Prejudice and Discrimination
by Saul McLeod published 2008
Prejudice is an unjustified or incorrect attitude (usually negative) towards an individual based solely on the individual’s membership of a social group.
For example, a person may hold prejudiced views towards a certain race or gender
etc. (e.g. sexist).
Discrimination is the behavior or
actions, usually negative, towards an individual or
group of people, especially on the basis of
sex/race/social class, etc.
Examples of Discrimination
World War II - In Germany and German-controlled lands, Jewish people had to wear yellow stars to identify themselves as Jews. Later, the Jews were placed in concentration camps by the Nazis.
Racial discrimination in South Africa. Apartheid (literally "separateness") was a system of racial segregation that was enforced in South Africa from 1948 to 1994. Non-white people where prevented from voting and lived in separate communities.
Age discrimination is discrimination against a person or group on the grounds of age.
Gender Discrimination: In Western societies while women are often discriminated against in the workplace, men are often discriminated against in the home and family environments. For instance after a divorce women receive primary custody of the children far more often than men. Women on average earn less pay than men for doing the same job
The Difference Between Prejudice and Discrimination
A prejudiced person may not act on their attitude. Therefore, someone can be prejudiced towards a certain group but not discriminate against them. Also, prejudice includes all three components of an attitude (affective, behavioral and affective), whereas discrimination just involves behavior.
An extreme example of prejudice and discrimination would be the Nazi’s mass murder of Jews in the Second World War, or the killings of Catholics by Protestants and Protestants by Catholics.
There are four main explanations of prejudice and discrimination:
2. Realistic Conflict Theory - Robbers Cave
Conformity could also be used as an explanation of prejudice if you get stuck writing a psychology essay.
Conformity as an Explanation of Prejudice and Discrimination
Influences that cause individuals to be racist or sexist, for example, may come from peers parents and group membership.
Conforming to social norms means people adopt the “normal” set of behavior(s) associated with a particular group or society.
The interpersonal approach to prejudice Ideas about prejudice which look at processes within groups of people focus on stereotyping, discussed earlier, and conformity to social and cultural norms.
Social norms - behavior considered appropriate within a social group - are one possible influence on prejudice and discrimination. People may have prejudiced beliefs and feelings and act in a prejudiced way because they are conforming to what is regarded as normal in the social groups to which they belong:
The effect of Social Norms on Prejudice
Minard (1952) investigated how social norms influence prejudice and discrimination. The behavior of black and white miners in a town in the southern United States was observed, both above and below ground.
Results: Below ground, where the social norm was friendly behavior towards work colleagues, 80 of the white miners were friendly towards the black miners. Above ground, where the social norm was prejudiced behavior by whites to blacks, this dropped to 20.
Conclusion: The white miners were conforming to different norms above and below ground. Whether or not prejudice is shown depends on the social context within which behavior takes place.
Pettigrew (1959) also investigated the role of conformity in prejudice. He investigated the idea that people who tended to be more conformist would also be more prejudiced, and found this to be true of white South African students. Similarly, he accounted for the higher levels of prejudice against black people in the southern United States than in the north in terms of the greater social acceptability of this kind of prejudice in the south.
A study by Rogers and Frantz (1962) found that immigrants to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) became more prejudiced the longer they had been in the country. They gradually conformed more to the prevailing cultural norm of prejudice against the black population.
Evaluation: Conformity to social norms, then, may offer an explanation for prejudice in some cases. At the same time, norms change over time, so this can only go some way towards explaining prejudice.
Minard, R. D. (1952). Race relationships in the Pocahontas coal field. Journal of Social Issues, 8(1), 29-44.
Pettigrew, T. F. (1959). Regional differences in anti-Negro prejudice. Journal of abnormal psychology, 59(1), 28.
Rogers, C. A., & Frantz, C. (1962). Racial themes in Southern Rhodesia: the attitudes and behavior of the white population (p. 338). New Haven: Yale University Press.
How to cite this article:
McLeod, S. A. (2008). Prejudice and Discrimination. Retrieved from
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