person towards the object or person involved.

Behaviour depends on many factors other than just attitudes. In the La Pierre study other influential factors are likely to have been included, such as, the possibility of something unpleasant or violent happening to them if they were to refuse or they might have needed the money at the time so couldn’t turn them away.

If attitudes and behaviour are so different then can we really predict behaviour from attitude questionnaires such as the ‘F’ Scale?

The explanations regarding prejudice are split into two; psychological and social. A psychological reason to be prejudice is due to how that person has been raised, traits and norms that have been passed from family. A social reason to be prejudice is due to what is seen to be the norm in your social circle. Peers and media persuasion is included in this explanation.

Sometimes prejudice is inevitable because it is caused by frustration. Lack of decent jobs and housing can cause frustration which normally results in aggression towards the source. When the source of this frustration cannot be identified then the aggression is displaced onto other targets such as ethnic minority groups. This theory is called the scapegoat theory.

Attitudes are important and hard to change, especially if you believe in Adorno’s explanation of the authoritarian personality, changing prejudiced attitudes would threaten the existence of such people’s personality. In the 1930’s there was a theory that prejudice could be reduced simply by increasing the contact between different groups of people, however this was a very naïve assumption as contact alone can actually increase prejudice and discrimination. Cook (1978) outlines five conditions which are liable to reduce prejudice; firstly the most important factor is that people are of equal status with each other. If members of different groups and social circles meet on unequal basis then there will always be stereotypes and prejudiced attitudes are reinforced. Secondly, situations should always be structured to encourage interdependence and cooperation. Thirdly, personal interaction must occur. Fourth, exposure to non stereotypic individuals should occur, when we meet people who break our usual stereotypes then they begin to disappear. Finally, norms surrounding the situation must encourage helpful attitudes.

These conditions need to be laid down over an extended period of time in order for them to make a difference; the framework however cannot be ignored. ‘Repeated equal status contact situations will only possible in societies that have norms of tolerance and do not stress social categorisation according to race or gender’(Pettigrew, 1986).

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