Stereotypes and Prejudice Essay

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 17 February 2017

Stereotypes and Prejudice

The authors examine overt and subtle forms of stereotyping and prejudice. Two theories that explain overt prejudice are reviewed: realistic conflict theory and social identity theory. Although overt prejudice seems to have declined, subtle stereotyping is still pervasive. The authors review one theory, aversive racism theory, that explains this phenomenon. They also discuss two perspectives, attributional ambiguity and stereotype threat, which provide accounts of the impact of subtle racism. Both overt and subtle prejudice present challenges for the classroom. The authors describe one intervention called the jigsaw classroom that encourages work toward common goals and helps reduce the expression and impact of overt discrimination.

A second intervention program, wise schooling, is presented, which aims to reduce the impact of subtle stereotypes by reducing stereotype threat. Why do prejudice and discrimination exist? Has overt racism been replaced by more subtle forms of prejudice? How does stereotyping affect its targets? In this article we describe two theories, realistic conflict theory and social identity theory, which provide an answer to the first question. We address the second question by noting that although overt discrimination has decreased, subtle forms of prejudice are still quite common and we describe one theory, aversive racism, that provides a compelling account of this change in the expression of prejudice.

Finally, we answer the third question by describing two phenomena, attributional ambiguity and stereotype threat, that result from the pervasive nature of subtle stereotyping. This article is a selective overview of what social psychology has to say about these crucial issues. In addition, we review two effective intervention programs that offer promise in ameliorating the effects of stereotyping and prejudice in the classroom.

In its earliest conceptions, prejudice was treated as a manifestation of pathology (Ashmore & Del B oca,1981 ). For example, the frustration-aggression hypothesis (Dollard, Doob, Miller, Mowrer, & Sears, 1939, pp. 27-54) considered prejudice to be a result of scapegoating, and authoritarian personality theory (Brown, 1965, pp. 477-546) posited that a severe childhood upbringing could result in a rigid, authoritarian adult who is prejudiced against anyone who is different from the self.

But more contemporary accounts of stereotyping and prejudice have emphasized that prejudice may be a more common and normal result of group interaction. In developing realistic group conflict theory Sherif and Sherif ( 1969, pp. 222-266) dismiss the notion that prejudice is pathological and suggest instead that it may frequently arise out of ordinary conflicts of interest between groups. In their studies of a boys’ summer camp, they discovered that ordinary group competition for valued resources led to highly negative and stereotypical views of opposing groups and their individual members.

Perhaps the more interesting aspect of these studies, however, was the manner in which conflict and hostility were ameliorated. The Sherifs found that mere contact among opposing groups only intensified the hostility (cf. Stephan, 1987). Events that required cooperative action, however, did function to reduce intergroup conflict. After several such events, all involving superordinate goals (i.e., goals shared by members of all groups), cross-group friendships began to develop and intergroup hostility began to diminish. Working cooperatively toward shared goals transformed the skills of individual group members into valued resources.

So, although conflicts of interest resulted in prejudice and intense disliking between groups, action toward superordinate goals helped foster positive opinions and mutual liking. According to another influential line of work, social identity theory (Brewer, 1979; Tajfel & Turner, 1986), we categorize people into social groups and locate ourselves within a category. We then evaluate the value or worth of our social identities primarily by comparing our group with other groups.

The basic premise of social identity theory is that we are motivated to maintain a positively valued social identity and we may do so by creating or taking advantage of favorable comparisons with other groups. The need to maintain a positive distinction between our own group and others can lead to behavior and attitudes that are biased in favor of our own group and against other groups. According to this perspective, prejudice, intergroup conflict, and stereotyping may arise simply from the struggle to attain or maintain a positive social identity (e.g., Crocker, Thompson, McGraw, & Ingerman, 1987).


Many historical perspectives on stereotyping, including realistic group conflict theory and social identity theory, attempt to explain the prevalence of overt prejudice and discrimination. However, this kind of directly expressed racism, particularly prejudice directed toward African Americans, is becoming less common. For example, a variety of surveys that directly measure negative178 stereotypes about African Americans, attitudes toward school and residential integration, and general beliefs concerning equal opportunity all indicate that there has been a dramatic shift toward more egalitarian and less racist views over the last 50 years (see Dovidio & Gaertner, 1991, for a review). Dovidio and Gaertner (1991) note, however, that across the variety of samples, there are still indications of overt racism in fully 20% of Whites.

But what about the 80% who consistently report more positive attitudes toward African Americans? Despite the evidence that a majority of Whites now feel generally more supportive and accepting of African Americans, there is also considerable evidence that these positive feelings may be held with some ambivalence and may mask a more subtle form of racism.

For example, survey research reported in Dovidio and Gaertner ( 1991 ) indicates that although Whites seem to endorse the general idea of egalitarianism, they are opposed to specific ways in which it might be implemented, including giving preference to qualified African American job applicants and government intervention to ensure school integration. Although Whites have positive attitudes toward the abstract ideas, they also remain less than enthusiastic about personally having African American neighbors and about interracial marriage.

In addition to the survey research mentioned above, laboratory research also provides a great deal of compelling evidence demonstrating the subtle but continuing influence stereotypes have on information processing (Hamilton & Sherman, 1994). Stereotypes make cognitive processing about our complex social worlds easier and more efficient.

However, the negative consequences of this increased efficiency are reflected in the numerous studies indicating that stereotypes can significantly bias our judgments about other people (e.g., Rosenthal & Jacobson, 1968; Sagar & Schofield, 1980). For example, Rosenthal and Jacobson’s (1968) work on teacher expectancies suggests that a priori expectations about a student’s academic ability can easily lead a teacher to treat the student differentially and in accord with those expectancies (perhaps causing the student to conform to the expectancies, regardless of his or her natural ability).

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