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The Structure Of Intergroup Attitudes

Given that prejudice is conceptualized as a negative intergroup attitude, the issue of the structure and dimensionality of these negative intergroup attitudes arises. Social psychologists have distinguished three distinct components of prejudice or ways in which negative intergroup attitudes can be expressed or manifested. These are in the form of negative stereotypes (cognitive component) of the target group, negative feelings (affective component) toward the target group, and negative behavioral inclinations (behavioral component) toward the target group. Each of these components of negative intergroup attitudes will be briefly considered below.

Stereotypes and prejudice.

Contemporary social scientists typically define stereotypes as beliefs about the personal characteristics of a group or category of people. In contrast to traditional approaches that saw stereotypes as necessarily incorrect, irrational, rigid, or faulty in some way, stereotypes in the early twenty-first century are seen as arising out of normal and adaptive cognitive processes, such as categorization, which function to reduce the complexity of social information processing. An important conclusion from research within this new approach has been that stereotypes function as generalized expectancies about social categories or groups, which bias the perception of and behavior toward individual members of those groups so as to maintain the stereotype and generate behavioral confirmation of it.

Stereotyping per se, however, does not necessarily involve prejudice. Out-group stereotypes can be evaluatively positive, neutral, or negative. Only evaluatively negative stereotypes are usually viewed as expressive of prejudiced attitudes. But how important are negative stereotypes as an expression of prejudice?

It has been widely assumed that negative stereotypes should be strongly associated with other expressions of prejudice, such as negative feelings or affect toward the target group or discriminatory behavior toward and behavioral avoidance of the target group. The evidence, however, does not seem to support this. John Brigham's review of research on stereotyping concluded that negative stereotypes and prejudice were only weakly and inconsistently related. Later research has come to similar conclusions. A meta-analysis of thirty hypothesis tests from twelve different studies indicated that American whites' evaluative stereotypes of blacks correlated positively but only weakly with whites' overall racial attitudes and very weakly with indices of discriminatory behavior toward blacks (Dovidio et al.). These findings suggest therefore that negative stereotypes may not be as important a component of prejudice as has been frequently assumed.

Intergroup affect and prejudice.

Although psychologists had originally believed that negative affect or feelings of dislike for out-groups were the central core of prejudice, in the 1970s their emphasis began to shift toward cognitive aspects of prejudice, such as categorization and stereotyping. However, during the 1990s several influential commentaries suggested a possible shift back to an emphasis on affect as central to intergroup attitudes, behavior, and relations. For example, Susan Fiske has suggested that prejudice should be conceptualized specifically as negative intergroup affect. Eliot R. Smith has also proposed a theory suggesting that when group identity is salient, the way in which people appraise intergroup contexts or relationships generates particular feelings about out-groups, and it is these "social emotions" that constitute prejudice and determine intergroup behavior.

Research has also suggested that affect toward out-groups may be the most critical component of prejudiced attitudes. Charles Stangor et al. found that affective responses to national, ethnic, and religious groups were clearly better predictors of general favorability toward and social distance from these groups than the stereotypes held about those groups. The aforementioned meta-analysis by John Dovidio et al. found that affective prejudice toward blacks correlated more strongly with discriminatory behavior toward blacks than did the stereotypes of blacks. Empirical research therefore seems to support those, such as Smith and Fiske, who have argued that the feeling or affective component of prejudice is its most central and critical aspect.

Behavioral expressions of prejudice: Social distance, discrimination, and violence.

While social psychologists have primarily studied the cognitive, perceptual, and affective aspects of prejudice, sociologists have devoted more attention to its behavioral expressions, in the form of peoples' intentions and dispositions to behave negatively to out-group members. The most studied behavioral expressions of prejudice have probably been social distance preferences (behavioral avoidance) and discriminatory behavior. Interestingly, intentional acts of serious violence against individuals because of their group or category membership, or "hate crimes," have been much less studied.

Social distance is typically measured using variants of a questionnaire originally developed by Emory Bogardus in 1925, which asked about people's willingness to have personal contact of varying degrees of intimacy ("close kinship by marriage," "in my street as neighbors," "employment in my occupation," "citizenship in my country") with members of particular ethnic groups. An important finding from social-distance research has been of the relatively consensual or normative nature of prejudice within societies. Numerous studies have documented a hierarchy of social-distance preferences in the United States that is widely accepted and has remained remarkably stable over much of the twentieth century. At the top of this hierarchy are fair-skinned North European peoples, followed by East and South Europeans, then Asian peoples, and finally African peoples at the bottom. Even low-ranking minorities accept the hierarchy, except for their own group, which they rank high.

Louk Hagendoorn's comparative research on the social-distance hierarchies within a number of West and East European societies confirmed that these hierarchies are highly consensual within social groups. They also tend to be consensual across groups within particular societies, except when there are sharp ideological or cultural cleavages within the society, in which case the conflicting groups might disagree on the hierarchy. This was the case, for example, for Islamic versus non-Islamic groups in several countries from the former Soviet Union.

The existence of pervasive discrimination against groups that are the targets of prejudice has been extensively documented. For example, Thomas F. Pettigrew has reviewed the substantial body of research on high levels of prejudice against and discrimination toward the new immigrant minorities of western Europe. Numerous studies have shown the existence of pervasive discrimination against blacks in the United States, despite apparent declines in overt prejudice.

It is interesting that at the group level there seems to be a strong tendency for those groups who are negatively stereotyped and the targets of prejudiced affect to be most discriminated against. This contrasts with the weak relationship obtained between discriminatory behavior and negative stereotypes and the moderate one between discriminatory behavior and intergroup affect at the individual difference level.

Aggression and violence toward out-group members constitute more extreme behavioral expressions of prejudice. Numerous studies have documented the long history of violence against blacks in the United States, and Pettigrew has described the late-twentieth-century and early twenty-first-century up-surge in anti-immigrant violence in western Europe. Much attention has therefore focused on the conditions that lead to prejudice being expressed in violence. Early findings suggesting a correlation between lynching of blacks in the American South and economic hardship have not been supported by subsequent reanalyses and new data. Nor has clear evidence emerged of a relationship between unemployment and hate crimes. Instead, ecological studies have suggested that xenophobic reactions might be particularly likely in situations where "established groups confront outsiders whose growing numbers and social practices challenge the preexisting hierarchy in which they occupied a favorable position" (Green et al., p. 430).

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Positive Number to Propaganda - World War IiPrejudice - Prejudice: Social Problem, Or Problem Concept, The Structure Of Intergroup Attitudes, The Varieties Of Prejudice