="http://www.w3.org/2000/svg" viewBox="0 0 512 512">

Module 9: Prejudice

Module Overview

Module 9 takes what has been learned throughout the previous eight modules and relates it to the case of prejudice, discrimination, and intolerance. We will differentiate between key concepts and then move to explanations of, and ways to reduce, prejudice, discrimination, stereotyping, and intolerance.


Module Outline


Module Learning Outcomes

  • Frame the concepts of stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination from attitude theory and the three components of an attitude.
  • Outline potential causes of prejudice, discrimination, and intolerance.
  • Describe methods to reduce intolerance.


9.1. Defining Terms and Types


Section Learning Objectives

  • Restate the three components of attitudes.
  • Differentiate between stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination.
  • Define and describe stereotype threat.
  • Contrast explicit and implicit attitudes.
  • Describe the various forms prejudice and discrimination can take.
  • Define stigma and list and describe its forms.
  • Clarify how stigma impacts people with mental illnesses.


9.1.1. Attitudes About Other Groups

To distinguish the terms stereotype, discrimination, and prejudice we have to take a step back. Recall from Module 5 (Section 5.1.1.) that the tripartite model is used to examine the structure and function of an attitude. It states that attitudes are composed of three components – affective or emotional, behavioral, and cognitive. Affective indicates our feelings about the source of our attitude. Cognitive indicates our thoughts about it and behavior indicates the actions we take in relation to the thoughts and feelings we have about the source of the attitude. Figure 5.1 provided a great example of how these three components relate to one another. If we consider our attitude towards puppies, the affective component would manifest by our feeling or outwardly saying that we love puppies. We might base this affection for them on thinking about how they are fluffy or cute (the cognitive component). Finally, our thoughts and feelings produce the behavior of petting them whenever one is near. So how does this relate to the current discussion? Stereotypes. In Module 4 (Section we defined a group stereotype as our beliefs about what are the typical traits or characteristics of members of a specific group. Notice the word beliefs in the definition. Hence, in terms of our attitude about another group, our stereotype represents the cognitive component.

The group that is the subject of the stereotype may experience what is called stereotype threat (Steele & Aronson, 1995), or the social-psychological predicament that arises from widely-known negative stereotypes about one’s group. Steele & Aronson (1995) state, “the existence of such a stereotype means that anything one does or any of one’s features that conform to it make the stereotype more plausible as a self-characterization in the eyes of others, and perhaps even in one’s own eyes” (pg. 797). Consider the stereotypes for feminists or White males. There is a definite stereotype of these groups which may be true of some individuals in the group, and lead to others seeing them that way too. The exact implications of these stereotypes are often negative and could be self-threatening enough to have disruptive effects on the person’s life. In one experiment, the authors gave black and white college students a 30-minute test composed of items from the verbal section of the GRE (Graduate Record Exam). In the stereotype threat condition, the test was described as diagnostic of intellectual ability and in the non-stereotype threat condition it was described as a laboratory problem-solving task that was nondiagnostic of ability. A second nondiagnostic condition was included which told participants to view the difficult test as a challenge. Results showed that black participants performed worse than white participants when the test was framed as a measure of their ability but performed as well as their White counterparts when told that it was not reflective of their ability. Statistical analyses also showed that black participants in the diagnostic condition saw their relative performance as poorer than black participants in the non-diagnostic-only condition. Follow up work found that helping African American students see intelligence as malleable reduced their vulnerability to stereotype threat (Good, Aronson, & Inzlicht, 2003; Aronson, Fried, & Good, 2002). Prejudice and discrimination. Prejudice occurs when someone holds a negative feeling about a group of people, representing the affective component. As noted above, our thoughts and feelings lead to behavior and so discrimination is when a person acts in a way that is negative against a group of people. What might the effect of such behavior be on the target of the discrimination? According to a 2018 report by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, “Discrimination affects people’s opportunities, their well-being, and their sense of agency. Persistent exposure to discrimination can lead individuals to internalize the prejudice or stigma that is directed against them, manifesting in shame, low self-esteem, fear and stress, as well as poor health” (For more on the report, please visit https://www.un.org/development/desa/dspd/2018/02/prejudice-and-discrimination/.)

If you think about these terms for a bit, stereotypes and prejudice seem to go together. Taking a step back from the current conversation, think about a political candidate. You likely hold specific thoughts about their policies, how they act, the overall likelihood of success if elected, etc. In conjunction with these thoughts, you also hold certain feelings about them. You might like them, love them, dislike them, or hate them. These thoughts and feelings lead us to behave in a certain way. If we like the candidate, we will vote for them. We might also campaign for them or mention them to others in conversation. The point is that the thoughts and feelings generally go together and you really cannot have one without the other. Behavior arises as a result of them. The same would be true of stereotypes and prejudice which go together, and these lead to behavior.

Consider this now. Can a person be prejudicial and adopt certain stereotypes of other groups, but not discriminate against them? The answer is yes. Most people do not act on prejudices about others due to social norms against such actions. Let’s face it. If you make a snide comment about a fellow employee of another race, gender, sexual orientation, or ethnic group this could lead to disciplinary action up to being fired. Outside of work, comments like that could lead to legal action against you. So even if you hold such beliefs and feelings, you tend to keep them to yourself.

Now is it possible to be discriminatory without being prejudicial? The answer is yes, though this one may not be as obvious. Say an employer needs someone who can lift up to 75lbs on a regular basis. If you cannot do that and are not hired, you were discriminated against but that does not mean that the employer has prejudicial beliefs about you. The same would be said if a Ph.D. was required for a position and you were refused the job since you only have a Bachelor’s degree. One more example is useful. The online psychology students at Washington State University recently were able to establish a chapter of Psi Chi, the Psychology National Honor Society (done in the spring 2019 for context). Based on national chapter rules, students cannot be accepted unless they have at least 3.0 cumulative and psychology GPAs. We have discussed raising this to 3.3. So, if a student has a 2.9, they would be excluded from the group (under either cut off). This is discrimination but we are not prejudicial against students with a GPA under the cutoff. Given that this is an honor society, a certain level of performance is expected. These aforementioned types of behaviors occur every day but are not indicative of a larger problem, usually.


9.1.2. Implicit Attitudes

Section 9.1.1. describes what are called explicit attitudes, or attitudes that are obvious and known or at the level of conscious awareness. Is it possible that we might not even be aware we hold such attitudes towards other people? The answer is yes and is called an implicit attitude. Most people when asked if they hold a racist attitude would vehemently deny such a truth but research using the Implicit Association Test (IAT) shows otherwise (Greenwald et al., 1998). The test occurs in four stages. First, the participant is asked to categorize faces as black or white by pressing the left- or right-hand key. Next, the participant categorizes words as positive or negative in the same way. Third, words and faces are paired and a participant may be asked to press the left-hand key for a black face or positive word and the right-hand key for a white face or negative word. In the fourth and final stage, the task is the same as in Stage 3 but now black and negative are paired and white and good are paired. The test measures how fast people respond to the different pairs and in general the results show that people respond faster when liked faces are paired with positive words and similarly, when disliked faces are paired with negative words. In another study using the IAT, Dasgupta et al. (2000) found that positive attributes were more strongly associated with White rather than Black Americans and the effect held when equally unfamiliar faces were used as stimuli for both racial groups.

Check out the Project Implicit website at – https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/


9.1.3. Types of Prejudice and Discrimination

It is not illegal to hold negative thoughts and feelings about others, though it could be considered immoral. What is illegal is when we act on these prejudices and stereotypes and treat others different as a result. Discrimination can take several different forms which we will discuss now. Be advised that though these forms of discrimination can happen in almost any environment, we will focus primarily on the workplace as guidelines exist at the federal level. Racism. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), “Race discrimination involves treating someone (an applicant or employee) unfavorably because he/she is of a certain race or because of personal characteristics associated with race (such as hair texture, skin color, or certain facial features). Color discrimination involves treating someone unfavorably because of skin color complexion.” But race/color discrimination also occurs when we treat someone differently because they are married to a person of a certain race or color. Discrimination on the basis of race can take the form of not hiring, firing, denying or offering lower pay to, skipping for promotion, not training, or laying off a person of another race or color. Harassment on the basis of race/color is said to have occurred if racial slurs are used, offensive or derogatory remarks are made, or racially-offensive symbols are used. The key is that harassment is prevalent when the offensive behavior occurs so frequently, or is so severe, that it creates a hostile environment or in the case of work environments, it leads to an adverse employment decision such as firing or a demotion. How prevalent is race-based discrimination in the workplace? According to EEOC, in 1997 there were 29,199 charges filed with a total of 28,528 in 2017. The highest number of charges filed occurred in 2010 with 35,890. For more on race/color discrimination in the workplace, please visit: https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/race_color.cfm.

A few types of racism are worth distinguishing. First, old-fashioned racism is the belief that whites are superior to all other racial groups and lead to segregation and some of the forms of discrimination mentioned above. This is contrasted with modern racism which only appears when it is safe and socially acceptable to do so. According to Entman (1990) modern racism is composed of three closely intertwined but distinct components. First, is the “anti-black” effect or a general emotional hostility toward blacks. Second, is resistance to the political demands of African Americans. Third, is the belief that racism is dead and that blacks are no longer denied the ability to achieve due to racial discrimination.

Aversive racism occurs when a person denies personal prejudice but has underlying unconscious negative feelings toward another racial group. This could result in uneasiness, discomfort, disgust, and even fear. The person may find a Hispanic person as aversive but at the same time any suggestion that they are prejudiced equally aversive. As Dovidio and Gaertner (2004) wrote, “Thus, aversive racism may involve more positive reactions to whites than to blacks, reflecting a pro-in-group rather than an anti-out-group orientation, thereby avoiding the sigma of overt bigotry and protecting a nonprejudiced self-image” (pg. 4). Another study found that self-reported prejudice was lower in 1998-1999 than it was in 1988-1989. During both time periods, though, white participants did not engage in discriminatory selection decisions when a candidate’s qualifications were clearly weak or strong but did discriminate when the appropriate decision was more ambiguous (Dovidio & Gaertner, 2000).

Finally, symbolic racism (Sears & Kinder, 1971) occurs when negative views of another racial group are coupled with values such as individualism. It includes four components measured as such (Sears & Henry, 2005):

  1. Denial of continuing discrimination – Agreement with the following statement would indicate symbolic racism – ‘Discrimination against blacks is no longer a problem in the United States’ while symbolic racism would be evident if you said there has been a lot of real change in the position of black people over the past few years.
  2. Work ethic and responsibility for outcomes – If you agree with the following statement symbolic racism would be apparent – ‘It’s really a matter of some people not trying hard enough; if blacks would only try harder they could just be as well off as whites.’
  3. Excessive demands – Consider this question. ‘Some say that the Civil Rights people have been trying to push too fast. Others feel that they haven’t pushed fast enough. How about you?’ If you say push too fast you are displaying symbolic racism.
  4. Undeserved advantage – If you disagree with ‘Over the last few years, blacks have gotten less than they deserve’ but agree with ‘Over the past few years, blacks have gotten more economically than they deserve’ you are displaying aversive racism. Sexism. Sex discrimination involves treating a person unfavorably due to their sex. EEOC states, “Harassment can include “sexual harassment” or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. Harassment does not have to be of a sexual nature, however, and can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex. For example, it is illegal to harass a woman by making offensive comments about women in general.” The victim and the harasser can be either a man or woman, and of the same sex. In 1997, the EEOC had 24,728 charges filed for sex-based discrimination and in 2017 this number was 25,605. The peak charges filed was 30,356 in 2012. For more on sex discrimination in the work place, please visit: https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/sex.cfm. Ageism. According to the EEOC, age discrimination occurs when an applicant or employee is treated less favorably due to their age. EEOC writes, “The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) forbids age discrimination against people who are age 40 or older. It does not protect workers under the age of 40, although some states have laws that protect younger workers from age discrimination.”  Interestingly, it is not illegal for an employer to favor an older worker over a younger one, even if both are over the age of 40. In 1997, the EEOC had 15,785 charges filed for age discrimination and in 2017 this number was 18,376. The peak charges filed was 24,582 filed in 2008. For more on age discrimination in the work place, please visit: https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/age.cfm. Weight discrimination. Discrimination does occur in relation to a person’s weight, or as the Council on Size and Weight Discrimination says, “for people who are heavier than average.” They call for equal treatment in the job market and on the job; competent and respectful treatment by health care professionals; the realization that happy, attractive, and capable people come in all sizes; and state that each person has the responsibility to stand up for themselves and others suffering weight discrimination. The group also notes that the media often portrays the obese in a negative light and promotes people’s fear of fat and obsession with thinness. Finally, they write, “We stand in solidarity with those who experience discrimination based on based on ethnicity, skin color, gender, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or other traits. Our mission is to make people aware of discrimination based on size, shape, and weight, and to work to end such discrimination.” For more on the council, please visit: http://cswd.org/.

To read about workplace weight discrimination issues, please check out the Time article from August 16, 2017.: http://time.com/4883176/weight-discrimination-workplace-laws/ Disability discrimination. According to EEOC, disability discrimination occurs when an employer or other entity, “treats an applicant or employee less favorably because she has a history of a disability (such as cancer that is controlled or in remission) or because she is believed to have a physical or mental impairment that is not transitory (lasting or expected to last six months or less) and minor (even if she does not have such an impairment).” The law also requires an employer (or in the cases of students, a university) to provide a reasonable accommodation to an employee with a disability, unless it would cause significant difficulty or expense. For more on disability discrimination in the workplace, please visit: https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/disability.cfm.


9.1.4. Stigmatization

Overlapping with prejudice and discrimination in terms of how people from other groups are treated is stigma, or when negative stereotyping, labeling, rejection, devaluation, and/or loss of status occur due to membership in a particular social group such as being Hispanic, Jewish, or a Goth; or due to a specific characteristic such as having a mental illness or cancer. Stigma takes on three forms as described below:

  • Public stigma – When members of a society endorse negative stereotypes of people from another group and discriminate against them. They might avoid them all together resulting in social isolation. An example is when an employer intentionally does not hire a person because their mental illness is discovered.
  • Label avoidance – In order to avoid being labeled as “crazy” or “nuts” people needing care may avoid seeking it all together or stop care once started. Due to these labels, funding for mental health services or aid to compromised groups could be restricted and instead, physical health services funded.
  • Self-stigma – When people from another group internalize the negative stereotypes and prejudice, and in turn, discriminate against themselves. They may experience shame, reduced self-esteem, hopelessness, low self-efficacy, and a reduction in coping mechanisms. An obvious consequence of these potential outcomes is the why try effect, or the person saying ‘Why should I try and get that job. I am not worthy of it’ (Corrigan, Larson, & Rusch, 2009; Corrigan, et al., 2016).

Another form of stigma that is worth noting is that of courtesy stigma or when stigma affects people associated with the person with a mental disorder, physical disability, or who is overweight or obese. Karnieli-Miller et. al. (2013) found that families of the afflicted were often blamed, rejected, or devalued when others learned that a family member had a serious mental illness (SMI). Due to this they felt hurt and betrayed and an important source of social support during the difficult time had disappeared, resulting in greater levels of stress. To cope, they had decided to conceal their relative’s illness, and some parents struggled to decide whether it was their place to disclose versus the relative’s place. Others fought with the issue of confronting the stigma through attempts at education or to just ignore it due to not having enough energy or desiring to maintain personal boundaries. There was also a need to understand responses of others and to attribute it to a lack of knowledge, experience, and/or media coverage. In some cases, the reappraisal allowed family members to feel compassion for others rather than feeling put down or blamed. The authors concluded that each family “develops its own coping strategies which vary according to its personal experiences, values, and extent of other commitments” and that “coping strategies families employ change over-time.” The case of stigma and mental illness. Effects of stigma for those with a mental illness include experiencing work-related discrimination resulting in higher levels of self-stigma and stress (Rusch et al., 2014), higher rates of suicide, especially when treatment is not available (Rusch, Zlati, Black, and Thornicroft, 2014; Rihmer & Kiss, 2002), and a decreased likelihood of future help-seeking intention in a university sample (Lally et al., 2013). The results of the latter study also showed that personal contact with someone with a history of mental illness led to a decreased likelihood of seeking help. This is important because 48% of the sample stated that they needed help for an emotional or mental health issue during the past year but did not seek help. Similar results have been reported in other studies (Eisenberg, Downs, Golberstein, & Zivin, 2009). It is important to also point out that social distance, a result of stigma, has also been shown to increase throughout the life span suggesting that anti-stigma campaigns should focus on older people primarily (Schomerus, et al., 2015).

To help deal with stigma in the mental health community, Papish et al. (2013) investigated the effect of a one-time contact-based educational intervention compared to a four-week mandatory psychiatry course on the stigma of mental illness among medical students at the University of Calgary. The course included two methods involving contact with people who had been diagnosed with a mental disorder – patient presentations or two, one-hour oral presentations in which patients shared their story of having a mental illness; and “clinical correlations” in which students are mentored by a psychiatrist while they directly interacted with patients with a mental illness in either inpatient or outpatient settings. Results showed that medical students did hold a stigma towards mental illness and that comprehensive medical education can reduce this stigma. As the authors stated, “These results suggest that it is possible to create an environment in which medical student attitudes towards mental illness can be shifted in a positive direction.” That said, the level of stigma was still higher for mental illness than it was for a stigmatized physical illness, such as type 2 diabetes mellitus.

What might happen if mental illness is presented as a treatable condition? McGinty, Goldman, Pescosolido, and Barry (2015) found that portraying schizophrenia, depression, and heroin addiction as untreated and symptomatic increased negative public attitudes towards people with these conditions but when the same people were portrayed as successfully treated, the desire for social distance was reduced, there was less willingness to discriminate against them, and belief in treatment’s effectiveness increased in the public.

Self-stigma has also been shown to affect self-esteem, which then affects hope, which then affects quality of life among people with SMI. As such, hope should play a central role in recovery (Mashiach-Eizenberg et al., 2013). Narrative Enhancement and Cognitive Therapy (NECT) is an intervention designed to reduce internalized stigma and targets both hope and self-esteem (Yanos et al., 2011). The intervention replaces stigmatizing myths with facts about the illness and recovery which leads to hope in clients and greater levels of self-esteem. This may then reduce susceptibility to internalized stigma.

Stigma has been shown to lead to health inequities (Hatzenbuehler, Phelan, & Link, 2013) prompting calls for stigma change. Targeting stigma leads to two different agendas. The services agenda attempts to remove stigma so the person can seek mental health services while the rights agenda tries to replace discrimination that “robs people of rightful opportunities with affirming attitudes and behavior” (Corrigan, 2016). The former is successful when there is evidence that people with mental illness are seeking services more or becoming better engaged while the latter is successful when there is an increase in the number of people with mental illnesses in the workforce and receiving reasonable accommodations. The federal government has tackled this issue with landmark legislation such as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 though protections are not uniform across all subgroups due to “1) explicit language about inclusion and exclusion criteria in the statute or implementation rule,

2) vague statutory language that yields variation in the interpretation about which groups qualify for protection, and 3) incentives created by the legislation that affect specific groups differently” (Cummings, Lucas, and Druss, 2013).


9.2. Causes of Prejudice and Discrimination


Section Learning Objectives

  • Clarify how social identity theory and social categorization explain prejudice and discrimination.
  • Describe how negative group stereotypes and prejudice are socialized.
  • Explain whether emotions can predict intolerance.
  • Discuss theories explaining the inevitability of intergroup rivalry and conflict over limited resources.
  • Clarify how attribution theory explains prejudice and discrimination.


9.2.1. Social Identity Theory and Social Categorization

Social identity theory asserts that people have a proclivity to categorize their social world into meaningfully simplistic representations of groups of people. These representations are then organized as prototypes, or “fuzzy sets of a relatively limited number of category defining features that not only define one category but serve to distinguish it from other categories” (Foddy & Hogg, 1999). This social categorization process leads us to emphasize the perceived similarities within our group and the differences between groups and involves the self. We construct in-groups, or groups we identify with, and out-groups, or groups that are not our own, and categorize the self as an in-group member. From this, behavior is generated such that the self is assimilated to the salient in-group prototype which defines specific cognitions, affect, and behavior we may exhibit. We favor ingroups, called ingroup favoritism, to enhance our own self-esteem and produce a positive self-concept.  Another consequence is that we tend to see members of the outgroup as similar to one another while our ingroup is seen as varied, called the outgroup homogeneity effect (Park & Rothbart, 1982). One reason why this might occur is that we generally have less involvement with individual members of outgroups and so are less familiar with them. If we have contact, then they are less likely to be seen as homogeneous.

Tajfel et al. (1979) stated that we associate the various social categories with positive or negative value connotations which in turn lead to a positive or negative social identity, based on the evaluations of groups that contribute to our social identity. We also evaluate our group by making a social comparison to other groups. They write, “positively discrepant comparisons between in-group and out-group produce high prestige; negatively discrepant comparisons between in-group and out-group result in low prestige” (pg. 60).  We desire favorable comparisons between the in-group and some relevant out-groups meaning the in-group is seen as distinct. Our self-esteem can be boosted through our personal achievements or by being associated with successful groups.


9.2.2. Socialization of Negative Group Stereotypes and Prejudice

It should not be a surprise to learn that one way we acquire stereotypes and prejudice is to simply learn them in childhood. Three main, complementary and not competitive, learning models explain how this might occur. In fact, they explain how we acquire and then subsequently maintain such cognitions and emotional reactions to other groups. They could also account for why discriminatory acts are committed.

First, observational learning is learning by simply watching others, or you might say we model their behavior. Albert Bandura conducted the pivotal research on observational learning in which children were first brought into a room to watch a video of an adult playing nicely or aggressively with a Bobo doll. This was a model. Next, the children are placed in a room with a lot of toys in it. In the room is a highly prized toy but they are told they cannot play with it. All other toys are fine and a Bobo doll is in the room. Children who watched the aggressive model behaved aggressively with the Bobo doll while those who saw the nice model, played nice. Both groups were frustrated when deprived of the coveted toy. In relation to our discussion of stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination, a child may observe a parent utter racial slurs, make derogatory gestures, or engage in behavior intended to hurt another group. The child can learn to express the same attitudes both in terms of cognitions and affect, and possibly through subsequent actions they make. So, the child may express the stereotype of a group and show negative feelings toward that group, and then later state a racial slur at a member of the group or deny them some resource they are legally able to obtain in keeping with discrimination…. And all because they saw their parents or other key figures do the same at some earlier time in life. Keep in mind this all can happen without the parent ever actually ever trying to teach the child such attitudes.

Second, respondent conditioning occurs when we link a previously neutral stimulus (NS) with a stimulus that is unlearned or inborn, called an unconditioned stimulus (US). With repeated pairings of NS and US, the organism will come to make a response to the NS and not the US.  How so? According to respondent conditioning, learning occurs in three phases: preconditioning, conditioning, and postconditioning. Preconditioning signifies that some learning is already present. There is no need to learn it again. The US yields an unconditioned response (UR). It is un-conditioned meaning it is not (un) learned (conditioned). Conditioning is when learning occurs and in respondent conditioning this is the pairing of the neutral stimulus and unconditioned stimulus which recall yields an UR. Postconditioning, or after (post) learning (conditioning) has occurred, establishes a new and not naturally occurring relationship of a conditioned stimulus (CS; previously the NS) and conditioned response (CR; the same response). In Pavlov’s classic experiments, dogs salivated in response to food (US and UR); no learning was necessary. But Pavlov realized that dogs salivated even before they had the food in front of them. They did so when the heard footsteps coming down or at the sound of a bell (the NS which cause no response initially). With enough pairings, the dogs came to realize that the bell (NS formerly and now a CS) indicated food was coming and salivated (previously the UR and now the CR). How does this relate to learning prejudice and stereotypes? Children may come to associate certain groups (initially a NS) with such things as crime, poverty, and other negative characteristics. Now in respondent conditioning these stimuli were initially neutral like the groups but through socialization children learned these were bad making the relationship of such characteristics as being negative a CS-CR relationship. The new NS is linked to a CS and eventually just thinking of a specific racial group (now a new CS) for example will yield the negative feelings (CR) because we have learned that the group consists of poor criminals who may be dirty or vile for instance.

Third, operant conditioning is a type of associative learning which focuses on consequences that follow a response or behavior that we make (anything we do, say, or think/feel) and whether it makes a behavior more or less likely to occur. A contingency is when one thing occurs due to another. Think of it as an If-Then statement. If I do X then Y will happen. For operant conditioning this means that if I make a behavior, then a specific consequence will follow. The events (response and consequence) are linked in time. What form do these consequences take? There are two main ways they can present themselves. First, in reinforcement, the consequences lead to a behavior/response being more likely to occur in the future. It is strengthened. Second, in punishment, a behavior/response is less likely to occur in the future or is weakened, due to the consequences. Operant conditioning says that four contingencies are then possible based on whether something good or bad is given or taken away. Let’s go through each and give an example related to the topic of this module.

  • Positive Punishment (PP) – If something bad or aversive is given or added, then the behavior is less likely to occur in the future. If you talk back to your mother and she slaps your mouth, this is a PP. Your response of talking back led to the consequence of the aversive slap being delivered or given to your face. In relation to our discussion, if you make a racist slur at work and are reprimanded by being given a demerit or verbally scolded by HR, then you will be less likely to make one again.
  • Positive Reinforcement (PR) – If something good is given or added, then the behavior is more likely to occur in the future. If you study hard and earn, or are given, an A on your exam, you will be more likely to study hard in the future. Likewise, if you make a negative racial comment at home and are praised by your parents, then you will be likely to do this again in the future.
  • Negative Reinforcement (NR) – This is a tough one for students to comprehend because the terms don’t seem to go together and are counterintuitive. But it is really simple and you experience NR all the time. This is when something bad or aversive is taken away or subtracted due to your actions, making it that you will be more likely to make the same behavior in the future when some stimuli presents itself. For instance, what do you do if you have a headache? You likely answered take Tylenol. If you do this and the headache goes away, you will take Tylenol in the future when you have a headache. NR can either result in current escape behavior or future avoidance behavior. What does this mean? Escape occurs when we are presently experiencing an aversive event and want it to end. We make a behavior and if the aversive event, like the headache, goes away, we will repeat the taking of Tylenol in the future. This future action is an avoidance event. We might start to feel a headache coming on and run to take Tylenol right away. By doing so we have removed the possibility of the aversive event occurring and this behavior demonstrates that learning has occurred. In the case of discrimination, if we believe a new family to our neighborhood from a different racial or ethnic group is somehow a problem, we might engage in hostile behavior to encourage them to move. If they do so, then this is NR and specifically escape behavior. The neighborhood may get the reputation of not welcoming a diverse range of people and cause future outgroup members to take up residence elsewhere (avoidance behavior).
  • Negative Punishment (NP) – This is when something good is taken away or subtracted making a behavior less likely in the future. If you are late to class and your professor deducts 5 points from your final grade (the points are something good and the loss is negative), you will likely be on time in all subsequent classes. Back to the work example for NR, we might also be sent home with pay or lose a promotion.


9.2.3. Do Emotions Predict Intolerance?

A 2004 article in the Monitor on Psychology notes that though most research points to the fact that intolerance is caused by negative stereotypes, at least in part, research by Susan Fiske of Princeton University indicates that pity, envy, disgust, and pride – all emotions – may play a larger role. Fiske’s research team found that the emotions are not only tied to prejudice, but to discriminatory behavior as well. “It’s not illegal to have a bad thought or feeling in your head,” said Fiske. “What really matters is the behavior.” This behavior can include bringing harm to others or excluding them, and through a meta-analysis she conducted of 57 studies done over 50 years on attitude behavior and racial bias, she found that emotions predict behaviors twice as much as negative stereotypes.

Fiske, Cuddy, Glick, and Xu (2002) proposed that the content of stereotypes be studied and argued that stereotypes are captured by the dimensions of warmth and competence. The researchers wrote, “subjectively positive stereotypes on one dimension do not contradict prejudice but often are functionally consistent with unflattering stereotypes on the other dimension” (pg. 878). It is also predicted that status and competition, two variables important for intergroup relations, predict the dimensions of stereotypes such that for subordinate, noncompetitive groups (i.e. the elderly) the positive stereotype of warmth will act jointly with the negative stereotype of low competence to give privileged groups an advantage. They add that for competitive out-groups such as Asians, there is a positive stereotype of competence in conjunction with a negative stereotype of low warmth which justifies the in-group’s resentment of them. Finally, they predicted that different combinations of stereotypic warmth and competence bring about unique intergroup emotions, directed toward various societal groups such that “pity targets the warm but not competent subordinates; envy targets the competent but not warm competitors; contempt is reserved for out-groups deemed neither warm nor competent” (pg. 879).

The data provided from nine survey samples show that perceived competence and warmth did indeed differentiate out-group stereotypes; that many out-groups are perceived as competent but not warm (or warm but not competent); that perceived social status predicted perceived competence and perceived competition predicted perceived lack of warmth; and that pity, envy, contempt, and admiration differentiated the four combinations of perceived warmth and competence. In relation to the last finding, the authors speculated, “Both envy items (i.e., envious, jealous) reflect the belief that another possesses some object that the self desires but lacks; this, then, acknowledges the out-groups’ possession of good qualities and also that the out-group is responsible for the in-group’s distress. In short, envy and jealousy are inherently mixed emotions. Ina similar way, pity and sympathy directed toward warm but incompetent out-groups suggest a mixture of subjectively good feelings and acknowledgement of the out-groups’ inferior position. Again, pity is inherently a mixed emotion” (pg. 897). The results of the study fly in the face of the consensus of social psychologists that prejudice involves simultaneous dislike and disrespect for an out-group, but instead, shows that out-group prejudice often focuses on one or the other, but not both.

For more from the Monitor on Psychology article, please visit:


9.2.4. Is Intergroup Rivalry Inevitable Due to Competition for Limited Resources?

Another line of thinking does assert that groups will engage in prejudicial and discriminatory practices because they are competing for limited resources. The interesting thing is that competition comes about due to either real imbalances of power and resources, called the realistic group conflict theory (LeVine & Campbell, 1972) or perceived imbalances, called relative deprivation. In the case of the former, groups competing for limited jobs may engage in discriminatory practices or make prejudicial comments about the other group. In the case of the latter, simply believing that your situation is improving but slower than other groups, can lead to instances of intergroup conflict. Using the realistic group conflict theory as a base, Brief et al. (2005) found that the closer whites lived to blacks and the more interethnic conflict they perceived in their communities, the more negative their reaction was to diverse workplaces.

Dominant groups likewise want to maintain the status quo or continue their control over subordinate groups. Those with a social dominance orientation (SDO) view their ingroup as dominant and superior to outgroups and seek to enforce the hierarchy as it exists now.  They take on roles that enhance or attenuate inequality; are generally intolerant; are not empathetic and altruistic; express less concern for others;  are generally more conservative, patriotic, nationalistic, and express cultural elitism; support chauvinist policies; do not support gay rights, women’s rights, social welfare programs, ameliorative racial policy, and environmental policy; generally support military programs; support wars for dominance but not war unconditionally; and finally the orientation is more present in males than females (Pratto et al., 1994). The orientation was also found to be distinct from an authoritarian personality in which a person displays an exaggerated submission to authority, is intolerant of weakness, endorses the use of punitive measures toward outgroup members or deviants, and conformity to ingroup leaders (Adorno et al., 1950), though Pratto et al. (1994) do indicate that SDO does predict many of the social attitudes conceptually associated with authoritarianism such as ethnocentrism, punitiveness, and conservatism. It is also distinct from social identity theory such that, “Social identity theory posits out-group denigration as a device for maintaining positive social identity; social dominance theory posits it as a device to maintain superior group status” (pg. 757).

The system justification theory proposes that people are motivated to varying degrees, to defend, bolster, and justify existing social, political, and economic arrangements, also known as the status quo, to maintain their advantaged position. These behaviors legitimatize the social hierarchy as it currently exists, even if they hold a disadvantaged place in this system (Jost, 2011). In the case of the disadvantaged, they may assert that the system is fair and just and display outgroup favoritism to those who perform well in the system.


9.2.5. Attribution Theory

Recall from Module 4 (Section 4.2.1) attribution theory (Heider, 1958) asserts that people are motivated to explain their own and other people’s behavior by attributing causes of that behavior to either something in themselves or a trait they have, called a dispositional attribution, or to something outside the person called a situational attribution. We also commit the fundamental attribution error (FAE; Jones & Harris, 1967) which is an error in assigning a cause to another’s behavior in which we automatically assume a dispositional reason for his or her actions and ignore situational factors. Related to the current discussion of prejudice and discrimination, we commit the cognitive error of group-serving bias by ignoring an outgroup member’s positive behavior and assigning dispositional attributions to their negative behavior while attributing negative behavior to situational factors and positive behavior to dispositional ones for ingroup members. One study investigated harmful behavior and found evidence of the group-serving bias insofar as members of the Italian Communist party said outgroup actors were more aggressive and intentional in their harmful actions than in-group actors (Schruijer et al., 1994).

Finally, attributional ambiguity refers to the confusion a person may experience over whether or not they are being treated prejudicially (Crocker & Major, 1989). Though no one would want to be discriminated against or experience prejudice, knowing this is the cause of negative feedback can actually protect one’s self-esteem. Women in one experiment received negative feedback from an evaluator they knew was prejudiced and showed less depression than women who received negative feedback from a nonprejudiced evaluator. In a second experiment, white and black college students were given interpersonal feedback from a white evaluator who could either see them or not. Black participants were more likely to attribute negative feedback to prejudice than positive feedback. Additionally, being seen by the evaluator protected the self-esteem of Black participants from negative feedback but lowered the self-esteem of those who were given positive feedback (Crocker, Voelkl, Testa, & Major, 1991).


9.3. Reducing Prejudice and Discrimination


Section Learning Objectives

  • Define tolerance.
  • Describe ways to promote tolerance and improve intergroup relations.
  • Describe Allport’s intergroup contact theory and state whether it is supported by research.
  • Describe the Jigsaw classroom and evidence supporting it.


In the pervious two sections we have discussed attitudes we hold toward other groups and how the concepts of stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination reflect the cognitive, affective, and behavioral components of attitudes, respectively. We then proposed potential causes of prejudice and discrimination outgroups face. So how do we go about reducing prejudice and discrimination?


9.3.1. Teaching Tolerance

As a starting point, one way to reduce prejudice and discrimination (or reduce negative feelings rooted in cognitions about another group and negative behavior made in relation to the group) is by teaching tolerance or “respect, acceptance and appreciation of the rich diversity of our world’s cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human. Tolerance is harmony in difference.” The Teaching Tolerance movement (https://www.tolerance.org/), founded in 1991 by the Southern Poverty Law Center to prevent the growth of hate, provides free resources to teachers, educators, and administrators from kindergarten to high school. The program centers on social justice, which includes the domains of identity, diversity, justice, and action; and anti-bias, which encourages children and young people to challenge prejudice and be agents of change in their own lives. They write, “We view tolerance as a way of thinking and feeling—but most importantly, of acting—that gives us peace in our individuality, respect for those unlike us, the wisdom to discern humane values and the courage to act upon them.”

The group proposes 13 principles to improve intergroup relations. Briefly, they include:

  1. Principle 1 – Sources of prejudice and discrimination should be addressed at the institutional and individual levels and where people learn, work, and live. The group notes that power differences, whether real or imagined, have to be dealt with as they are at the heart of intergroup tensions.
  2. Principle 2 – We have to go beyond merely raising knowledge and awareness to include efforts to influence the behavior of others. Strategies to improve intergroup relations must also include lessons about how one is to act in accordance with this new knowledge. Also, as prejudice and discrimination are socially influenced to change our own behavior we may need to look to others for support and our efforts may involve change the behavior of those who express such negative views of others and who possibly act on it.
  3. Principle 3 – Strategies should include all racial and ethnic groups involved as “diversity provides an opportunity for learning and for comparison that can help avoid oversimplification or stereotyping.”
  4. Principle 4 – There should be cooperative, equal-status roles for persons from different groups. Activities should be cooperative in nature to ensure that people from different backgrounds can all contribute equally to the task.
  5. Principle 5 – People in positions of power should participate in, and model, what is being taught in race relations programs as an example to those being taught and to show that the learning activities matter.
  6. Principle 6 – Positive intergroup relations should be taught to children at an early age but at the same time, we need to realize that these lessons may not stick even though they do make later lessons easier to teach and learn. The group states, “People cannot be inoculated against prejudice. Given the differences in living conditions of various racial and ethnic groups, as well as the existence of discrimination throughout our society, improving intergroup relations is a challenge that requires ongoing work.” The last two words are by far the most important in this principle.
  7. Principle 7 – Building off Principle 6, a one-time workshop, course, or learning module is not enough and there needs to be “highly focused activities and efforts to ensure that positive intergroup relations are pursued throughout the organization involved.”
  8. Principle 8 – Similarities between racial and ethnic groups need to be emphasized as much as differences in social class, gender, and language. Though there are differences between groups, they also have a lot in common. “Making “the other” seem less different, strange, or exotic can encourage positive interactions and avoid stereotyping.”
  9. Principle 9 – Most Americans of European descent value the concept of the “melting pot” but expect persons of color and immigrants to assimilate into the dominant white culture and resent them if they do not. Others insist that individuals choose a single cultural identity but by doing so communicate a lack of respect for people with bicultural or multicultural identities and discriminate against them. Hence, we must recognize the value of these varied identities as they represent a bridge to improved intergroup relations.
  10. Principle 10 – Oftentimes it is myths and misinformation that sustain stereotypes and prejudices. The inaccuracies of these myths must be exposed to undermine the justifications for prejudice.
  11. Principle 11 – Those who are to implement learning activities should be properly trained and their commitment firm to increase the effectiveness of the effort.
  12. Principle 12 – The exact problems involved in poor intergroup relations within a setting should be diagnosed so that the correct strategies can be used and then follow-up studies of individual and organization change should follow.
  13. Principle 13 – The strategies we use to reduce prejudice toward any particular racial or ethnic group may not transfer to other races or groups. “Since most people recognize that racism is inconsistent with democratic values, it is often the case that prejudiced persons have developed what they think are reasonable justifications for prejudices and discriminatory behavior that are specific to particular groups.”

The group notes that all 13 principles do not need to be included in every strategy, and some effective strategies and intervention programs incorporate as few as two or three. The principles presented above are meant to provide guidelines for action and are not guaranteed to work. Even the best-designed strategies can be undermined by weak implementation. The principles are also meant to focus research and discussion on what an effective program would look like.

Source: https://www.tolerance.org/professional-development/strategies-for-reducing-racial-and-ethnic-prejudice-essential-principles

For Your Consideration

So do interventions to reduce prejudice and create an inclusive environment in early childhood work? A systematic review was conducted by Aboud et al. (2012) and provided mixed evidence. Check out the article for yourself:  https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0273229712000214


9.3.2. Intergroup Contact Theory

According to an APA feature article in 2001, to reduce bias among conflicting groups, all you need is contact (https://www.apa.org/monitor/nov01/contact). In the 1950s, psychologist Gordon Allport proposed his “contact hypothesis” which states that contact between groups can promote acceptance and tolerance but only when four conditions are met. First, there must be equal status between the groups in the situation as if the status quo of imbalance is maintained, the stereotypes fueling prejudice and discrimination cannot be broken down. Second, the groups must share common goals that are superordinate to any one group which leads to the third condition of intergroup cooperation. The groups must work together and share in the fruits of their labor. Finally, there has to be support at the institutional level in terms of authorities, law, or custom (Allport, 1954).

A 2006 meta-analysis by Thomas Pettigrew and Linda Tropp confirms Allport’s hypothesis. The researchers synthesized the effects from 696 samples and found that greater intergroup contact is associated with lower levels of prejudice. They also found that intergroup contact effects generalize beyond participants in the immediate contact situation. They write, “Not only do attitudes toward the immediate participants usually become more favorable, but so do attitudes toward the entire outgroup, outgroup members in other situations, and even outgroups not involved in the contact. This result enhances the potential of intergroup contact to be a practical, applied means of improving intergroup relations” (pg. 766).


To read the meta-analysis for yourself, please visit: http://blogs.law.columbia.edu/genderandsexualitylawblog/files/2012/04/A-Meta-Analytic-Test-of-Intergroup-Contact-Theory.pdf


9.3.3. Jigsaw Classroom

            The Jigsaw classroom was created in the early 1970s by Elliot Aronson and his students at the University of Texas and the University of California (Aronson et al., 1978). It has a proven track record of reducing racial conflict and increasing positive educational outcomes. These include reducing absenteeism, increasing a student’s liking of school, and improving test performance. Like a jigsaw puzzle, each student represents a piece and is needed to complete and fully understand the final product. So how does it work? According to https://www.jigsaw.org/:

  1. The class is divided into smaller groups of 5-6 students, each group diverse in terms of gender, race, ability, and ethnicity.
  2. One student is appointed as the group leader and should be the most mature student in the group.
  3. The lesson for the day is divided into 5-6 segments. As the website says, if you were presenting a lesson on Eleanor Roosevelt, you would break it up into covering her childhood, life with Franklin and their children, her life after he contracted polio, her work in the White House as First Lady, and her life and work after her husband died.
  4. Each student is then assigned to learn one segment ONLY.
  5. The students are given time to read over their segment and learn it at least twice. Memorization of the script is not needed.
  6. Temporary “expert” groups are next created by having students from each jigsaw group join other students assigned the same segment. The students are given time to discuss the main points with others in the expert group and to rehearse the presentations they will make to their jigsaw group.
  7. Students are returned to their jigsaw groups.
  8. The students are then asked to present his or her segment to the group and the other group members are encouraged to ask questions for clarification.
  9. The teacher is asked to move from group to group and observe the process. If there is a problem in the group such as one member being disruptive or dominating, the teacher will make an intervention appropriate to the situation. With time, the group leader will handle such situations but needs to be trained. The teacher could do this by whispering instructions to the leader.
  10. Once the session is over, the teacher gives a quiz on the material. This reinforces that the sessions are not fun and games, but really count.

So, does it work? Results show that once a group begins to work well, barriers break down and the students show liking for one another and empathy too (Aronson, 2002). The same results were observed in a study of Vietnamese tertiary students such that they reported appreciating working with others, getting help, and discussing the content with each other (Tran & Lewis, 2012). Outside of reducing intergroup rivalries and prejudice, an adaptation has been shown to help reduce social loafing in college student group projects (Voyles, Bailey, & Durik, 2015).

For more on the jigsaw classroom, please visit: https://www.jigsaw.org/


Module Recap

In Module 9 we discussed the special case of an attitude related to groups and were reminded that attitudes consist of cognitions, affect, and behavior. In relation to our current discussion, stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination reflect the three dimensions of an attitude, respectfully. We also discussed attitudes that we might not be aware of, called implicit attitudes, and discussed types of prejudice and discrimination to include racism, sexism, ageism, weight discrimination, and disability discrimination. We then covered stigmatization and related it to discrimination on the basis of mental illness, specifically. With this done, we attempted to offer explanations for why intolerance exists. We presented social identity theory and social categorization, socialization using the three learning models, stereotype content model, numerous theories for why intergroup rivalries and conflict occur, and attribution theory as potential explanations. Finally, we proposed ways to reduce prejudice and discrimination such as teaching tolerance, promoting contact between groups, and use of the jigsaw classroom model.

With this covered, Module 9 and Part III: How We Influence and Are Influenced By Others is complete. Be sure you are preparing for your exam and in Part IV we will conclude this book by discussing How We Relate to Others and topics such as aggression, helping others, and attraction.


2nd edition


Creative Commons License
Module 9: Prejudice by Washington State University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book