Prejudice is an unfounded or inaccurate usually negative attitude towards an individual due to the individual’s membership in a certain social grouping e.g. gender, race, tribe, religion and sexual affiliation. It is a type of bias that devalues people based on their social grouping. The origins, causes and nature of prejudice have long been a subject of controversy. Various social psychology theories have been advanced on the subject, each citing a different cause of prejudice, ranging from individual differences to innate cognitive processes.
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Hence, the controversial question; is prejudice inevitable or is it an unavoidable occurrence? This essay seeks to evaluate this statement on the stance that prejudice is indeed an inevitable part of human coexistence. It outlines various theories that suggest the inevitability of prejudice.
There are various psychological, theories that suggest that prejudice is almost impossible to remove. Among these theories is the scapegoat theory, advanced by the renowned psychologist Sigmund Freud. The theory implicitly suggests that prejudice is inevitable because prejudice is an emotive and cognitive function. It is an attitude, which informs experience and an understanding of the environment in which we inhabit (Asendorpf, Banse, & Mucke, 2002). D. An attitude is also instrumental and utilitarian.
As such it becomes associated with punishments and rewards; if one shares an attitude towards a certain group of people with others; they reward you with approval or tangible rewards. People are, therefore, motivated to adopt the prejudices of their primary groups. Attitudes are also a source of self-expression and a step towards the innate quest for self-actualization. Attitudes are essential in the formation of values which in turn influence integrity and self-belief (Asendorpf, Banse & Mucke, 2002).
Attitudes also protect our egos from the effects of criticisms either from others or within ourselves, an occurrence known as ego-defence. Holding a prejudice against a certain grouping gives the holder a sense of superiority over the group, therefore, protecting and feeding the ego, regardless of whether the attitude has a rational root or not. The maintenance of this defence mechanism gives rise to scape-goating. Freud argues that scapegoating occurs when a person is unable to express their aggression and anger towards the real cause of disappointment, and, therefore, they seek to displace these feelings by directing them towards someone else.
Freud also supported the frustration-aggression hypothesis, which states that frustration causes aggression, which in turn causes frustration. Therefore, ego-defence and the resultant scape-goating is an endless cycle where one emotion results into another and vice versa (Asendorpf, Banse, & Mucke, 2002).
Another theory in support of the inevitability of prejudice is Tajfel’s theory of social identity. The theory is based on the premise that all individuals desire a positive self-image, which is largely sourced from their social grouping. Therefore, there is a need to group members of society into In-groups and out-groups. Hence, the development of social identity is a cause of prejudice. Individuals tend to believe their group is superior to others, and, therefore, they devalue the members of other groups (Ashburn-Nardo, Voils, & Monteith, 2001).
Tajfel conducted an experiment with a group of boys, where they were instructed to reward other boys based on their membership to a certain group. The boys were then divided into different groups and were awarded tokens to gift to boys from their group, other groups and even to themselves. The boys were not introduced to those from other groups. Tajfel observed that the boys rewarded the members of their group first, even in instances where he designed that the rewards would increase if the boys were to reward other groups before rewarding themselves. He argues that discrimination begins as soon as people categorize themselves into different groups (Ashburn-Nardo, Voils, & Monteith, 2001).
He believes in the existence of minimal groups, due to the distinction between groups. This occurrence leads to the classification of groups into in and out-groups (Ashburn-Nardo, Voils, & Monteith, 2001).
The authoritarian personality theory, developed by Adorno, is a theory that argues that the authoritarian personality type is prone to prejudice. Adorno supposes that the authoritarian personality is hostile to those of an inferior rank and servile to those of a higher rank (Asendorpf, Banse, & Mucke, 2002). Those of an authoritarian personality are said to be rigid and inflexible. They avoid introspection, self-examination, ambiguity and introspection.
However, Adorno attributes the development of an authoritarian personality to nature. He states that authoritarians develop in a hostile, harsh and strict upbringing, and they, therefore, develop latent aggression towards their parents. Since they are unable to confront their parent due to fear, they displace their feelings towards those of a lesser stature, a common feature of the scapegoating theory (Asendorpf, Banse, & Mucke, 2002). Adorno developed a test he dubbed an ‘F-score’ which measures the level of authoritarianism in people. Later works by Huffman and Levinson showed a correlation between the F-scores of parents and children which evidenced Adorno’s view that the mode of parenting may lead to the development of an authoritarian personality.
As much as these theories support the inevitability of prejudice, there are those of a contrary opinion. The cultural transmission theory, for instance, attributes the cause of prejudice to cultural norms and rules. Hence, prejudice is transmitted from generation to generation via culture (Blair & Banaji, 1996). Children are therefore taught to be prejudiced against other groups. About that theory, it would, therefore, be correct to assume that if children are taught not to hold stereotypes against those of other groups, they will not be prejudiced. In such an instance, prejudice can completely be avoided.
The conflict theory is another theory of prejudice that cites prejudice as a creation of those who wish to divide opinion and cause conflict to achieve control (Blair & Banaji, 1996). In such a scenario, prejudice can be prevented and avoided if those in power refrain from spreading stereotypes that cause conflicts. Although these theories are well rooted, they fail to nullify the causes and nature of prejudice proposed by the social identity and authoritarian personality theories.
Given the discussion of prejudice avoidance or removal, it is, therefore, possible to consider the steps that can be taken to remove prejudice. Some proposed strategies include non-competitive contact between different groups and cooperation towards the attainment of goals (Blair & Banaji, 1996). However, the implementation of such strategies is difficult, and it does not void the stereotypes that reinforce the prejudices in society. Also, contact between individuals of different groups is likely to be conceived as contact between individuals, and not groups. Therefore, there is unlikely to be any change in attitude towards the group as a whole.
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In conclusion, prejudice is an inevitable occurrence. Its causes, nature and maintenance are sourced from the very roots of society. Changing such processes is difficult at best. It would require an overhaul of the foundations of society. The implementation of the above strategies requires an intensive psychological intervention to destroy old attitudes and replace them with positive new ones. As it stands, prejudice is indeed inevitable.
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