Prejudice in Psychology: Meaning, Causes and Tips To Reduce it

What is Prejudice?

Prejudice refers to a biased, often negative, attitude formed about a group of people. It is also called pre-judgment. It includes belief structures, information, and prejudgement to that group. Prejudice can be either positive or negative.

For example, sports fans of a particular team are naturally biased in support of their own team. Social psychologists are more interested in negative prejudice, and negative behaviors that a group assumes the worst about another group.

Prejudice comes in a variety of forms. The most noticeable are ethnicity and sexism. Ethnicity is a negative evaluation of others because of their membership in a particular ethnic group. It is because one group is inherently superior to another. Sexism is a cause by their membership in a particular gender category. Other forms of prejudice are religious and racial prejudice, heterosexism (fear and hatred of gay men and lesbians).

“Prejudice is an attitude, it is usually negative, toward the members of some group, based solely on their membership in that group” (Baron and Bryne, 2005). This definition shows:

  • Prejudice is an attitude (feel, think, and act). It has affective, behavioral, and cognitive aspects. An individual processes the information based on the cognition and stereotypes of that group.
  • It is usually negative.
  • Aimed toward the biased group.
  • Because the person belongs to that group.

It leads to discrimination which indicates negative actions toward groups that are the targets of prejudice.

Causes of Prejudice

There are numerous sources of prejudice some of them are as follows:

Enhances Self-Esteem

People hold prejudiced views because they feel superior in various ways by talking and putting down negative views towards the other group. Research findings indicate that prejudiced individuals talk negatively about the groups they dislike when their self-esteem is threatened so that helps to boost up their self-esteem.

Saving Effort

It reduces cognitive effort to analyze information again and again because once it is saved “prototype” people do not engage in careful, systematic processing of the information received later on.

Recent Forms

Racial, ethnic, or religious prejudice and discrimination are decreasing globally. People do not express their views overtly because of fear of laws, retaliation, and social pressures. But hate crimes related to the sexual cause, personal anger, disgust, and attacked by terrorists, etc. are increasing. Extreme forms of crime are mounting because of modern weapons. The terrorist attack of World Trade Center and Pentagon on Sep. 11, 2001 in the USA was the result of severe racial, religious, and ethnic, hatred toward Americans. For example, followers of Osama Bin Laden’s view on the USA.


This is the oldest justification of prejudice. Prejudice develops out of the struggle over jobs, adequate housing, good school, and other beneficial outcomes. People want and value good jobs, nice homes, high status, which are not available to all. Such competition brings the group to view each other in increasingly negative terms and in violent conflicts. They label people as “enemies” with an emotional hatred mentality.

Role of Learning and Socialization Practices

There are different learning theories that explain how we learn prejudices.

Social Learning: Explaining prejudice through social learning is very straight. It says we develop prejudice because we learn it by seeing, hearing, and experiencing others doing it. Children learn prejudice because they see parents, teachers, friends, and others engaging or having negative attitudes toward certain groups or individuals.

Instrumental Learning: When children receive reward, love, praise, and approval for adopting these views as explained by Skinner’s operant conditioning they develop prejudice. For example, a mother smiles at her child. The smile of the mother acts as a reward to the child of the child shows prejudiced behavior as the mother wants.

Direct Experience

If people do not like the other group’s lifestyle during direct interaction (talking, eating, dressing, etc) it shapes prejudice. The exposure during the interaction process with each other helps to develop views and ideas related to prejudice.

Role of Medias on Prejudice

The mass media also play a role in the development of prejudice. These media often show minority people as having low status and with a problem that creates (negative) prejudice. But nowadays many minorities, racial and ethnic groups are holding better positions and these Media also cast favorable impressions toward them, which is now helping to correct views about them.

Social Categorization

The origin of prejudice through social categorization explains that we divide people into two categories as us and they. Social categorization views other persons as belonging to either their own group (in-group) or another group (out-group). Such distinction is made in race, age, ethnic background, occupation, income, religion, geographical region, and so on.

If there are no distinct categories of us and then, there would have been no prejudice. Person in the “us” category is always viewed in favorable terms, and “them” are perceived more negatively. In-group is thought of as having more homogeneous characteristics. This tendency to make more favorable and flattering attribution about members of other groups is sometimes described as the ultimate attribution error. This leads to self-serving bias which suggests we give credit to ourselves for the success and blame others for failure.

Social Identity Theory

This theory explains the individuals seek to enhance their self-esteem by identifying with specific social groups. Every group views itself as superior to the other, which results in prejudice. Balance in social identity would bring no prejudice.

Research showed that when individuals feel secure in their own group or cultural identity they can be generous and tolerant toward other groups or cultures with reduced prejudice. But if the group is somehow threatened they will react negatively to other groups.

Social Norms

The set of laws within the group guides an individual to adopt behavior that is considered appropriate to that group. Most people choose the social norms of the group to which they belong. If the members of my group hate them then I should also hate them.

Cognitive Sources of Prejudice

Social cognition refers to the way in which we think about other persons, store, and integrate information about them and later use this information to draw inferences about them or make social judgments.

Stereotypes: Stereotypes are types of cognitive forms of prejudice. It is a generalized notion of how people of a given race, religion, or other groups will appear, think, feel, or act. The knowledge and beliefs about specific social groups direct an individual to form prejudice.

Research findings suggest that when we encounter someone who belongs to a group about whom we have a stereotype if this person does seem to fit the stereotype like a highly intelligent and cultivated person who is also a member of a minority group, we do not alter our stereotype. Rather we keep such persons into a special category or subtype consisting of persons who do not confirm the schema or stereotype.

Illusory Correlations: Others cognitive mechanism in prejudice is illusory correlations. Illusory correlation refers to overestimating the rate of negative behaviors in relatively small groups. For example, many white persons in the US overestimate the crime rate among African Americans. Young African American men are arrested for various crimes at higher rates than are young white men of Asia Descent (US justice department).

In-group Differentiation, Out-group Homogeneity: Persons who hold strong prejudice toward some social group often make remarks like “you know what they are like, they all are the same.” This comment suggests that the members of an outgroup are much more similar to one another than the members of one’s own group. This tendency to perceive known as the illusion of out-group homogeneity. Whereas perceiving one’s own group as having large differences from one another as heterogeneous is called in-group differentiation.

Techniques To Reduce Prejudice

Prejudices are common in real life and it is widespread in most societies. No society is free from it. But it can be reduced. These are some of the techniques for reducing prejudice:

On Learning Not To Hate

Prejudices are not inborn characteristics, they are learned or acquired later in different life situations. Parents, teachers, media, are the prime sources. It involves,

  • Training to discourage prejudice: Biased parents/persons should be alerted about their prejudice because they may promote their views to children/others. As parents want the well-being of their children, they should not teach prejudiced views to their children.
  • Teaching tolerance: Prejudice harms both parties, those who are holding it or the victims. Prejudices generate the person to worry, hatred, health risk, and reduced enjoyment, etc. controlling negative ideas can help them to gain a better life.

Direct-Inter Group Contact

In recent times, people have less contact with each other. One of the aspects to reduce conflict or racial prejudice is to increase the degree of contact between different groups. This has been known as the contact hypothesis. The effort of developing contacts favorably may succeed in reducing prejudice. The neighborhood or groups can engage in some social work, recreation activity, etc. There are different benefits of doing so.

  • Increased contact between groups or persons can lead to a growing recognition of similarities between them. This may increase mutual attraction and cooperation that the out-groups are not so anti as believed.
  • The more sufficient information inconsistent with them is encountered, the more the individual has the chance to clear up the stereotypes.
  • Knowledge of such friendship can indicate that the contact with out-group members is acceptable.
  • Such friendships can generate increased empathy and understanding between groups.


Redrawing the boundary between “us” and “them” can reduce prejudice. The theory of recategorization or common in-group identity model was proposed by Gaertner and his colleagues (1989,1993). It explains that a group or individuals in a group “us” shift the boundary to view the other group as in-group.

For example, in a match between A and B, A is in-group, B is out-group in a community. If B loses the match, A goes to play with the other community. Now A becomes in-group for B because A is representing their community. This common in-group identity model suggests that individual belonging to different social groups come to view themselves as a member of a single social entity. Their attitude toward each other becomes more positive when individuals belonging to initially distinct groups work together towards shared goals, and they come to perceive themselves as a single social entity. Then the unfriendly attitude toward the group seems to weaken away.

Cognitive Interventions:

Saying “no” to stereotypes is another way to reduce it.

  • Stereotypes can be reduced by motivating others to be non-prejudiced. By making them aware of egalitarian norms and standards that all should receive fair treatment. For example, encouraging thinking “everybody is equal” that human being has only two casts male and female.
  • As stereotypes are the result of saying or thinking negative traits like “poor”, “hostile” or “dangerous” to a racial or ethnic group, if individuals actively break this stereotype habit by saying “no” to stereotype traits associated with a specific group then it might reduce prejudice. Saying good words and showing favorable traits to minority groups enhances positive thinking.
  • Prejudices are learned through social learning factors and experiences, thus an attempt should be made that their views are more biased or prejudiced than those of others might be an effective way to reduce prejudice.

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