Characterizing Intergroup Bias
- Stereotypes are generalizations about groups that are often applied to individual group members. Prejudice involves a negative attitude and emotional response to members of a group. Discrimination involves negative behavior toward an individual because of the person’s membership in a group.
- latant, explicit racism in much of the world is now relatively rare. But modern racism, whereby people hold overtly egalitarian attitudes while unconsciously holding negative attitudes and exhibiting more subtle forms of prejudice, still exists.
- Benevolent racism and sexism consist of attitudes the individual thinks of as favorable toward a group but that have the effect of supporting traditional, subservient roles for members of disadvantaged groups.
- In recent years, there have been successful efforts to measure people’s nonconscious attitudes with "implicit" measures. The Implicit Association Test compares reaction times when outgroup pictures (or words) and positive items are in the same response category versus when outgroup pictures (or words) and negative items are in the same category. Another implicit measure involves priming with a picture of a member of some group. If the prime increases the time it takes to recognize subsequently presented positive words and decreases the time it takes to recognize subsequently presented negative words, prejudice toward the group is revealed.
- Three approaches to studying prejudice and discrimination are the economic perspective, the motivational perspective, and the cognitive perspective.
The Economic Perspective
- One version of the economic perspective is realistic group conflict theory, which reflects the fact that groups are sometimes in competition for scarce resources and that this conflict can lead to prejudice and discrimination. The classic Robbers Cave experiment put two groups of boys in competition at a camp. Soon the groups were expressing open hostility toward each other. When the groups were brought together in noncompetitive situations where they had to cooperate to achieve superordinate goals—goals that could be achieved only when the two groups worked together—the hostility dissipated.
The Motivational Perspective
- According to the motivational perspective, sometimes poor relations between groups occur simply because there are two groups, and an us/them opposition results. This phenomenon occurs even in the minimal group paradigm, where people find out they are members of one of two groups that have been defined in a trivial and arbitrary way. People favor members of their own group over members of the other group, even when it actually costs their group something to "beat" the opposition.
- Social identity theory attempts to explain ingroup favoritism, maintaining that self-esteem is derived in part from group membership and group success.
- Frustration-aggression theory maintains that when -people are frustrated in their attempt to reach a goal, they often lash out at less powerful individuals or groups. Challenges to a person’s self-esteem can have similar effects, and experiments have shown that people express more antagonism toward outgroup members when they have suffered a blow to their self-esteem.
The Cognitive Perspective
- The cognitive perspective focuses on stereotypes, which are a form of categorization. People rely on them all the time, but especially when they are tired or overtaxed.
- Several construal processes lead to inaccurate stereotypes. We tend to assume that outgroups are more homogeneous than our ingroups are, leading to the outgroup homogeneity effect. We also often engage in biased information processing, seeing aspects of other groups that confirm our stereotypes and failing to see facts that are inconsistent with them.
- Distinctive groups (because they are in the minority) are often associated with distinctive (rare) behaviors. This paired distinctiveness results in our attributing illusory properties to such groups, creating illusory correlations.
- Encountering contradictory evidence about group members may not change our ideas about the group, because we treat the evidence as an exception that proves the rule. Behavior consistent with a stereotype is often attributed to the dispositions of the group members, whereas behavior that is inconsistent with a stereotype is often attributed to the situation. We tend to code favorable evidence about ingroup members more abstractly and the same sort of evidence about outgroup members less abstractly. The converse is true for unfavorable evidence.
- We sometimes respond to outgroup members reflexively, relying on automatic processes whereby prejudice is unleashed outside of our awareness. Often these automatic reactions can be corrected by conscious, controlled processes.
Being a Member of a Stigmatized Group
- Members of stigmatized groups suffer from attributional ambiguity. They have to ask whether others’ negative or positive behavior toward them is due to prejudice or to some factor unrelated to their group membership.
- The performance of members of stigmatized groups can be impaired by stereotype threat—the fear that they will confirm others’ stereotypes.
- We often unknowingly create self-fulfilling prophecies—acting toward people in such a way as to bring about the very behavior we expect of them.
Reducing Stereotypes, Prejudice, and Discrimination
- Contact between members of different groups can lessen intergroup animosity, especially if the contact involves one-on-one interactions between individuals of equal status, if it encourages the cooperative pursuit of superordinate goals, and if it is supported by the prevailing norms in each group.