Stereotypes, Prejudice and Discrimination

Stereotypes are Hard to Change

Stereotypes are very hard to get rid of, and the reason is connected to the emotional nature of attitudes. Often, when a person is presented with factual information that contradicts their prejudice, they discount it in an illogical manner. Devine’s two-step model of cognitive processing shows that an automatic process is responsible for bringing up information. However, in a normal environment, a person can either refute or ignore it through controlled cognitive processing. While people have attitudes based on various factual and emotional factors, they are not completely beholden to them.

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When a person encounters something related to their attitude on an issue, the automatic process brings up information stored in people’s brains, and with many attitudes having no factual basis; this information is often based on emotional attitudes to the subject. Then, the control processes become responsible for disregarding this information and trying to keep the person’s mind open on the issue. However, when those processes are overloaded, they are unable to control the behavior of the person, leading to their behavior changing by their emotions on the presented subject. This could be the reason why it is so hard to change stereotypes (Aronson, Wilson, Akert, & Sommers, 2016)

American culture is often blamed for being obsessed with binary outcomes. Perhaps it is a side effect of the “Us vs. Them” attitude of the Cold War, or other historical events. The textbook covers the existence of both positive and negative stereotypes, but could there be neutral stereotypes? Is it possible for a person to develop an aggressively neutral attitude towards a topic? For example, one of my friends has neither a positive, nor negative opinion about religion, but whenever he is confronted on the topic, he shrugs it off by saying he does not know enough about the topic and does not want to know.

Prejudice and Discrimination

Prejudice is defined as an aggressively negative attitude toward people belonging to a different group based only on their membership of the group. Discrimination is a similar concept, but unlike prejudice, it is an active process. However, both concepts are directly connected because prejudice often leads to discrimination. One example of prejudice might be that some people believe women are worse drivers, despite all the evidence against this notion. While most acts of discrimination are illegal in the United States, discrimination by race and nationality is still present in some countries (Aronson et al., 2016). For example, Japan still has businesses that are open only to Japanese citizens (Kashiwazaki, 2013).

Prejudices can form for a variety of reasons. Normative rules can be just one of the possible reasons for this. Normative rules can pressure people into behaving in a certain way to be accepted into the group. This is very common with children, as their desire to not be left out can lead to them accepting prejudices without much thought. Economic competition is another possible reason. Studies have shown that during difficult economic situations and unemployment, people are more likely to associate minority groups with criminal activity. The previously mentioned stereotypes can be a result of social cognition that relies on automatic thinking which would lead to prejudice.

Attribution bias based on a single-step attribution can also create stereotypes that would then be justified every time a person encounters a negative situation involving the subject of prejudice. The consequences of these prejudices can be severe. Discrimination towards minorities is a very common outcome of this, in many countries of the world. Even in the Netherlands, a nationalistic attitude has developed toward Muslim immigrants due to a popular politician being assassinated in the 1990s. Prejudices have led to the acceptance of lynching in the American South, racial segregation of schools, lower wages for women, and many other examples of discrimination (Aronson et al., 2016). I would like to ask why do some groups that a previously unrelated, often become a united target of prejudice, like Muslim immigrants from different countries that do not share a common culture?


Aronson, E., Wilson, T., Akert, R., & Sommers, S. (2016). Social psychology (9th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.

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Kashiwazaki, C. (2013). Incorporating immigrants as foreigners: Multicultural politics in Japan. Citizenship Studies, 17(1), 31-47.

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