Essay About Prejudice And Discrimination

Prejudice, Stereotypes, and Discrimination essay

The regulation of individuals’ social behavior is carried out through the system of individual attitudes. The forms of attitudes, stable and closed from the influence of new experience, are presented by stereotypes and prejudices. Their cognitive component contains distorted, irrational, absurd knowledge about objects that do not meet the changing reality. With respect to inanimate objects this refers, for example, to all sorts of superstitions, but in the social sphere, stereotypes and prejudices widely serve as the justification of racial, ethnic, class and economic differences. The significance of prejudices and stereotypes as an illusory, fantastic explanation of reality consists in the fact that they indirectly contribute to the preservation of social inequality and inhibit progressive change.

Prejudice and stereotypes as illusion

Stereotypes mean extremely stable and limited understanding of a social object or situation by which people are guided in their behavior without a second thought (Myers, 2012; Feenstra, 2013). A major role in the structure of a stereotype belongs to its emotional charge, which clearly indicates to what is acceptable and unacceptable in relation to any object. Thus, if an object of a stereotype is another person, the major features are often one’s gender, nationality, or profession, while other differences may be unduly ignored. According to Inzlicht and Schmader (2011), the specificity of this approach lies in the unconscious division of people into “us” and “them” with ingroup experiences perceived as idealized and endowed with pculiarities in a positive way (autostereotype), while outgroups are endowed with negative assessments (heterostereotype). As a result, stereotypes form a simplified and highly superficial understanding of the social reality phenomena.

In its turn, the concept of prejudice includes irrational components of social and individual consciousness, based on the inaccurate, distorted, stereotypized knowledge that was accepted uncritically, with the negative emotional manifestations becoming intense (Myers, 2012; Feenstra, 2013). A person with a prejudice may not like those who are different and discriminate against them by one’s actions. Thus, while prejudice is a negative attitude, discrimination is a negative behavior. In general, basing on Myers (2012) and Inzlicht and Schmader (2011) studies, negative assessments as a measure of prejudice may be linked to the emotional associations, need to justify one’s discriminatory behavior or stable negative beliefs, i.e. stereotypes.

Prejudices and stereotypes have several sources as they perform several functions. In particular, they can express a sense of one’s Self and the desire to seek affectation from the society; defend self-concept from anxiety caused by uncertainty about one’s own safety or internal conflict; as well as support group interests, values, and social status. Given the latter, in our opinion, one of the most important origins of prejudice and stereotypes is social inequality. It is difficult, for example, to disagree with Inzlicht and Schmader (2011) that stereotypical views about African Americans and women help to justify the lower social status of these groups. Indeed, prejudices basically help justify the economic and social superiority of those with wealth and power. Meanwhile, attitudes can easily match the social hierarchy not only because they justify it, but also because occurring discrimination affects those who become its victims, and so the social beliefs can turn into self-fulfilling prophecies, as Myers (2012) and Feenstra (2013) argue.

In addition, identifying ourselves with certain groups, we include social identification into the personal one (i.e. a sense of personal qualities and attitudes). As Myers (2012) marks, categorizing people into groups, we thus contrast our group to other groups (“they”) with a clear predisposition and manifestation of favoritism for our own groups. As a result, a sense of belonging (“we”-feeling) increases our self-concept and helps to achieve inner peace. We are looking for not only self-esteem, but also opportunities to be proud of our group. Moreover, the fact that we perceive our groups as different in the better way from the others contributes to the situation where we also tend to see ourselves in a more attractive light (Myers, 2012; Feenstra, 2013). On this basis, stereotypes successfully fix in the public mind, and conformism here plays an important role. Indeed, the shaped prejudices are kept up mainly by inertia, as Feenstra (2013) reasonably notes. If a prejudice is accepted by the society, the majority will prefer to take the path of least and will promote stereotypes not so much because of the need to hate someone as because of the desire to be accepted and valued by this society.

In its essence, the underlying cause of stereotypes’ adoption is a non-developed cognitive component (Myers, 2012; Inzlicht & Schmader, 2011). In particular, explaining the actions of others, an individual often makes a fundamental attribution error: being inclined to attribute the behavior of people to their internal dispositions, one does not consider important situational forces (Feenstra, 2013). In addition, as Myers (2012) puts this, it is an attribution error that makes an individual biased in the interpretation of one’s own group members’ behavior as positive, whereas positive actions committed by the members of an out-group are usually not taken into account. In general, we sometimes make judgments or start communicating with someone having nothing but a stereotype at hand. In such cases, stereotypes and prejudice are able to fully deprive of objectivity and distort the interpretation and memories of people and environment.


The modern view of prejudice arising due to the recent studies leads us to an idea of how stereotypical thinking becomes a byproduct of information processing – a method individuals apply to simplify the perception of the world. However, the emergence of illusive relationships between the belonging to a certain social group and one’s behavior has both cognitive sources and cognitive consequences. Directing our interpretation and our memories, stereotypical thinking results in the fact that we find evidence in its favor, even where such evidence is not present at all. Therefore, stereotypes are resilient and difficult to modify. And yet, there are some reserve methods that can weaken them. Thus, if status inequality creates prejudice, the society should strive to create relationships where cooperation and social equality will dominate. In particular, if we know that some type of discrimination is based on prejudice, we need to get rid of discrimination, but depriving it of any institutional support. Generally, it is believed that the psychological and social health of a person is based on awareness of both one’s own individuality and uniqueness and group identity, as well as one’s belonging to all humanity.

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Prejudice and Discrimination

Saul McLeod published 2008

Prejudice is an unjustified or incorrect attitude (usually negative) towards an individual based solely on the individual’s membership of a social group.

For example, a person may hold prejudiced views towards a certain race or gender etc. (e.g. sexist).

Discrimination is the behavior or actions, usually negative, towards an individual or group of people, especially on the basis of sex/race/social class, etc.

The Difference Between Prejudice and Discrimination

A prejudiced person may not act on their attitude.  Therefore, someone can be prejudiced towards a certain group but not discriminate against them.  Also, prejudice includes all three components of an attitude (affective, behavioral and cognitive), whereas discrimination just involves behavior.

There are four main explanations of prejudice and discrimination:

1. Authoritarian Personality

2. Realistic Conflict Theory - Robbers Cave

3. Stereotyping

4. Social identity Theory

Conformity could also be used as an explanation of prejudice if you get stuck writing a psychology essay (see below).

Examples of Discrimination

Racial Discrimination

Apartheid (literally "separateness") was a system of racial segregation that was enforced in South Africa from 1948 to 1994.  Non-white people where prevented from voting and lived in separate communities.

World War II - In Germany and German-controlled lands, Jewish people had to wear yellow stars to identify themselves as Jews. Later, the Jews were placed in concentration camps by the Nazis.

Age Discrimination

This is a type of discrimination against a person or group on the grounds of age.

Gender Discrimination

In Western societies while women are often discriminated against in the workplace, men are often discriminated against in the home and family environments. 

For instance after a divorce women receive primary custody of the children far more often than men. Women on average earn less pay than men for doing the same job.

Conformity as an Explanation of Prejudice and Discrimination

Influences that cause individuals to be racist or sexist, for example, may come from peers parents and group membership. Conforming to social norms means people adopt the “normal” set of behavior(s) associated with a particular group or society.

Social norms - behavior considered appropriate within a social group - are one possible influence on prejudice and discrimination. People may have prejudiced beliefs and feelings and act in a prejudiced way because they are conforming to what is regarded as normal in the social groups to which they belong:

The effect of Social Norms on Prejudice

Minard (1952) investigated how social norms influence prejudice and discrimination. The behavior of black and white miners in a town in the southern United States was observed, both above and below ground.

Results: Below ground, where the social norm was friendly behavior towards work colleagues, 80 of the white miners were friendly towards the black miners. Above ground, where the social norm was prejudiced behavior by whites to blacks, this dropped to 20.

Conclusion: The white miners were conforming to different norms above and below ground. Whether or not prejudice is shown depends on the social context within which behavior takes place.

Pettigrew (1959) also investigated the role of conformity in prejudice. He investigated the idea that people who tended to be more conformist would also be more prejudiced, and found this to be true of white South African students. Similarly, he accounted for the higher levels of prejudice against black people in the southern United States than in the north in terms of the greater social acceptability of this kind of prejudice in the south.

A study by Rogers and Frantz (1962) found that immigrants to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) became more prejudiced the longer they had been in the country. They gradually conformed more to the prevailing cultural norm of prejudice against the black population.

Evaluation:  Conformity to social norms, then, may offer an explanation for prejudice in some cases. At the same time, norms change over time, so this can only go some way towards explaining prejudice.


Minard, R. D. (1952). Race relationships in the Pocahontas coal field. Journal of Social Issues, 8(1), 29-44.

Pettigrew, T. F. (1959). Regional differences in anti-Negro prejudice. Journal of abnormal psychology, 59(1), 28.

Rogers, C. A., & Frantz, C. (1962). Racial themes in Southern Rhodesia: the attitudes and behavior of the white population (p. 338). New Haven: Yale University Press.

How to reference this article:

McLeod, S. A. (2008). Prejudice and discrimination. Retrieved from


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