Understanding Prejudice
Understanding Prejudice
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The Psychology of Prejudice: An Overview

Explicit and Implicit Biases

The origins of stereotype research date back to a study by Daniel Katz and Kenneth Braly (1933) in which 100 university students were asked to indicate the traits most characteristic of ten different social groups. Students displayed a high level of agreement about the traits of certain racial and ethnic groups, such as Negroes (described as superstitious by 84% of the students, and as lazy by 75%), and Jews (described as shrewd by 79%).

Since the time of Katz and Braly's study, researchers have developed a wide range of techniques to measure stereotypes, yet with the rise of subtle racism, it is hard to say whether racial stereotypes have decreased over the years or whether they have simply become less likely to be expressed (Devine & Elliot, 1995; Lee, Jussim, & McCauley, 1995; Macrae, Stangor, & Hewstone, 1996). Public opinion polls have generally shown a decline in racial stereotyping, but one study found that when survey questions were worded to avoid implying a politically correct answer, many people expressed agreement with racial stereotypes (Plous & Williams, 1995). In this study, a majority of respondents endorsed at least one stereotypic Black-White difference in inborn ability (e.g., Blacks have greater rhythmic ability than Whites), and nearly half endorsed at least one stereotypic difference in anatomy (e.g., Blacks have thicker skulls than Whites).

In part because of the difficulty in assessing people's endorsement of stereotypes, researchers have increasingly relied on indirect methods of assessment. Borrowing heavily from cognitive psychology, these indirect methods have allowed researchers to find out what people think under conditions that prevent the management of outward impressions. Results from this research suggest that in addition to the explicit stereotypes that Katz and Braly measured, people harbor "implicit" biases outside of their awareness -- that is, they hold prejudiced attitudes and stereotypic associations about certain groups even without realizing it (Banaji, Hardin, & Rothman, 1993; Fazio, Jackson, Dunton, & Williams 1995; Gaertner & McLaughlin, 1983). Although implicit biases are often correlated with explicit biases -- meaning that they tend to go together -- the two are not the same. For instance, when White students in one study were observed during interracial interactions, their explicit attitudes predicted later racial biases in verbal behavior, whereas their implicit attitudes predicted biases in nonverbal behavior (Dovidio, Kawakami, & Gaertner, 2002).

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