Research states that prejudice comes from a basic human need and way of thinking

December 21, 2011

Where does prejudice come from? Not from ideology, say the authors of a new paper. Instead, prejudice stems from a deeper psychological need, associated with a particular way of thinking. People who aren't comfortable with ambiguity and want to make quick and firm decisions are also prone to making generalizations about others.

In a new article published in Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, Arne Roets and Alain Van Hiel of Ghent University in Belgium look at what psychological scientists have learned about prejudice since the 1954 publication of an influential book, "The Nature of Prejudice" by Gordon Allport.

People who are prejudiced feel a much stronger need to make quick and firm judgments and decisions in order to reduce ambiguity. "Of course, everyone has to make decisions, but some people really hate uncertainty and therefore quickly rely on the most obvious information, often the first information they come across, to reduce it" Roets says. That's also why they favor authorities and social norms which make it easier to make decisions. Then, once they've made up their mind, they stick to it. "If you provide information that contradicts their decision, they just ignore it."

Roets argues that this way of thinking is linked to people's need to categorize the world, often unconsciously. "When we meet someone, we immediately see that person as being male or female, young or old, black or white, without really being aware of this categorization," he says. "Social categories are useful to reduce complexity, but the problem is that we also assign some properties to these categories. This can lead to prejudice and stereotyping."

People who need to make quick judgments will judge a new person based on what they already believe about their category. "The easiest and fastest way to judge is to say, for example, ok, this person is a black man. If you just use your ideas about what black men are generally like, that's an easy way to have an opinion of that person," Roets says. "You say, 'he's part of this group, so he's probably like this.'"

It's virtually impossible to change the basic way that people think. Now for the good news: It's possible to actually also use this way of thinking to reduce people's prejudice. If people who need quick answers meet people from other groups and like them personally, they are likely to use this positive experience to form their views of the whole group. "This is very much about salient positive information taking away the aversion, anxiety, and fear of the unknown," Roets says.

Roets's conclusions suggest that the fundamental source of prejudice is not ideology, but rather a basic human need and way of thinking. "It really makes us think differently about how people become prejudiced or why people are prejudiced," Roets says. "To reduce prejudice, we first have to acknowledge that it often satisfies some basic need to have quick answers and stable knowledge people rely on to make sense of the world."
-end-
For more information about this study, please contact: Arne Roets at Arne.Roets@UGent.be.

Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, publishes concise reviews on the latest advances in theory and research spanning all of scientific psychology and its applications. For a copy of "Allport's Prejudiced Personality Today: Need for Closure as the Motivated Cognitive Basis of Prejudice" and access to other Current Directions in Psychological Science research findings, please contact Divya Menon at 202-293-9300 or dmenon@psychologicalscience.org.

Association for Psychological Science

Related Prejudice Articles from Brightsurf:

Study reveals why some blame Asian Americans for COVID-19
A blend of racial prejudice, poor coping and partisan media viewing were found in Americans who stigmatized people of Asian descent during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new study.

Friendly interactions with Chinese people reduced COVID-19 prejudice
A new study finds that friendly interactions with Chinese people reduced Covid-19 prejudice as the virus hit the UK back in February.

When it comes to supporting candidates, ideology trumps race and gender
Voters who express prejudice against minorities and women are still more likely to support candidates who most closely align with their ideologies, regardless of the race or sex of such candidates, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.

Confrontation may reduce white prejudices, Rutgers study finds
Confronting a white person who makes a racist or sexist statement can make them reflect on their words and avoid making biased statements about race or gender in the future, Rutgers researchers find.

COVID-19: Relationship between social media use and prejudice against Chinese Americans
The novel coronavirus pandemic that originated in China has created a backlash in the United States against Asian Americans.

Research finds support for 'Trump effect'
In the years since the 2016 presidential election, many have speculated Donald Trump's racially inflammatory speech empowered people with latent prejudices to finally act on them -- a phenomenon known as the 'Trump effect.' Now, a new study from a team of political scientists at the University of California, Riverside, has found empirical support that suggests Trump's inflammatory remarks on the campaign trail emboldened particular members of the American public to express deeply held prejudices.

Different approaches to 'zero-sum' thinking, contribute to political divide
Voters tend to believe that one political party's gain can only be obtained at another party's expense, according to a new study.

The unpopular truth about biases toward people with disabilities
Needing to ride in a wheelchair can put the brakes on myriad opportunities -- some less obvious than one might think.

Whites' racial prejudice can lessen over time, research shows
Prejudice among white people can lessen over time, according to new research from Rice University.

Information and language in news impact prejudice against minorities
Researchers at the Institute of Psychology show how news about immigrants and language describing immigrants shape prejudice against immigrants and other social minorities, as part of the project 'Immigrants in the Media.' For instance, nouns used for describing the ethnicity of immigrants enhance prejudice against immigrants more than adjectives.

Read More: Prejudice News and Prejudice Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.