MCAT Content / Prejudice And Bias / Processes That Contribute To Prejudice

Processes that Contribute to Prejudice

Topic: Prejudice And Bias

There are many processes that contribute to prejudice, such as power, prestige, and class.

When we meet strangers we automatically process three pieces of information about them: their race, gender, and age. Why are these aspects of an unfamiliar person so important? Why don’t we instead notice whether their eyes are friendly, whether they are smiling, their height, the type of clothes they are wearing? Although these secondary characteristics are important in forming a first impression of a stranger, the social categories of race, gender, and age provide a wealth of information about an individual. This information, however, often is based on stereotypes. We may have different expectations of strangers depending on their race, gender, and age.

Prejudice is a negative attitude and feeling toward an individual based solely on one’s membership in a particular social group. Prejudice is common against people who are members of an unfamiliar cultural group. Thus, certain types of education, contact, interactions, and building relationships with members of different cultural groups can reduce the tendency toward prejudice.

Prejudice often begins in the form of a stereotype—that is, a specific belief or assumption about individuals based solely on their membership in a group, regardless of their individual characteristics. Stereotypes become overgeneralized and applied to all members of a group.

While prejudice is primarily founded on the “us” and “them” mentality that helps form group identity, there are many processes that contribute to prejudice. Power, prestige, and class contribute to the effect that prejudice has on the lives and opportunities of individuals as well as the structure of social institutions. Emotion and cognition also contribute to prejudice through the development of schemas. A schema is an organizing pattern of thought that is used to categorize and interpret information, thus shaping individual attitudes and perspectives. From these schema frameworks, specific behavioral scripts develop as plans for how to behave in certain situations.

Prejudice is an attitude. Therefore, emotion and cognition both play roles in contributing to prejudice. In addition, there are several social sources of prejudice.

Emotions can play a role in feeding prejudices. At the core of prejudice is often fear of frustration. When someone is faced with something intimidating or unknown, especially if it’s presumed to be blocking that perform from some goal (Frustration), hostility can be a natural reaction. There is a tendency to want to direct that hostility at someone, and history shows that displaced aggression often falls on marginalized people.

Anyone can experience feelings of prejudice. Underlying emotions can also influence those who do not take action. For example, when seated next to someone who is clearly different from them on a bus, even people who do not see themselves as prejudiced may be uncomfortable. When a person sees an unfamiliar person of another race, emotion processing centers in the brain become more active automatically. It is only through active self-monitoring and reflection that people are able to inhibit prejudiced responses despite the presence of prejudiced feelings. Some may feel guilty for having those feelings, but they are not unusual. These self-inhibition abilities weaken with age, so many older adults find it hard to inhibit the prejudiced thoughts that they may have suppressed during their younger years.


Practice Questions

 

Khan Academy

 

MCAT Official Prep (AAMC)

Practice Exam 2 P/S Section Passage 4 Question 18

Practice Exam 4 P/S Section Passage 6 Question 29

 

Key Points

• When we meet strangers we automatically process several pieces of information about them, including the social categories of race, gender, age, sexual orientation, and ability.

• First impressions are often based on stereotypes. For example, we may have different expectations of strangers depending on their race, gender, age, sexual orientation, and ability.

• Prejudice is a negative attitude and feeling toward an individual based solely on one’s membership in a particular social group.

• Prejudice often begins in the form of a stereotype—that is, a specific belief or assumption about individuals based solely on their membership in a group, regardless of their individual characteristics. Stereotypes become overgeneralized and applied to all members of a group.

• While prejudice is primarily founded on the “us” and “them” mentality that helps form group identity, there are many processes that contribute to prejudice including power, prestige, and class.

 

Key Terms

Stereotype: a conventional, formulaic, and oversimplified conception, opinion, or image of a group of people or things.

Prejudice: a positive or negative evaluation of another person based on their perceived group membership (e.g., race, class, or gender).

Power: refers to someone’s ability to get others to do his or her will, regardless of whether or not they want to.

Prestige: refers to the reputation or esteem associated with one’s position in society, which is closely tied to their social class.

Class: groupings of individuals in a hierarchy, usually based on wealth, educational attainment, occupation, income, and membership in a subculture or social network.

Schema: organizing patterns of thought that are used to categorize and interpret information, thus shaping individual attitudes and perspectives.

Script: a plan for how to behavior in a specific situation, based on ones attitudes and perspectives of the world



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