Prejudice and Social Sources of Prejudice

What is prejudice? Elaborate social sources of prejudice with examples from Pakistani Society.


Prejudice is a baseless and usually negative attitude toward members of a group. Common features of prejudice include negative feelings, stereotyped beliefs, and a tendency to discriminate against members of the group. While specific definitions of prejudice given by social scientists often differ, most agree that it involves prejudgments (usually negative) about members of a group.

Types of Prejudice

Prejudice can be based upon a number of factors including sex, race, age, sexual orientations, nationality, socioeconomic status and religion. Some of the most well-known types of prejudice include:

  • Racism
  • Sexism
  • Classicism
  • Homophobia
  • Nationalism
  • Religious prejudice
  • Agism

Prejudice and Stereotyping

When prejudice occurs, stereotyping and discrimination may also result. In many cases, prejudices are based upon stereotypes. A stereotype is a simplified assumption about a group based on prior assumptions. Stereotypes can be both positive (“women are warm and nurturing”) or negative (“teenagers are lazy”). Stereotypes can lead to faulty beliefs, but they can also result in both prejudice and discrimination.


According to psychologist Gordon Allport, prejudice and stereo types emerge in part as a result of normal human thinking. In order to make sense of the world around us, it is important to sort information into mental categories. “The human mind must think with the aid of categories,” Allport explained. “Once formed, categories are the basis for normal prejudgment. We cannot possibly avoid this process. Orderly living depends upon it. ” This process of categorization applies to the social world as well, as we sort people into mental groups based on factors such as age, sex and race.

However, researchers have found that while when it comes to categorizing information about people, we tend to minimize the differences between people within groups and exaggerate the differences between groups. In one classic experiment, participants were asked to judge the height of people shown in photographs. People in the experiment were also told that:

“In this booklet, the men and women are actually of equal height. We have taken care to match the heights of the men and women pictured. That is, for every woman of a particular height, somewhere in the booklet there is also a man of that same height. Therefore, in order to make as accurate a height judgment as possible, try to judge each photograph as an individual case; do not rely on the person’s sex.”

In addition to these instructions, a $50 cash prize was offered to whoever made the most accurate judgments of height. Despite this, participants consistently rated the men as being a few inches taller than the women. Because of their prejudgment that men are taller than women, the participants were unable to dismiss their existing categorical beliefs about men and women in order to judge the heights accurately.

Researchers have also found that people tend to view members of outside groups as being more homogenous than members of their own group, a phenomenon referred to as the out-group homogeneity bias. This perception that all member of an out-group are alike holds true of all groups, whether based on race, nationality, religion, age or other naturally occurring group affiliation.

Social Sources of Prejudice:

Unequal Status:

}  Masters view slaves as lazy, irresponsible, lacking ambition—as having those traits that justify slavery

}  Once these inequalities exist, prejudice helps justify the economic and social superiority of those who have wealth and power

}  People view enemies as subhuman and depersonalize them with labels



The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

}  negative beliefs predict negative behavior (or problems in life)

}  If a person thinks we are clever or stupid or whatever, they will treat us that way.

}  If we are treated as if we are clever, stupid or whatever, we will act, and even become, this way.

}  The person has thus had their prophecy about us fulfilled!

}  This is also known as the Pygmalion Effect.

Stereotype Threat

}  a self-conforming apprehension that one will be evaluated based on a negative stereotype

}  refers to being at risk of confirming, as self-characteristic, a negative stereotype about one’s group (Steele & Aronson, 1995)

}  Black college freshmen and sophomores performed more poorly on standardized tests than White students when their race was emphasized.

}  When race was not emphasized, however, Black students performed better and equivalently with White students.

}  The results showed that performance in academic contexts can be harmed by the awareness that one’s behavior might be viewed through the lens of racial stereotypes.

Social Identity

}  Self-concept—our sense of who we are—contains not just personal identity (our sense of personal attributes and attitudes) but also a social identity


◦      A person may identify his self a man, a Filipino, a psychology student of USJ-R, a member of the school’s student council, a chess player, and so on..

Ingroup Bias

}  The group definition of who you are—your race, religion, gender, academic major—implies a definition of who you are not.

}  The circle that includes “us” (the ingroup) excludes “them” (the outgroup)

}  Thus, a mere experience of being formed into groups may promote ingroup bias.

}  Due to human quest for a positive self-concept




}  If prejudice is socially accepted, many people will follow the path of least resistance and conform to fashion

}  They will act not so much out of a need to hate as out of a need to be liked and accepted.

Emotional Sources of Prejudice

Frustration and Aggression(The Scapegoat Theory)

}  Pain and frustration (a blocking of a goal) often evoke hostility.

}  When the cause of our frustration is intimidating or unknown, we often redirect our hostility (displaced aggression)


  • Scapegoating is a hostile social – psychological discrediting routine by which people move blame and responsibility away from themselves and towards a target person or group.
  • It is also a practice by which angry feelings and feelings of hostility may be projected, via inappropriate accusation, towards others.
  • The target feels wrongly persecuted and receives misplaced vilification, blame and criticism; he is likely to suffer rejection from those who the perpetrator seeks to influence.
  • “On the Day of Atonement a live goat was chosen by lot. The high priest, robed in linen garments, laid both his hands on the goat’s head, and confessed over it the iniquities of the children of Israel. The sins of the people thus symbolically transferred to the beast, it was taken out into the wilderness and let go. The people felt purged, and for the time being, guiltless.

Cognitive Sources of Prejudice


}  One way we simplify our environment is to categorize—to organize the world by clustering objects into groups (Macrae & Bodenhausen, 2000)

}  Perceived similarities and differences




}  Distinctive people and vivid or extreme occurrences often draw attention and distort judgment.

}  We define people by their most distinctive traits and behaviors

Fundamental Attribution Error (Lee Ross)

}  In explaining others’ actions, we frequently commit the fundamental attribution error.

}  We attribute people’s behavior so much to their inner dispositions that we discount important situational forces.

}  The error occurs partly because our attention focuses on the persons, and not the situation.

}  Essentially, the fundamental attribution error involves placing a heavy emphasis on internal personality characteristics to explain someone’s behavior in a given situation, rather than thinking about external situational factors.


}  Imagine yourself walking down a crowded sidewalk, carrying loaded bags from shops. If someone bumps into you, you are probably inclined to think “what an idiot! That person has no respect for others, he clearly saw me!” In this assessment of the person’s behavior, you fail to consider situational factors like someone else bumping into that person, or your failure to realize that your bags are taking up more room than you think they are, thus forcing people to bump into you as they try to get around you.

}  On a specific day a waitress is talking rude to her customers. The customers now think that she is a really bad person. What the customers don’t realize is that usually most people find the waitress friendly but today the waitress is experiencing one of the hardest days in her life. Her husband just left her for another woman, and she just lost her son in a car wreck. If the customers were aware of the problems the waitress just had, they actually wouldn’t mind her negative attitude as much considering her current state.


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