Methods used by psychologists to reduce prejudice

The studies of Sherif et al (1961) showed that when rival groups must work together to achieve a common goal the level of prejudice is reduced. A key result the study was that mandatory cooperation was an essential ingredient to reduce prejudice and without it the level of prejudice is not reduced. However, further work by Worchel et al (1997) showed the when the common goal was not achieved the level of prejudice was typically elevated. The results of these experiments are born out by many real world examples, with many regrettable consequences.

The “troubles” that afflicted Northern Ireland for three decades are a prime example of the consequences of prejudice and intolerance boiling over amid political failure. The religious ‘divide’ of the working class in west Belfast was widened with each broken promise of leaders to bring about a permanent change and to halt the violence. Intolerance and violence were repaid in kind, and mistrust and prejudice were bolstered and fuelled by every act of aggression.

A redefinition of social categories, identities and stereotypes and an installation of a new ‘politically correct’ model of communication and social interaction. Turner (1991) noted that a ‘redefinition’ of the rival groups so as to give a common identity (at least while in pursuit of the common goal) could reduce prejudice. This was later verified by an experiment by Gaertner et al (1993). However, work by Hewstone et al (1993) highlighted many of the complexities and difficulties one may face applying this approach to real world problems.

A key result of the Hewstone study was that religious identity played a central role in how individuals viewed themselves in relation to people of the same and other religions. Many contemporary problems throughout the world arise from prejudices created by beliefs based on religious identity. Clearly, a unifying ‘redefinition’ of religions that removes the motivation for religious acts of evil is still a long way off.

From the point of view of social learning theory, the Aronson and Osherow (1980) report of the blue-eye/brown-eye experiment conducted with school children highlights how prejudice information can lead to prejudice views, and how awareness and understanding of the process can help be used to reduce prejudice. History, unfortunately, provides many examples of the use of misinformation as a conditioning tool to create prejudice to achieve a particular social or economic transformation (e. g.

‘ethnic cleansing’ has been ‘justified’ by the misinformed pretext that a particular race is genetically superior and have ‘more’ right to life) Political correctness is gradually edging its way into everyday life, driven in part by a ‘PC’ makeover of media broadcasting and sanitisation of corporate workplace culture. Many large ‘professional’ corporations have mandate to display an ethnically diverse workforce and impose a culture that is politically correct, gender neutral and appears discrimination free.

This corporate shift may be a precursory indicator or even a leader of fundamental change in social interaction, but it’s worth remembering that this sanitisation is also a safeguard against potential claims of discrimination, ensuing litigation and damage to reputation and business. The opportunity of equal status contact between rival groups or individuals. Studies by Deutsch & Collins (1952) on racially integrated housing schemes indicate that opportunity for equal status contact can lead to a reduction of prejudice.

However, studies by Minard (1952) and Stouffer et al (1949) indicate that ‘equal status’ contact (for example, among coal miners or soldiers) can be a transitive event while the individuals are performing their jobs and the resulting prejudice reduction can disappear when ‘customary’ social norms start to prevail. These social norms that arise as natural aspects of social structure, custom or values are the most formidable hurdles in the application of the ‘equal status’ approach. Ultimately, we do not live in a class free society so there can never be true ‘equal status’ for all individuals.

In this essay we will be looking at the causes of prejudice from two approaches, firstly looking at the individual authoritarian personality theory before looking at the more group approach of the social identity theory. We will then look at …

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