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In our everyday social interactions, we often have rigid opinions regarding particular social groups and their members. We also have some negative feelings for them and treat them in a way different from how we treat our own group and its members. In the other words, we have a particular attitude towards these social groups and this particular attitude is expressed in our opinion, feelings and behaviour toward the social group and its members.

Almost every region of the world has been facing such problems in the form of ethnic and racial conflicts, gender biases, political/ideological rivalries, etc. Social psychologists have construed such issues as a particular form of attitude and have termed them as stereotype, prejudice and discrimination.

Although the words stereotype, prejudice and discrimination are used in similar ways in general conversations, they are theoretically explained in different ways by social psychologists. Social psychologists argue that stereotype, prejudice and discrimination represent three different components of attitude.


Stereotype: Stereotypes are beliefs that some traits and characteristics are shared by the members of a particular social group. Stereotypes function as cognitive framework and influence the way in which information relevant to the stereotype is processed. Gender stereotype Individual Level Processes 77 is one of the most prevalent stereotypes across societies.

Based on compilation of findings of various studies on gender stereotype, it is concluded that females are stereotypically believed as ‘warm and dependent’, whereas; males are perceived as ‘competent and independent’. Stereotypically associated feminine traits are warm, emotionally sensitive, kind, submissive, oriented to aesthetics, mild, etc.

On the other hand, traits like competent, emotionally stable, confident, tough, independent, nonconformist, leader, aggressive, etc. are stereotypically believed as traits possessed by males.

Das (2011) has reported that Indian television advertisements have portrayed women mostly as young characters, in relationship or family roles, less frequently as prominent characters, more frequently in advertisements related to female oriented or beauty products, mostly in home settings and not often as professionals. Similar to the schemas, stereotypes function as cognitive structures that help us in classifying, understanding and retrieving social information.

Thus, we classify people based on the group they belong to and in understanding and interpreting their behaviour we utilise the cluster of traits that we stereotypically believe associated with the group. This process significantly minimises our cognitive efforts in social interactions and help us in predicting behaviours of people based on their groups.

If we are asked to describe social, cultural, ethnic groups, such as Indians, Pakistanis, Asians, Europeans, Americans, Africans, etc., in terms of the traits that characterise them; most of us would come up with lists of traits even for those groups with whom we have very little interaction or even no interaction at all. These traits are actually stored in the stereotype associated with the particular group and are retrieved when the stereotype is activated.

Since stereotypes function as schemas, they facilitate processing of information consistent with them. In the other words, information consistent with the stereotype is encoded, stored and retrieved better than the information that are unrelated to the stereotype which makes the stereotypes difficult to change. Prejudice: Prejudice is defined as a feeling, primarily negative, toward a person exclusively on the basis that the person is member of a particular social group.

Thus, a person prejudiced toward a particular social group expresses negative emotions for the members of that particular group. Gordon Allport (1954) has referred prejudice as “an antipathy based upon a faulty and inflexible generalization”. This indicates that although prejudice is expressed toward a particular individual, the negative emotions are actually targeted to the whole group.

Similar to stereotypes/schemas, prejudice too influences the way by which prejudiced person processes information related to the particular social group and information consistent with the prejudice is more readily attended, encoded and retrieved than the information which is inconsistent.

Some studies have also reported that prejudiced people differentiate social groups based on a belief that the groups have some common essence among all the group members which may be biologically influenced (Yzerbyt, Corneille, & Estrada, 2001). Prejudice is further referred to as an implicit or covert association between a person’s being member of a particular social group and the evaluative emotional response a prejudiced person expresses toward that person.

This suggests that in-group and outgroup categorisation of our social world automatically activates emotional evaluation of the people belonging to the social groups and results into our corresponding responses toward them without being consciously aware of it.

Sources of Prejudice

Prejudice has been one of the major causes of various types of armed conflicts among Attitude and Behaviour 78 different ethnic, racial, political and ideological groups in the world. Therefore, various sources of prejudice, as studied and reported by social psychologists, have been discussed below.

Threat to Self Esteem People tend to evaluate their own group in a way more positive than the other groups (Tajfel & Turner, 1986). When people perceive a threat to their group’s image, they respond by a counter attack to the opposite group. This further leads to more strong identification with the in-group.

Thus, it suggests that image of our own group is strengthened when we evaluate the other group in a negative, prejudiced, way. However, such a differential evaluation of in-group and out-group is more evident when the people see a threat to their own group from the out-group.

For example, in an era of global terrorism a particular social group more strongly identifies with the in-group when it faces a terrorist attack. Simultaneously, members of the affected social group negatively evaluate the group they think responsible for the terrorist activity and consequently, they develop prejudice toward members of that social group.

Tamborini et al. (2017) have reported that the research participants who were more exposed to the news coverage of the 2015 Paris terrorist attacks showed increased prejudice and reduced pro-social intentions toward the members of the social group they thought responsible for the incidence.

Competition for Resources In realistic physical world, the commodities that are valued most are insufficient. Certainly, fertile lands, lucrative jobs, preferred places, etc. are limited on the earth and once a particular social group gets them, the other group is naturally deprived of those resources.

The situation is referred to as realistic conflict theory (Bobo, 1983) which suggests that the social groups engaged in conflict for various resources view each other in extremely negative manner, often as enemies. Thus, a conflict for resources turns into a prejudice. Sherif, Harvey, White, Hood, and Sherif (1961) very efficiently demonstrated that how competition for resources can induce and intensify conflict between the groups.

The researchers conducted an innovative field experiment commonly called as the Robbers Cave Experiment, a classic study in the field of social psychology. Two groups of boys (12 boys randomly assigned to each group) of similar socio-economic background were taken for a summer camp to a place near rural Oklahoma.

At the camp location, both groups kept disconnected from each other. Boys of both the groups extensively enjoyed various activities, such as hiking, swimming, etc. and the members of both the groups very quickly developed in-group affiliation and attachment. They assigned names for their respective groups; Rattlers and Eagles, and also made their flags and Tshirts along with their group symbols stencilled on them.

It further enhanced in-group affiliation and identification. In the second phase of the study, the two groups were introduced to each other and were engaged in a series of inter-group competitions for which various trophies and prizes were on stake.

This initiated very intense competition between the two groups which very soon resulted into positive evaluation of in-group and negative evaluation of out-group, very heated verbal conflicts, attack on each other’s camps, etc.; and finally into development of strong prejudices toward each other.

Social Categorisation and Prejudice Tajfel, Billig, Bundy, and Flament (1971) studied prejudice with the assumption that Individual Level Processes 79 conflicts at the individual level are not the essential components for the origin of prejudice. Tajfel argued that we categorise our social world into two categories; that is “us” (our in-groups) and “them” (out-groups).

We are emotionally attached with the “us” category and it becomes a part of our social identity. Consequently, we evaluate and perceive the “us” category in a more positive way, whereas the “them” part of the social world is evaluated and perceived in a negative way. In a study, Tajfel, Billig, Bundy, and Flament (1971) randomly divided his participants into two halves and made them to “form” two groups on very unimportant bases.

Although there was nothing common among the members in the in-groups, they allocated more points to the ingroup members as compared to the members of the out-groups. Such discriminatory evaluations of social categories of “us” and “them” are believed to originate prejudice toward the other group.


When prejudice is expressed in overt behaviour, it is termed as discrimination. Discrimination is expressed in the form of discriminatory treatments, verbal aggression, violent behaviours, etc. by the members of prejudiced group toward the members of the target group. There have been several notable instances of discrimination based on racial, ethnic and gender biases in the history of mankind.

For example, South Africa has witnessed a long history of apartheid where Native Blacks, Asian Africans and other coloured racial communities were legally denied from many basic facilities in the society. At its extreme level, the target racial communities were removed from their homes and were compelled to reside in designated confined places.

In recent past, there have been several cases of violent crimes against Indian students in Australia. As per an investigation by the Indian Government, 23 out of 152 such cases reported in media in 2009 had their roots in racial discrimination (Indian Express, 25 February 2010). Of late, with a revolution in information technology there has been a surge in derogatory messages and posts against various social, racial and ethnic groups on social networking platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, etc.

However, similar to the attitudes prejudices are also not always overtly expressed in behaviours. Modern legal provisions, influences of democratic social norms, fear of retaliatory consequences, etc. prevent people to be overtly engaged in discriminatory behaviours towards the target social groups.

Therefore, prejudices are expressed more often in disguised forms so that our prejudices are hidden and not known to others. Some of such disguised forms of discrimination are discussed below. Reluctance to help: In the most subtle form of discrimination, members of prejudiced group are unwilling to help the members of target group in any ways which could improve their status in the society. For example, people of target group are denied for house on rent, flexible working hours or work from home facilities at workplace, etc.


Tokenism is a discriminatory behaviour in which people of the target society are offered with very insignificant and unimportant help from the prejudiced group. For example, few people of target group are offered for employment by an organisation in order to project its image in such a way that the organisation’s HR functions without any prejudice.

Reverse discrimination

In a more extreme form of tokenism, prejudiced people may offer help to the people of the target group, even out of the way. Although reverse discrimination may appear positive, it may have some harmful consequences in the long run; and also it fails to reduce the long held prejudices.

Attitude and Behaviour 80 5.3.4 Reducing Stereotype, Prejudice and Discrimination Stereotypes, prejudices and discriminatory behaviours of people have significantly damaged the social fabric of almost every part of the world.

However, many studies of social psychology have suggested many techniques to reduce stereotypes, prejudices and discrimination. Social Learning Approach: Social learning approach argues that stereotypes, prejudices and discrimination are learned by children in very young age by observing similar behaviours by the parents and other significant people. Subsequently, their behaviours expressing such negative attitudes are reinforced and strengthened by appreciating them.

Furthermore, such negative attitudes are also formed by our interactions with the members of particular out-groups. Some studies have also reported that adopting these racial attitudes by the children corresponds to the extent they identify with their parents (Sinclair, Dunn, & Lowery, 2005). Arguably, the social learning creates a chain by which prejudices are transferred from one generation to the other.

If parents refrain from reinforcing their children for expressing illogical negative attitudes toward particular social groups and encourage them to develop and hold logical and socially healthy attitudes, this chain can be broken and prejudices can be reduced.

Increased Intergroup

Contact Prejudices are believed to develop on the basis of hearsay and rumour and even without any direct experience with the group. In almost every part of the world, groups involved in conflicts originated from stereotypes and prejudices live in separated areas restricting any direct interaction between the members of the groups.

However, without any direct interaction people holding stereotypes and prejudices assume that all members of the particular group possess similar set of attributes (generally negative) and are strongly against out-groups. However, increasing intergroup contact, often referred to as contact hypothesis, may facilitate perception of similarities between the members of the two groups. Furthermore, people would also notice that there is considerable intra-group heterogeneity and the members of out-group differ in their attributes (Pettigrew, 1997).


Developing Common Social Identity : In the earlier sections, we have seen that people organise their social surroundings in ingroups and out-groups and evaluate members of ingroups in positive way, whereas people of out-group are evaluated in negative way. Let us take the example of IPL games in which cricket teams of different cities compete against one another.

Here, we support the team of our city since we see our city as in-group and other cities as outgroups. But when our national team participates in the World Cup and competes against the teams of other countries, our social boundaries are recreated by integrating whole nation as the in-group, leading to develop a common social identity.

This common in-group identity model argues that when people from different groups recreate their social boundaries to form a common social identity, their earlier negative attitudes toward each other turn into positive ones. Sherif et al. (1961) suggested the ways by which the social boundary can be recreated.

In the final phase of the Robber’s Cave study, researchers obstructed the water supply which was common for both the groups and could be restored only with cooperative efforts of both the groups. This led the boys of the two groups to collaborate to achieve the common, superordinate goal.

Researchers reported that the conflict between the two groups further reduced and members of both the groups started cooperating in other activities as well, resulting into development of friendships among boys across the groups.

Feeling of Guilt

Originated from Prejudice Although people consciously behave consistent with their stereotypes and prejudices, they may subconsciously have feeling of guilt for behaving in a way that does not stand against real life experiences and logical thought process.

Branscombe (2004) has further argued that people can also feel collective guilt for such stereotypes, prejudices and discriminatory behaviours of other members of their in-group, even for the behaviours in the history by members of the past generations of their in-group. Based on a series of studies, Powell, Branscombe, and Schmitt (2005) suggested that when people reflect on the stereotypes, prejudices and discriminatory behaviours of their own and of the generations of their in-group, it induces a feeling of collective guilt and subsequently reduces racist attitudes and behaviours.

Learning to Negate Stereotypes

The underlying process in the origin of stereotypes, prejudices and discrimination is evaluating people on the basis of the group they belong to. Assuming out-group homogeneity, we tend to believe that certain traits and characteristics are shared by all the members of a particular social group.

Once such cognitive structures are formed, they are activated automatically on exposure to the members of these groups which facilitates sustenance of prejudices. However, Kawakami, Dovidio, Moll, Hermsen, and Russn (2000) demonstrated that by encouraging people to consciously negate the stereotypes we can stop their automatic activation leading to reduced prejudice and discrimination.

Social Influence

Social influence plays important role in formation and maintenance of stereotypes and prejudices. They are strengthened when behaviours consistent with the stereotypes and prejudices are endorsed and approved by the members of our in-group.

This argument led Stanger, Sechrist, and Jost (2001) to demonstrate in one of their studies that if we are exposed to the examples where people of our in-groups disapprove or act against the stereotype and prejudice, popular in the in-group for a particular outgroup, can reduce the specific stereotype and prejudice.

The researchers, based on a study conducted on white American students, reported that when the research participants were informed that other white American students expressed positive views about African Americans, they also assigned more positive traits and less negative traits to the African Americans.

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