Social theories of attitude formation and stereotypes


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Attitudes have been described as one of the most important concepts in social psychology. According to Petty and Cacioppo (1981) 'the term attitude should be used to refer to a general, enduring positive or negative feeling about some person, object, or issue'. All attitudes have a structure and according to the 'three-component attitude model' a person's attitude is a combination o three components: affective component (what a person feels about the attitude object), cognitive component (what a person believes the attitude object is like) and behavioural component (how a person actually response to the attitude object).Attitudes also have a function. Katz (1960) proposed that there are different kinds of attitude each serving a different function, such as: adaptive function which helps to achieve goals; self expressive function for expressing our believes and opinions; ego-defensive function which protects one's self-esteem; knowledge function which helps us to structure and organize our social world and social adjustment function which helps us to manage social situations.

According to Franzoi (1966) stereotypes are "fixed ways of thinking about people that put them into categories and don't allow for individual variation". Main reasons of stereotypes are to reduce processing effort by presenting a simple way of perceiving the world and to allow us to distinguish ourselves (and the groups to which we belong) clearly from the members of other groups (Oakes, Haslam, &Turner, 1994).But they can have a negative side and they can affect impression formation before we meet a person first time. And this can lead very easily to prejudice (usually negative) and discrimination.

Prejudice is an unjustified negative (or positive) attitude toward a social group or a member of that group. Discrimination on the other hand refers to behaviour or action taken against another group. The most common prejudices are based on sex, race, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation and physical and mental disabilities and the victims of prejudice can suffer material and psychological disadvantage, low self-esteem, social stigma and physical and verbal abuse.

Social schemas play a huge role in impression formation. According to Fiske and Taylor (1991) 'Social schema is a mental framework for representing about oneself, other people, and specific and common social situations and events'. They are organized collections of information based on past experience and they are helping with encoding new ones. There are four different types of schema: self schemas which are cognitions about yourself; person schemas which are expectations about people; role schemas, behaviours expected in particular social situations and event schemas which are sequences of events in familiar situations.

According to Asch (1946) some information we have about a person may have a strong and disproportionate influence in impression formation (central traits) and some have little or no influence at all on the formation of impression (peripheral traits).To investigate this idea Asch gave participants one of two lists of adjectives describing a person. The only differences between two lists were the word "warm" and "cold". Asch found that the person was rated more positively by participants given list containing word "warm". This proved that traits of warm and cold are central traits and have a strong influence on impression formation. When the words "polite" and "blunt" were used instead of "warm" and "cold" Asch found no difference in rating and this shows that these adjectives are peripheral traits and have little influence on impression formation.

In another experiment Asch (1946) proved that the order in which information about a person is presented can have an influence on the impression formed. He gave half of participants a list of adjectives describing the person with positive traits first and negative traits last, and the other half list with reversed order. He found that person was rated more positively by participants given list containing positive information at the beginning and negative at the end. This is called primacy effect, when the traits presented first disproportionally influence the final impression.

Luchins (1957) on the other hand has demonstrated in his experiment that information given last has the greatest influence on the impression formed which is called recency effect. He proved that they are more likely to occur when two sets of information are read with a time interval between them.

Sherif (1936) carried out a study which demonstrated that prejudice often results from conflict between groups.When two groups are in competition for resources which are limited,the members of each group tend to become prejudiced against the members of the other group.This explenation of prejudice is called realistic group conflict.Study which he cried to demonstrate this is known as the Robbers Cave experiment (Sherif et al.,1961).Twenty-two boys aged between 11 and 12 years spent two weeks at a summer camp in America.They were put into two groups (the Eagles and the Rattlers).Each group lived in a cabin which were in a good distance apart.Sherif (1936) set up a series of activities between them for competition of recources.The boys were told that whichever group did better in various competitions would receive prize,such as the best food at a party.The founding showed rapid development of a conflict between two groups (fights,name calling,refusing to eat with the other group).Prejudice was greatly reduced when competetive situations replaced with cooperative,where the success of each group required the cooperation of the other one.Sherif's theory has been supported by Blake and Mouton (1961) by employing similar procedures in series of studies involving more than 1000 business people on management training programmes in America.This is how his theory has strong ecological validity which means that behaviour was tested in a way in which it would normally occur in everyday life. However Tyerman and Spencer (1983) argued that competition only has dramatic effects when those involved do not already have long-term friendships.They observed scouts who knew each other well at their annual camp competing against each other in groups.In this case competition did not produce the negative effects.There was some concerns expressed over the ETHICS of Sherif's field study.It created conflict and tension between groups which was distressing to some of the boys attending the summer camp.

According to Social identity theory,one of the most influental prejudice theories, developed by Henry Tajfel (1970) we all have a need to understand and evaluate ourself.He argued that this is achieved by three main processes.The first one is social categorisation which involves categorising oneself and other people as belonging to various groups and this produce social identities.Second process,positive distinctiveness is a need of individuals for enhanced self-esteem by belonging to succesful groups.This is achieved by the individual compering her or his group (ingroup) favourably against one or more other groups (outgroups).This process is called social comparison.To prove his theory he carried out a study on 14- and 15- year-old boys.They were asked to estimate the number of dots seen in brief exposure and than they were assigned at random(without their knowledge) to one of two groups:the overestimators or the underestimators.After that, they were asked to award points (which they could exchange for money) to other individuals of any group.As a result boys awarded more points to memebrs of their own group than to memebrs of the other group which shows an evidence of ingroup favouritism.Tajfel theory has been supported by Lemyre and Smith (1985).Their study showed how people favour their own group over other groups in order to increase their self-esteem.Some of their participants had to give rewards either to one of two ingroups or one of two outgroups when other participants were allowed to give rewards to members of either an ingroup or an outgroup.Participants who could discriminate in favour of an ingroup over an outgroup had higher self-esteem than those unable to do so.However Rabbie,Schot, and Visser (1989) argued that those predicted effects of social identity do not always occur.They told their participants in the experiment that they would receive only what outgroup members gave them.Because of that, self-interest outweighed their sense of social identity and these participants showed outgroup favouritism.

Adorno et al. (1950) argued that people with authoritarian personality are most likely to be prejudiced.People with this kind of personality possess such features like:rigid beliefs,hostility towards other groups,intolerance of ambiguity and submissive attitudes towards those in authority.According to Adorno et al. authoritarian personality has its roots in childhood experiences.Children who receive harsh upbringing with a lot of punishment from their parents are most likely to develop this personality.He devised various questionnaires relating to their theory.One of them was E-Scale,where ethnocentrism is a belief that one's own ethnic group is superior to all others (for example helps to measure prejudice towards black people,Jews).More important one was the F(Fascism)-Scale,which measures the attitudes of the authoritarian personality.Adorno et al. (1950) gave large groups of people a number of tests and clinical interviewes and F-Scale.Those who scored high on the F-Scale were more prejudiced than low scorers and in addition they seemed to have been treated more harshly than non-authoritarian individuals during childhood.Adornos theorie has been supported by Altmeyer (1996).He suggested that the roots of authoritarianism lie in adolescence rather than early childhood.Those whose parents are authoritarian imitate the behaviour of their parents.However Pettigrew (1958) argued that prejudice depends more on cultural norms than on personality.He studied prejudice in South Africa and United States where the levels of authoritarianism were the same (but more prejudice towards black people in South Africa than in the United States).

Part Two:

"Intergroup Contact (contact hypothesis Allport)"

Psychologists have identified various approaches that can be taken to reduce or even eliminate all forms of prejudice and discrimination.One of them is Allport's (1954) contact hypothesis.He argued that prejudice can be reduced by increasing social contact between prejudiced individuals and the groups against which they are prejudiced.His hypothesis is based on the concept that prejudice is based on ignorance, which is the result of limited social contact with outgroup members. This limited contact and lack of information about individuals of different groups leads to forming negative, stereotypical views (Ellison & Powers, 1994) in which way regular contact with other group members promotes positive attitude towards them and it allows to gain information about them. Allport stated that contact is only likely to be effective under certain conditions: it should involve people (or groups) of equal social status; they should share common goals;they need to work together to achieve such goal and there should be formal institutional support for intergroup acceptance.Without these conditions there is a possibility that positive attitude change will not occur and intergroup conflict and prejudice will increase (Bratt, 2002).One of the psychologists which supported contact hypothesis was Bratt (2002) who found that students had more positive attitude towards outgroup members which they had contact with at school than outgroups members they had almost no interaction at all.Ellison and Powers (1994) found that Afro-Americans with white friends had more positive attitude towards white people than black people without such friendships.

Contact hypothesis is one of the most effective ways to improve intergroup relations but its been widely criticised for being overly optimistic and that the contact even under ideal circumstances might not have any affect on reducing prejudice and stereotypes at all.Also research which supports this hipothesis has been highly criticised.Social psychologists argued that conditions essential for reduction of prejudice make this hypothesis not applicable to the real world (Dixon, Durrheim & Tredoux, 2005). Ellison & Powers (1994) and Robinson & Preston (1976) suggested that casual contact is not adequate in reducing prejudice because conditions for optimal contact are not characteristic for most casual encounters between groups.Also Hanssen (2001) criticised research on the contact hypothesis for being carried under ideal or laboratory conditions where its promoted and monitored instead of everyday settings.He based his founding on his study which has failed to support contact hypothesis in natural setting.Also the research has been criticized for its huge focus on white Americans (Ellison & Powers, 1994).Beacuse it's focused on such a limited area, the meaning of intergroup contact might be not entirely understood for members of other races.It has been supported by Robinson and Preston (1976) study in which they examined for prejudice, American and African American teachers.The same psychologists again critisised contact hypothesis because of forcing prejudiced individuals into contact with others.Instead of reducing their prejudices it was more likely to get unfavorable results.To summarise it, contact hyphothesis has been investigateg and hugle criticised since its development but still its said to be one of the most effective ways to reduce prejudice and discrimination in intergroup relations.

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