Keith E Rice's Integrated SocioPsychology Blog & Pages

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Prejudice & Discrimination Theories



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Prejudice and discrimination blight our world, causing misery to billions and often leading to violence, sometimes in the extreme. Discriminatory violence can range from an attack on an individual to war by one country against another – even to genocide, So it is desperately important to understand how such processes work and what leads to them.

Accordingly it is important to understand the difference between prejudice and discrimination – especially as they are confused in the popular media.

This can be defined as an attitude towards another person based on little or no knowledge of them. Eg: someone is considered to be untrustworthy with young children because they are gay.

In prejudice there is a cognitive element – the beliefs (schemas) someone has about another person or group of people. When such schemas are shared to become memes, they become stereotypes – often divorced from the reality of the person or group being labelled.  According to John Dovidio, Nancy Evans  & Richard Tyler (1986), information relevant to an activated stereotype is processed more quickly than information unrelated to it. (This fits with Jean Piaget’s (1929) concept of assimilation.) When incoming information is inconsistent with the stereotype, it may be refuted or even denied (Chris O’Sullivan & Francis Durso, 1984)

However, there are also affective elements in prejudice: how having those beliefs towards the person or group. Fear? Disgust? Hate? The more intensely an individual feels towards another/others, the harder it is not to act out those feelings – ie: discrimination.

Henri Tajfel (1982) stated there were 3 elements in the development of prejudice:-

  1. Assimilation
    This is learning and absorbing the attitudes and values of the society we live in. If a form of prejudice is a norm in that particular society….
  2.  Search for coherence
    This is our need to understand and make sense of our social world. This can include modifying our attitudes to fit in with those we identify with (peer and reference groups) so that we can be accepted into them.
    Clearly this is conformity driven by the PURPLE vMEME.
  3.  Categorisation
    How we categorise or label others – like/unlike us, friend/enemy, weak/powerful, etc, etc.

Since prejudice is an internal mental attitude, it cannot be legislated against unless it is acted out – ie: prejudice is manifested as discrimation. Strategies to shift values and/or reduce fear of others – eg: familiarity and education – can be effective in reducing prejudice.

This can be defined as behaviour based on prejudice – ie: its acting out. Discrimination is usually to the disadvantage of the labelled person(s) – but not always. For example, positive discrimination – when action is taken to enable people who are disadvantaged by prejudice and discrimination to have equal opportunities. In some cases, this may involve giving  them more opportunities – eg: to  counter the effects of sexism, some political parties have a minimum quota  of females they must put forward as candidates for national and local government elections.

Not all discrimination is intended consciously as discrimination. Indirect discrimination is when a member of one group is at more of a disadvantage than a member of another group because of a  rquirement or restriction such as having to wear a particular uniform at  work. In the past Sikhs have complained of  discrimination because uniforms that required a cap would be a problem because their religion requires them to wear a turban.

There is also the issue of ‘victimisation’ which is when someone is treated less favourably because they complained about discrimination.

Sexism, racism, homophobia, discrimination against disabled people and ageism are some of the most and frequent and regular areas of discrimination – even though such acts are illegal in the UK and many other Western countries and have been for many years:-

Eg: it is illegal to do anything to incite others to racial hatred. This was enshrined in the Race Relations Act (1976.) The Act outlawed direct discrimination, victimisation and indirect discrimination. It covered education, employment and the provision of services and made it unlawful to discriminate against anyone on the grounds of race, colour, nationality or ethnic or national origin.

The Equal Pay Act (1970) and the Sex Discrimination Act (1975) attempted to tackle sexism.

The Disability Discrimination Act (2005) was the latest in a line of measures aimed at protecting disabled people from being discriminated against.

The Equal Opportunities Act (1974) enabled action in both the civil and criminal courts against perpetrators of such discrimination as racism and sexism.

Most such legislation was consolidated in the Equality Act (2010)