Understanding Prejudice
Understanding Prejudice
Return Home

Reading Room

Exercises and Demonstrations
Multimedia Center
Teacher's Corner
Directory of Experts
Links on Prejudice
About Us
Privacy Policy
Contact Us

Teacher's Corner
Sample Syllabus
View in WordView in Acrobat

The Psychology of Prejudice and Discrimination
Psychology 361
Wesleyan University
Spring, 2013

Meeting Time:1:10-4:00 pm, Mondays
Location:Room 113, Judd Hall
Section Limit:18 students
Instructor:Scott Plous
Office:Room 219, Judd Hall
Office Hours:3:00-4:00 pm Tuesdays and by appointment


This course explores the psychological underpinnings of prejudice and discrimination. In addition to covering well-recognized forms of prejudice and discrimination, such as racism, sexism, antisemitism, and heterosexism, the course examines exploitation and domination more broadly, including the exploitation and domination of indigenous peoples, animals, and the natural environment.

Course Requirements

Prerequisites:Social Psychology (either Psyc260 or Psyc263) is a firm prerequisite for taking this class.
Required Readings:All required readings should be completed prior to class. These readings will come from the following anthology, supplemented with recent journal articles: Plous, S. (Ed.). (2003). Understanding Prejudice and Discrimination. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Recommended Readings:To read more about any topic covered in the course, please see the UnderstandingPrejudice.org Reading Room.
Class Participation:Because this seminar relies heavily on discussion, attendance is essential. Please be punctual in your arrival and your return from holiday breaks (in fact, attendance and punctuality are important enough that they will be factored into your participation grade). The value of our seminar depends on what you bring to it; each member of the class is personally responsible for the quality of our time together, and I welcome your contributions to the course. To participate fully:

  1. Complete all readings before we meet;
  2. Come with a few good questions or issues for discussion;
  3. Contribute to the group without dominating the discussion;
  4. Help create a climate in which others can comfortably share their opinions; and
  5. On the final day of class, submit a high quality paper copy of at least one prejudice-related reading under 30 pages, or a DVD title and year of release, that might be assigned in future offerings of this seminar, and paperclip to it a cover sheet with your name and the full citation (author, year, location, publisher, etc.).

[Note: Item #5 above carries a 5-point penalty if missed, with no extensions, so please don't forget it!]


Beyond class participation, you'll be asked to submit a journal entry every few weeks, write a final paper, and deliver an "Address to Humanity."

Journal Entries

What insights have you had during the past few weeks? What did you think of the readings? Have you seen prejudice at work? Journal entries are a place to offer psychological analyses, show you're a keen observer of human behavior, and make creative connections between the course material and daily life. The challenge here is to see whether you can go substantially beyond the readings, DVDs, and class discussions to offer your own unique social psychological analyses and insights. In other words, rather than simply illustrating course material with examples from current affairs or your own life (as you would in a personal journal), see if you can delve deeper, take the course material beyond what you were given, and create a "journal of psychological insights." In doing so, don't be afraid to research your topic, interview other people, experiment with your life, engage in social justice activism, and/or suggest specific remedies when discussing social problems.

Each journal entry should be 2-3 typed pages, double-spaced with 12-point font and one-inch margins. Anything related to the course is fair game: insights about yourself or others, social observations, commentaries on a specific reading or class discussion, etc. (given the 3-page limit, though, it's generally best to pick one central theme). Each journal entry should apply social psychology to the topic at hand, and each should be followed with a "Springboards for Discussion" page containing a few questions for class discussion (ideally, on the topic being covered in class the day that journal entries are due). Also, be sure to include an essay title and page numbers.

Journal entries will be graded primarily on the basis of creativity and critical thinking, but variety and style will also be considered. That is, entries should not become repetitive (e.g., month after month of research critiques), and they should not be sloppy. To prevent sloppiness, spell-check your paper and proofread the printed version for typos. The grading for each journal entry will range from 0-5 points along the following scale:

  • 5 points = truly superlative (a cleanly written, rare gem of insight)
  • 4 points = very good (clean writing and creative, novel analyses)
  • 3 points = generally good (shows a mastery of the course material)
  • 2 points = acceptable (somewhat thin or contains significant errors)
  • 1 point = marginally acceptable (very thin or contains major errors)
  • 0 points = not turned in on time (late entries will not be accepted)

Final Paper

Final papers should be 10-15 typed, double-spaced pages (including references) and are due by 2:00 pm, Tuesday, May 10th. Each day that a paper is late, 5 points will be deducted unless the delay is due to a health problem or family emergency. For example, 5 points will be deducted for a paper turned in at 5:00 pm the day it's due, 10 points for a paper turned in at 5:00 the next day, and so on. You're welcome to choose any paper topic that shows original, creative, and insightful thinking about prejudice and discrimination. Here are a few sample topics, but feel free to invent your own:

  • TOPIC #1: Do something novel that succeeds in reducing prejudice or discrimination, and write about what you did. What were the psychological principles that made it work? Could others do what you did? How could your idea be further improved?

  • TOPIC #2: Create an original classroom activity, student assignment, web demonstration, tutorial, or other pedagogical resource that promotes social justice at the same time that it teaches about psychology. Then write a paper describing it and explaining the psychological principles involved.

  • TOPIC #3: Write a paper that compares the common psychological mechanisms involved in two different forms of discrimination (e.g., sexism and racism, antifat prejudice and heterosexism). Cite relevant psychological research whenever possible, following a format similar to that found in psychology journals.

  • TOPIC #4: Watch at least three minutes of video clips within each of the seven subcategories listed here (or, if you prefer, Death on a Factory Farm, a 2009 HBO documentary on library reserve) and discuss: (a) whether the animal use you observe involves prejudice, (b) the link between animal cruelty and biases against human outgroups, and (c) effective ways to reduce speciesism.

  • TOPIC #5: Analyze the role of prejudice in one or more international conflicts, such as the wars in Iraq and/or Afghanistan, the war on terrorism, or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Then see if you can use social psychology to generate specific practical suggestions for U.S. citizens who would like to help bring about peace.

Note: At the beginning of our April 25th class session, please submit a tentative paper title and a typed one-paragraph description of the paper you intend to write.

Address to Humanity

What if you stood before the United Nations, with TV cameras in front of you and translators at the ready? What words of wisdom would you have to share on the topic of prejudice? On our last class, we'll hold a roundtable session in which each student delivers a 5-minute talk on the topic of prejudice and discrimination. This presentation should:

  1. Draw upon what you've learned during the semester;

  2. Show your capacity to think independently, deeply, and creatively by going beyond simple summaries of course material;

  3. Be designed to have a lasting effect on your listeners -- to change their thoughts or behavior (Hint: Use vivid, memorable material rather than abstract generalities). After the talks are given, I'll collect a typewritten copy of your presentation, and we'll hold a final class discussion.


The distribution of final grades for this seminar is similar to that of other classes, but the grading will not follow arbitrary cutoffs determined in advance (e.g., 92%=A). Rather, grades will be based on previous norms for this class as well as my sense of where the grade cutoffs should most reasonably be drawn. Four components will enter into your grade:

  • Class Participation (30-point maximum)
  • Journal Entries (20-point maximum)
  • Address to Humanity (20-point maximum)
  • Final Paper (30-point maximum)

Note: As with many seminars, half of your grade will be determined from assignments at the end of the semester. Although this method of grading makes it difficult to project what your final grade will be, the advantage is that it ultimately yields the fairest grades (because it measures course mastery after all class material has been presented, rather than part way through).

Laptops and Special Needs

Laptops are permitted, but studies suggest that they lower student performance and grades (e.g., from surfing the web in class, answering email, and multitasking), so I'd advise against bringing one unless you absolutely need it. Also, if you have a disability or any special needs, please notify me and the Dean's Office during the first week of the semester, and I'll do my best to accommodate them. I'm committed to creating the most inclusive and supportive learning environment possible, and it's Wesleyan's policy to:

...provide reasonable accommodations to students with documented disabilities. Students, however, are responsible for registering with Disabilities Services, in addition to making requests known to me in a timely manner. If you require accommodations in this class, please make an appointment with me as soon as possible, so that appropriate arrangements can be made. The procedures for registering with Disabilities Services can be found at:

Honor Code

Please read the Wesleyan Honor Code and abide by it closely. All papers, journal entries, and presentations for this class must be original -- not reprinted, excerpted, or adapted from existing work (e.g., papers for other classes, books, articles, web pages). Similarly, any text, tables, figures, or images reproduced from other sources must include clear reference citations, and all quoted passages must use quotation marks to indicate that they are quotations. If you're not sure about how to reference something, please ask me rather than running a risk of violating Wesleyan's Honor Code.

Course Organization & Philosophy


In the first session, students will create a baseline record of their views about prejudice and discrimination, and they'll begin the process of getting to know each other. Next, the course will examine several psychological factors that promote and maintain prejudice and discrimination. This examination will begin at a general, decontextualized level, but it will soon move to consider the unique political, historical, cultural, and economic factors involved in specific forms of prejudice. After this micro-analysis of specific forms of prejudice, the course will then draw back for a final look at the macro level, emphasizing interconnections and common themes. In the final two sessions, students will also be able to review their baseline attitudes and see how their perspectives have changed during the semester.


There is no single best method for learning about prejudice, no simple road map to take us where we need to go with this subject material. Hence, we'll work to build an understanding of prejudice together. My responsibilities will be to:

  • Structure the course;
  • Select thought-provoking discussion topics, readings, and DVDs;
  • Facilitate the seminar discussions;
  • Make myself available to you.

Your responsibilities will be to:

  • Complete all required readings before class,
  • Attend and participate fully in every session,
  • Reflect deeply on the course material.

A core assumption of this course is that there is no way to have a deep understanding of prejudice without first having a deep understanding of yourself. Accordingly, we'll use our own prejudices as a vehicle for understanding the prejudices of other people. Because this type of exploration is not as safe as the standard approach to studying prejudice, we will need to:

  1. Create a comfortable climate for discussion and dissent;

  2. Maintain strict confidentiality with any personal material shared in the seminar;

  3. Treat each other with respect, regardless of whatever differences we may have in opinion or lifestyle choices.

If we cherish the ideals of tolerance and diversity, the best place to begin is with this seminar.

Tentative Course Outline and Readings

NOTE: The reading assignment for each class session comes from the McGraw-Hill anthology and should be completed before the session it appears under.

January 24
Course Overview
Exercise: Baseline Survey and Slide Tour of Prejudice
January 31
Homo Stereotypus
Reading: Preface; Glossaries I and II (pp. 557-560); Section I--Homo Stereotypus: Wired for Trouble
Video: Race: The Power of an Illusion [28 min, edited]
February 7
Stigmas Old and New

Exclamation Journal Entry #1 Due
Reading: Section II--Stigmatization
Video: Coming to Terms [9 min, edited]
Video: Little People [42 min, edited]
February 14
Racism Then
Reading: Section III--Racism Then
Video: A Time for Justice [38 min]
Video: Right America: Feeling Wronged [7 min, edited]
February 21
Racism Now
Reading: Section IV--Racism Now
February 28
The Changing Face of Sexism

Exclamation Journal Entry #2 Due
Reading: Section V--Sexism
Video: Killing Us Softly 4 [45 min]
Video: The Pornography of Everyday Life [13 min, edited]
March 7 and 14
Spring Break!
March 21
Anti-Semitism: Peering Into the Void
Reading: Section VI--Anti-Semitism
Video: Interview with Raul Hilberg [11 min, edited]
March 28
It Could Never Happen Here: Genocide in America

Exclamation Journal Entry #3 Due
Reading: Section VII--Genocide in America
Video: The Canary Effect [65 min]
April 4
Heterosexism and Transgender Bias
Reading: Section VIII--Heterosexism
Video: Middle Sexes: Redefining He and She [32 min, edited]
April 11
Animals as an Outgroup
Reading: Appendix--Animals as an Outgroup
Video: Bucking the Myth [6 min]
Video: The Animals Film [9 min, edited]
Video: A Cow at My Table [8 min, edited]
Video: Peaceable Kingdom [78 min, optional]
April 18
Making Connections: This Is Like This, Because That Is Like That

Exclamation Journal Entry #4 Due
Reading: Section IX--Making Connections
Video: The Practice of Peace [13 min, edited]
Video: Unnatural Causes: Place Matters [19 min, edited]
April 25
Reducing Prejudice and Discrimination: What Then Must We Do?

Exclamation Deadline for Typed Title and One-Paragraph Description of Paper Topic
Reading: Section X--Reducing Prejudice

May 2
Reflections and Connections

Exclamation Turn in Typed Copy Address and a Future Reading or Video Title

Exclamation Deadline for Final Paper is at 2:00 pm, May 10th
Roundtable Session: 5-Minute Class Presentations