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Chapter 5
Stereotypes, Prejudice,
and Discrimination

5-2Causes of the Problem: Intergroup, Motivational, Cognitive, and Cultural

5-2aSocial Categories and Intergroup Conflict

5-2bSocial Identity Theory

5-2cCulture and Social Identity

5-2dCulture and Socialization

5-2eHow Stereotypes Distort Perceptions and Resist Change

5-2fAutomatic Stereotype Activation

5-2gThe Shooter Bias
of the Problem:
Intergroup, Motivational,
Cognitive, and Cultural Factors
One of the reasons that stereotypes, prejudice, and
discrimination persist is because they are caused by multiple
factors. There are many sources fueling these problems, and
they operate both independently and in tandem. Some stem
from the ways that humans cognitively process and remember
information. Others can be traced to motivations and goals that
drive us to see or react to our social worlds in particular ways.
Still others concern how groups of people are represented or
valued in one’s culture. In this section we turn to look at some of
the most important of these causes.
Main content
Chapter Contents
Categories and Intergroup Conflict
At the root of stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination is the
fact that we divide our social world into groups. As perceivers,
we routinely sort each other into groups on the basis of gender,
race, age, and other common attributes in a process
called social categorization. In some ways, social
categorization is natural and adaptive. It allows us to form
impressions quickly and use experience to guide new
interactions. With so many things to pay attention to in our
social worlds, we can save time and effort by using people’s
group memberships to make inferences about them. The time
and energy saved through social categorization does come at a
cost, however. Categorizing people leads us to overestimate the
differences between groups and to underestimate the
differences within groups (Krueger & DiDonato, 2008; Wyer et
al., 2002).
Indeed, even basic perception is affected by categorization. For
example, studies have shown that people see racially ambiguous
faces as darker, and they trigger more negative implicit
association, if the faces are labeled racially black than white
(Levin & Banaji, 2006; Willadsen-Jensen & Ito, 2015). In
addition, prejudice can heighten this kind of bias. Markus
Kemmelmeier and Lysette Chavez (2014) found that white
Americans perceived Barack Obama’s face as darker if they
were relatively high in racism. Even young children show these
kinds of effects: Yarrow Dunham and others (2013) found that
children were more likely to categorize a racially ambiguous
face as black than white if it is expressing anger.
“In the 2010 census of the population of the United States, more than 21.7 million
Americans did not believe the government’s traditional categories of race fit them.”
— Yen (2012)
Each of us is a member of multiple social categories, but some
categorizations—particularly involving race, gender, and age—
are more likely to quickly dominate our perceptions than others
(Amodio et al., 2014; Kaul et al., 2014; Ito, 2011). The
distinctions between some of these social categories may be
seen as more rigid, even more biologically rooted, than they
actually are. Many people assume, for example, that there is a
clear genetic basis for classifying people by race. The fact is,
however, that numerous biologists, anthropologists, and
psychologists note that there is more genetic
variation within races than between them and emphasize that
race is more of a social conception than a genetic reality (Marks,
2011; Markus, 2008; Plaks et al., 2012). Indeed, how societies
make distinctions between races can change dramatically as a
function of historical contexts. For instance, it was fairly
common for Americans in the early part of the twentieth
century to consider Irish Americans as a racial group distinct
from whites, but today such thinking is quite rare. As people
today increasingly identify themselves in multiracial ways, or in
ways that defy the traditional binary distinction between men
and women, a greater recognition of the role of factors beyond
biology in social categorization becomes all the more relevant.
Along these lines, Diana Sanchez and others (2015) found that
after a brief interaction with a racially ambiguous other student,
white students became less likely to see race as a fixed,
biological entity, an effect that endured when the students’
attitudes were assessed again two weeks later.
Whether individuals think of various social categories as fixed
and biologically rooted or not can be important (Andreychik &
Gill, 2015; Cimpian & Salomon, 2014; D. Sanchez & Garcia,
2009). For example, Melissa Williams and Jennifer Eberhardt
(2008) found that people who tend to think of race as a stable,
biologically determined entity are less likely to interact with
racial outgroup members and are more likely to accept racial
inequalities than are people who see race as more socially
determined. Other research has found that biracial individuals
are more vulnerable to some effects of stereotypes if they think
of race as stable and biological (D. Sanchez & Garcia, 2009; Shih
et al., 2007).
“The percentage of babies classified by the U.S. Census as ‘multiracial’ has risen
from 1% in 1970 to 10% in 2013.”
—Pew Research Center, 2015b
Just as race is a blurrier category than many people realize, so
too are nationalities. A series of studies by Thierry Devos and
others demonstrated how various ethnic minority groups such
as Latino Americans, Asian Americans, and African Americans
are not seen as truly American, but some situational factors—
such as presenting individuals with examples of positive
stereotypic traits of one of these groups—can reduce this
tendency (Devos et al., 2010; Huynh et al., 2011; Rydell et al.,
2010). As immigration battles intensify throughout much of the
world, a variety of social, historical, economic, and political
factors all play a role in who is categorized as “foreign.”
Diana Sanchez and Julie Garcia (2012) reported a number of
ways in which racial categorization is also affected by people’s
social and economic status. For example, perceivers are more
likely to categorize others as racially black if they are of lower
socioeconomic status, if they are incarcerated, or if they are
unemployed. These same factors may have similar effects on
how people categorize themselves racially.
Ingroups Versus Outgroups
Although categorizing humans is much like categorizing objects,
there is a key difference. When it comes to social categorization,
perceivers themselves are members or nonmembers of the
categories they use. Groups that we identify with—our country,
religion, political party, even our hometown sports team—are
called ingroups, whereas groups other than our own are
called outgroups. We see people in fundamentally different
ways if we consider them to be part of our ingroup or as part of
an outgroup.
Whether people are likely to immediately categorize this person by her
race, gender, or occupation depends on a combination of cognitive,
cultural, and motivational factors.
Kris Timken/Blend Images/Corbis
One consequence is that we exaggerate the differences between
our ingroup and other outgroups, and this exaggeration of
differences helps to form and reinforce stereotypes. Another
consequence is a phenomenon known as the outgroup
homogeneity effect, whereby perceivers assume that there is a
greater similarity among members of outgroups than among
members of one’s own group. In other words, there may be
many and subtle differences among “us,” but “they” are all alike
(Linville & Jones, 1980). It is easy to think of real-life examples.
People from China, Korea, Taiwan, and Japan see themselves as
quite distinct from one another, of course, but to many
Westerners they are seen simply as Asian. English majors see
themselves as dissimilar to history majors, but science majors
often lump them together as “humanities types.” Californians
proclaim their tremendous cultural, ethnic, and economic
diversity, whereas outsiders talk of the “typical Californian.” To
people outside the group, outgroup members even lookalike:
People are less accurate in distinguishing and recognizing the
faces of members of racial outgroups than of ingroups (Horry et
al., 2015; McDonnell et al., 2014; Meissner et al., 2013).
Why do people tend to perceive outgroups as homogeneous?
One reason is that people tend to have less personal contact and
familiarity with individual members of outgroups. Indeed, the
more familiar people are with an outgroup, the less likely they
are to perceive it as homogeneous. Second, people often do not
encounter a representative sample of outgroup members. A
student from one school who encounters students from a rival
school only when they cruise into town for a Saturday football
game, screaming at the top of their lungs, sees only the most
avid rival fans acting in their most rowdy, competitive ways—
hardly a diverse lot.
Lack of familiarity and lack of diversity of experiences with
outgroup members are two reasons why “they all look alike,”
but there’s more to the story than that. Research using brain
imaging or cognitive methods has found that as soon as we
categorize an unfamiliar person as a member of our ingroup or
an outgroup, we immediately process information about them
differently at even the most basic levels. For example, student
participants in experiments by Kurt Hugenberg and Olivier
Corneille (2009) were exposed to unfamiliar faces of people
who were the same race as the participants. These faces were
categorized as ingroup members (from the same university as
the participants) or outgroup members (from a rival
university). The students processed faces more holistically (that
is, they integrated the features of the faces into a global
representation of the overall face) when they had been
categorized as being from their ingroup than they did when
they had been categorized as members of the outgroup. Jay Van
Bavel, William Cunningham, and their colleagues (2008;
2011; Van Bavel et al., 2014) have found related results in a
series of studies, revealing greater activation in particular areas
of perceivers’ brains, such as the fusiform face area and the
orbitofrontal cortex, upon exposure to unfamiliar faces labeled
as ingroup members than outgroup members (see Figure 5.9).
The effects of ingroup/outgroup labeling can even override the
effects of racial biases on these measures.
Figure 5.9The Neuroscience of Ingroups and Outgroups
Highlighted in color in these anatomical images of the brain are some
key brain regions associated with making ingroup/outgroup distinctions
and related intergroup evaluations. “OFC” is the orbitofrontal cortex, and
“mPFC” is the medial prefrontal cortex. Greater activity in the OFC, for
example, has been associated with stronger preference for ingroup
Based on Cikara & Van Bavel, 2014

Dehumanizing Outgroups
Perceivers may not only process outgroup faces more
superficially but also sometimes process them more like objects
and lower-order animals than like fellow humans.
Dehumanization has played a role in atrocities throughout
history, such as in the Nazi propaganda that characterized the
Jews in Germany as disease-spreading rats and blacks as halfapes. The continued presence of some of this kind of imagery in
contemporary life is chilling, as in the examples discussed in the
introduction of this chapter of black athletes in numerous
countries being taunted with monkey chants. When former rock
star Ted Nugent called Barack Obama “a chimpanzee” and “subhuman mongrel” in a 2014 interview (Haraldsson, 2014), this
marked only one of countless examples of white Americans
using such imagery to describe Obama.
These blatant examples are shockingly plentiful deep into the
second decade of the twenty-first century, but they are more the
exception than the rule. What may be much more common,
however, is how people often implicitly dehumanize members
of particular outgroups. Just as measures like the IAT are used
to capture implicit racism, similar measures have been used to
assess automatic, implicit dehumanization. Using these
techniques, researchers around the world have found strong
evidence for automatic dehumanization of various outgroups
(Haslam, 2015; Kteily et al., 2015). Studies have shown, for
example, that many individuals (even as young as 6 years old)
automatically but nonconsciously associate black men, people of
low socioeconomic status, and people from various countries
with animals such as apes, rats, and dogs (Costello & Hodson,
2014; Goff, Eberhardt et al., 2008; Loughnan et al., 2014; Wilde
et al., 2014). Indeed, this tendency may be so deeply rooted that
we can see it play out in the brain. Lasana Harris and others
have found that when people perceive or think about members
of particular stigmatized outgroups, their patterns of brain
activity suggest that they are responding to these outgroup
members more as they would to objects than to fully human
individuals who are capable of their own agency and mental
states (Harris & Fiske, 2011; Lee & Harris, 2014).
These implicit processes of dehumanization may be subtle, but
the consequences can be profound. Phillip Goff and his
colleagues (2014) found that police officers who more strongly
associated black men with apes were more likely to use force
against black children. Laurie Rudman and Kris Mescher (2012)
found that men who automatically associated women with
animals or objects showed stronger inclination to sexually
harass or rape women. Luca Andrighetto and others (2014)
found that Italian students who tended to associate Japanese
and Haitians in dehumanizing ways (as machines or animals,
respectively) were less willing than other students to help them
after natural disasters in Japan and Haiti.
Fundamental Motives Between Groups
The roots of dividing into ingroups and outgroups run quite
deep in our evolutionary history, as early humans’ survival
depended on forming relatively small groups of similar others. A
fundamental motive to protect one’s ingroup and be suspicious
of outgroups is therefore likely to have evolved. Consistent with
this idea are the results of experiments that demonstrate that
when people’s basic motivations of self-protection are
activated—such as in response to a threatening situation,
economic scarcity, a scary movie, concerns about the flu, or
even being in a completely dark room—people are more prone
to exhibit prejudice toward outgroups or to be especially
hesitant to see possible outgroup members as part of one’s
ingroup (Makhanova et al., 2015; Maner et al., 2012; Schaller &
Neuberg, 2012).
The flip side to the distrust of outgroups is the positive feelings
we have toward being part of an ingroup. The feeling of
connection and solidarity we have with our own groups
enhances our sense of control and meaning, and it is associated
with numerous psychological as well as physical health benefits
(Greenaway et al., 2015; Paéz et al., 2015). William Swann and
Michael Buhrmester (2015) use the term identity fusion to
describe the sense of “oneness” that people may feel with a
group. This feeling can motivate helpful behavior toward the
group, even at the risk of personal sacrifice. In general, when we
are feeling threatened or uncertain, we become especially
motivated to reaffirm our identification and closeness with an
ingroup, which can make us feel more safe and secure (Cikara &
Van Bavel, 2014; Hogg, 2014; Knapton et al., 2015).
From time to time our fundamental motivation for selfprotection and preservation runs smack into the ultimate
obstacle: thoughts about death and mortality. According
to Terror Management Theory, which was discussed in Chapter
3, people cope with the fear of their own death by constructing
worldviews that help preserve their self-esteem and important
values. According to this perspective, favoring ingroups over
outgroups is one important way that people preserve their
cultural worldviews and, by doing so, try to attain a kind of
immortality. This theory has been supported by numerous
studies that demonstrate that when individuals are made to
think about mortality—such as by presenting them with images
of cemeteries or making them think about decomposing
bodies—they become more likely to exhibit various ingroup
biases, including through stereotypes and prejudice toward a
variety of outgroups (Greenberg & Arndt, 2012; Greenberg et
al., 2009). Male students in an experiment by Russell Webster
and Donald Saucier (2011), for example, expressed significantly
more discrimination toward gay men if they had just written
about what they thought would happen to them when they die
than if they had written about the pain of going to the dentist.
Being reminded of one’s own mortality makes people put things into greater
perspective, thereby tending to reduce ingroup–outgroup distinctions and
Motives Concerning Intergroup Dominance and
Some people are especially motivated to preserve inequities
between groups of people in society. For example, people with
a social dominance orientation have a desire to see their
ingroups as dominant over other groups and tend to support
cultural values that contribute to the oppression of other
groups. Individuals with this orientation tend to endorse
sentiments such as “If certain groups stayed in their place, we
would have fewer problems” and to disagree with statements
such as “Group equality should be our ideal.” Research in
numerous countries throughout the world has found that
ingroup identification and outgroup derogation and
dehumanization can be especially strong among people with a
social dominance orientation (Kteily et al., 2015; Levin et al.,
2013; Prati et al., 2015; Pratto et al., 2013).
Social dominance orientations promote self-interest. But some
ideologies support a social structure that may actually oppose
one’s self-interest, depending on the status of one’s groups. John
Jost and his colleagues (Jost et al., 2015; van der Toorn et al.,
2015) have focused on what they call system justification
theory, which proposes that people are motivated (at least in
part) to defend and justify the existing social, political, and
economic conditions. System-justifying beliefs protect the status
quo. Groups with power, of course, may promote the status quo
to preserve their own advantaged position. But although some
disadvantaged groups might be able to improve their
circumstances if they were to challenge an economic or political
system, members of disadvantaged groups with a system
justification orientation think that the system is fair and just,
and they may admire and even show outgroup favoritism to
outgroups that thrive in this system.
Stereotype Content Model
According to the stereotype content model (Kervyn et al.,
2015; North & Fiske, 2014), many group stereotypes vary along
two dimensions: warmth and competence. Groups may be
considered high on both dimensions, low on both, or high on
one dimension but low on the other. For example, the elderly
may be stereotyped as high on warmth but low on competence.
The stereotype content model proposes that stereotypes about
the competence of a group are influenced by the
relative status of that group in society—higher relative status is
associated with higher competence. Stereotypes about the
warmth of a group are influenced by perceived competition with
the group—greater perceived competition is associated with
lower warmth. For example, groups that are of low status but
that remain compliant and do not try to upset the status quo are
likely to be stereotyped as low in competence but high in
warmth. On the ot …
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