Understanding Prejudice
Understanding Prejudice
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The Psychology of Prejudice: An Overview

Prejudice and Discrimination from the Target's Perspective

Traditionally, psychological research on prejudice and discrimination has focused on the attitudes and behavior of majority group members. When women, minority members, or other targets of discrimination have been involved, their role has often been peripheral -- either as the object of prejudice (e.g., an experimental assistant who elicits prejudiced responses), or as someone who reacts to other people's prejudices (Shelton, 2000). Beginning in the 1990s, however, researchers began paying greater attention to women and minorities as active agents who choose and influence the situations they are in (Crocker, Major, & Steele, 1998; Feagin, 1994; Swim & Stangor, 1998). Results from this research have already enriched and broadened the field in a number of ways.

One obvious benefit of including the target's perspective is that it offers a more complete understanding of the interpersonal and intergroup aspects of prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination. For instance, when Joachim Krueger (1996) studied the personal beliefs of Blacks as well as Whites, he uncovered a mutually held misperception: members of both groups underestimated how favorably they were viewed by the other side. In effect, Krueger found that Blacks and Whites each thought, "We like them, but they don't like us," a belief that set the stage for misunderstanding, suspicion, and conflict. Similarly, when Charles Judd and his colleagues studied the racial attitudes of Black and White students in the United States, they found a key difference that could lead to intergroup conflict. Whereas Black students tended to regard race as an important and positive part of their identity, White students tended to view race-related classes and programs as reinforcing separatism (Judd, Park, Ryan, Brauer, & Kraus, 1995). To bridge this divide, each side must recognize these differences in perspective when balancing the goals of multiculturalism and color-blindness.

Blood pressure gauge Another benefit of studying the target's perspective is that it yields information about the psychological and health consequences of exposure to prejudice and discrimination (Clark, Anderson, Clark, & Williams, 1999). Research suggests, for example, that the discrimination Black people experience is associated with self-reported ill health, lower psychological well-being, and the number of bed-days away from work during the previous month (Williams, Yu, Jackson, & Anderson, 1997). Studies have also found that the blood pressure of Black people rises when they are under stereotype threat (Blascovich, Spencer, Quinn, & Steele, 2001) or are exposed to racist incidents or attitudes (Armstead, Lawler, Gorden, Cross, & Gibbons, 1989; McNeilly, 1995), and that elevations in blood pressure are especially high among working-class Black people who report accepting unfair treatment rather than challenging it (Krieger & Sidney, 1996). In the latter study, blood pressure differences were in some cases equal to or larger than those associated with lack of exercise, smoking, and an unhealthy diet.


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