Understanding Prejudice
Understanding Prejudice
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The Psychology of Prejudice: An Overview

Reducing Prejudice and Discrimination

On September 24, 1973, an Indian chief from California, dressed in full regalia, landed in Rome and claimed possession of Italy "by right of discovery" just as Christopher Columbus had claimed America nearly 500 years earlier. "I proclaim this day the day of the discovery of Italy," he said.

American Indian discovering Italy "What right," asked the chief, "did Columbus have to discover America when it had already been inhabited for thousands of years? The same right that I have to come now to Italy and proclaim the discovery of your country."

Although the New York Times referred to this claim as "bizarre" (Krebs, 1973), the newspaper's criticism only helped illustrate the chief's point: it is bizarre to claim possession of a country "by right of discovery" when the country has long been occupied by other people. What the chief did in making his claim was to reverse people's perspective and invite them to see the world from an American Indian point of view.

Research on empathy and role-playing suggests that this type of reversal in perspective can reduce prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination (Batson et al., 1997; Galinsky & Moskowitz, 2000; McGregor, 1993; Stephan & Finlay, 1999). Indeed, empathy training programs appear to reduce prejudice regardless of the age, sex, and race of participants (Aboud & Levy, 2000). In addition, empathy has the practical advantage of being relatively easy to apply in a wide range of situations. To become more empathic toward the targets of prejudice, all one needs to do is to consider questions such as How would I feel in that situation?, How are they feeling right now?, or Why are they behaving that way? Role-playing exercises have also been used to practice responding effectively to prejudiced comments (Plous, 2000).

Another powerful method of reducing prejudice and discrimination is to establish laws, regulations, and social norms mandating fair treatment (Oskamp, 2000). In psychology, "norms" are expectations or rules for acceptable behavior in a given situation, and research suggests that even one person's public support for anti-prejudice norms is enough to move other people in that direction (Blanchard, Lilly, & Vaughn, 1991). Moreover, experiments on antigay and anti-Black prejudice have found that an individual's support for anti-prejudice norms can sway the opinions of highly prejudiced people as well as those medium or low in prejudice (Monteith, Deneen, & Tooman, 1996). Normative information is especially potent and enduring when it concerns ingroup members. For example, when White students in one study were told that their fellow students held less racist views than they had thought, this normative information continued to exert a prejudice-lowering effect one week later (Stangor, Sechrist, & Jost, 2001).

Even longer-lasting reductions in prejudice are possible when people are made aware of inconsistencies in their values, attitudes, and behaviors. Milton Rokeach (1971) demonstrated, for instance, that when students spent roughly half an hour considering how their values, attitudes, and behaviors were inconsistent with the ideal of social equality, they showed significantly greater support for civil rights more than a year later. These results are consistent with cognitive dissonance theory, which postulates that (1) the act of holding psychologically incompatible thoughts creates a sense of internal discomfort, or dissonance, and (2) people try to avoid or reduce these feelings of dissonance whenever possible (Festinger, 1957). According to this analysis, students in Rokeach's study held incompatible thoughts such as "I support social equality" and "I've never contributed time or money to a civil rights group," and sought to reduce feelings of dissonance by increasing their support for civil rights. Other researchers have used dissonance-related techniques to reduce antigay, anti-Asian, and anti-Black prejudice (Hing, Li, & Zanna, 2002; Leippe & Eisenstadt, 1994; Monteith, 1993).

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