Understanding Prejudice
Understanding Prejudice
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The Psychology of Prejudice: An Overview

Linking Stereotypes, Prejudice, and Discrimination

Stereotypes are not only harmful in their own right; they do damage by fostering prejudice and discrimination. After all, if encyclopedia readers are led to believe that Black people have intellectual limitations, why spend time and money educating Black children? As used here, "discrimination" involves putting group members at a disadvantage or treating them unfairly as a result of their group membership. More specifically, "personal discrimination" refers to acts of discrimination committed by individuals (e.g., a manager who refuses to hire Jewish employees), whereas "institutional discrimination" refers to discriminatory policies or practices carried out by organizations and other institutions (e.g., an anti-Semitic immigration policy).

Prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination often go hand-in-hand, but it is also possible to have one without the others. When an ethnic group is stereotyped with a neutral or positive attribute such as "family-oriented," prejudice and discrimination may not be involved. Similarly, a generalized prejudice against "foreigners" or "amputees" may not include specific stereotypes or acts of discrimination. There are even times when discrimination takes place without prejudice or stereotyping, either intentionally or unintentionally. For an illustration of how this can occur, consider the following hypothetical problem:
Suppose your school or organization is accused of sex discrimination because the overall percentage of female job candidates offered a position in the last five years is less than the overall percentage for male candidates. To get to the bottom of this problem, you launch an investigation to see which departments are discriminating against women. Surprisingly, however, the investigation finds that within each department, the percentage of female job applicants who are offered a position is identical to the percentage of male applicants who are offered a position. Is this possible? Can each department practice nondiscrimination, while the organization as a whole hires more men than women?
This problem is a variant of Simpson's Paradox (a well-known paradox in statistics), and the answer to it is yes -- nondiscriminatory conditions at the departmental level can result in hiring differences at the organizational level. To see how this might happen, imagine a simplified organization with two equally important departments, Department A and Department B, each of which receive the same number of job applications. As shown in Table 1, if Department A were to offer a position to 10% of its job applicants (female as well as male), and Department B were to offer a position to 5% of its job applicants (female as well as male), neither department would be discriminating on the basis of sex. At the level of the organization, however, more positions would be going to men than to women, because of the higher number of jobs offered by Department A than Department B. Unless there is a good reason for this difference in hiring, the pattern may represent a form of institutionalized sex discrimination.

Table 1. A Hypothetical Example of Sex Discrimination

of Applicants
of Job Offers
Offered Jobs
 Department A      
        Women 500 50 10%
        Men 1000 100 10%
 Department B      
        Women 1000 50 5%
        Men 500 25 5%
 Combined Total      
        Women 1500 100 6.67%
        Men 1500 125 8.33%

As these examples show, prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination are distinct from one another, even though in daily life they often occur together. Consequently, this overview will discuss each one separately, beginning with research on prejudice.

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