Understanding Prejudice
Understanding Prejudice
Return Home

Reading Room

Exercises and Demonstrations
Multimedia Center
Teacher's Corner
Directory of Experts
Organizations
Links on Prejudice
About Us
Privacy Policy
Contact Us

Reading Room
The Psychology of Prejudice: An Overview

Understanding Prejudice and Discrimination American Psychological Association This article has been translated into the following languages as part of an American Psychological Association initiative known as "Prejudice in Any Language: The Prejudice Translation Project":

Arabic   (Arabic)
View
Armenian   (Armenian)
View
Traditional Chinese   (traditional Chinese)
View
Simplified Chinese   (simplified Chinese)
View
German   (German)
View
English   (original text)
View
Spanish   (Spanish)
View
French   (French)
View
Hebrew   (Hebrew)
View
Russian   (Russian)
View
Turkish   (Turkish)
View

The article is adapted from Plous, S. (2003). The psychology of prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination: An overview. In S. Plous (Ed.), Understanding Prejudice and Discrimination (pp. 3-48). New York: McGraw-Hill.


The killing of Americans and their civilian and military allies is a religious duty for each and every Muslim....We--with God's help--call on every Muslim who believes in God and wishes to be rewarded to comply with God's order to kill Americans and plunder their money whenever and wherever they find it.

[The September 11th attack] gave a harsh lesson to these arrogant peoples, for whom freedom is but for the white race...God willing, America's end is near.

--Osama Bin Laden, in a February, 1998, appeal to Muslims, and a videotaped statement in the fall of 2001

It is hardto imagine more classic examples of prejudice than the statements of Osama Bin Laden. Although social scientists often differ in the precise way they define "prejudice," most agree that it involves a prejudgment, usually negative, about a group or its members (Fiske, 1998; Jones, 1997; Nelson, 2002). As commonly used in psychology, prejudice is not merely a statement of opinion or belief, but an attitude that includes feelings such as contempt, dislike, or loathing. For Osama Bin Laden, non-Muslim Americans are the main target of prejudice, and his hatred is so great that he would like to see them die.

Where prejudices lurk, stereotypes are seldom far behind. The term "stereotype," coined in 1798 by the French printer Didot, originally referred to a printing process used to create reproductions (Ashmore & Del Boca, 1981). Journalist Walter Lippmann (1922) later likened stereotypes to "pictures in the head," or mental reproductions of reality, and from there, the term gradually came to mean generalizations -- or, quite often, overgeneralizations -- about the members of a group. As with prejudice, these generalizations can at times be positive (e.g., women are nurturing, Japanese excel at math), but for the most part, they tend to be negative and resistant to change. For example, until the 1960s the Encyclopędia Britannica entry for "Races of Mankind" relied on centuries-old pseudoscientific stereotypes of Black people as unevolved and childlike. In its 1964 edition, the encyclopedia described "woolly-haired groups" as having:

dark skin sometimes almost black, broad noses, usually a rather small brain in relation to their size, especially among the taller members of the group, with forearms and shins proportionately long. In the skeleton there is a smoothness of contour which even in adults often recalls the bony form of a child, and among some members of the group the forehead has that prominent and smooth form which is so characteristic of the infant of our own race. (Buxton, 1964, p. 864A)
Today it would be shocking for a respected encyclopedia to print a stereotype such as this, yet other stereotypes concerning race, gender, religion, and sexual orientation remain widespread. For instance, as recently as 1999, Merriam-Webster (the largest dictionary publisher in the United States) listed thesaurus terms for homosexual such as "fruit" and "pederast" (Carvajal, 1999).


Page 1 of 27
Next page