Essay // Psychological Explanations of Prejudice & Discrimination


Prejudice and discrimination are usually classified as behavioural attitudes towards a certain group or individual based on a multitude of reasons [according to different psychological theories]. The main reasons for prejudice are believed to be rooted in individual psychological processes related to groups, social influence and/or upbringing.

Authoritarian Personality

One plausible explanation for prejudice is the authoritarian personality, which suggests that those belonging in the category are concerned with status and upholding conventions, are very conformist and tend to be obsequious to those they see as holding a higher status – while treating those ‘below’ with contemp. Authoritarian personality is believed to be the result of strict and punitive upbringing which later leads to hostility being directed towards disliked [justified or unjustified] groups through the process of “displacement”. Adorno et al (1950) found strong and positive correlations between respondents’ scores on the F-Scale and scores on other measures intended to assess anti-semitism (AS scale) and ethnocentrism (E scale). However, the PEC-scale (Political and economic conservatism) was not strongly related, which only led to the conclusion of how people who are anti-Semitic are also “likely” to be hostile towards most “out-groups”.

The Adorno et al (1950) test only consisted of agreement that could only be geared towards anti-Semitism, ethnocentrism and fascism, which might have led to the problem of acquiescent response. The fact that the interviewer knew the interviewee’s F-score might have also led to experimenter bias; and the theory also falls short in the explanation of mass changes in behaviour: “Antisemitism in Nazi Germany grew during a decade or so, which is much too short a time for a whole generation of German families to have adopted new forms of childrearing practices giving rise to authoritarian and prejudiced children (Brown, 1988)” [not plausible]. The reality is that anti-Semitism may have been the result of a more sinister social and economic problem caused, inflicted by or related to the jews powerful Zionist business associations on the German economy at a time where the country was suffering [people, culture, identity, economy…].


Another form of prejudice: stereotyping; which plays a major part in the process of intercultural prejudice where the root of its cause has proven to be fairly ambiguous in explanation. Cultural groups [usually] tend to stereotype each other negatively (out-group); and it is believed that this process is the result of minimising mental effort.

Stereotyping is linked to psychological processes within the individual and is assumed to be connected to social influence that leads to prejudice; where out-groups and there members are defined by single characteristics (negative usually). Stereotyping can unfortunately play a devastating role in the legitimation of prejudiced and discriminatory treatment of other individuals who simply [consciously or unconsciously] made the choice to live by different modes of group-oriented behaviour (culture).

Rational reasoning and the humane ability to understand each group’s choices while also respecting each group’s boundaries [geographical, social, economic, psychosocial, etc] are surprisingly never considered by individuals and authorities in the quest to correct the mistakes of a world designed on outdated ideologies [e.g. the scientifically poor logic of cultural Marxism] to design a new one based on creative scientific reasoning, evolutionary logic & progressive innovation.

Prejudice as an Illusionary Cure to Low Self-Esteem/Insecurity

The Social Learning Theory, on the other hand, assumes prejudice as the result of maintaining self-esteem of both the individual and the in-group (individuals with the same behavioural patterns as the individual/tribe) members – where one tends to be biased towards glorifying the group whilst also paying particular attention to criteria that make the group look better. This is related to our sense of identity being determined by the groups we belong to and thus tend to be biased towards favouring them. Tajfel et al (1982) showed how schoolboys chose the strategy to allocate more points to their own group at the expense of getting least overall – showing bias in the absence of competition. The two main problems however are the fact that [1] the tendency for favouritism might be group-oriented and not universal (Wetherall, 1982), and also how [2] most studies show bias towards in-group (which could not only be prejudice but stereotyping or other influences).

Unrealistic Conflict? Competition for the same Resource(s) while presuming in-group members to be “unconditional benefactors”

Finally, the realistic conflict theory suggests that prejudice arises when two or more groups compete for the same resource which in turn leads to a tendency to favour in-group members, while being hostile and denying resources to out-groups. This was proven in Sherif et al (1961) where the artificially stimulated competitive conflict lead to negative stereotyping towards out-group which persisted even after the competition. However, the validity was questioned over the artificiality of the situation and the samples (US American boys only?); as Tyerman & Spencer also showed how competition does not always cause prejudice – where UK scouts co-operated instead. Furthermore, individuals with different upbringing and philosophical orientations had not been considered, which in turn affects the ecological validity of the finding where inferences from generalisation would likely lack precision – with a world in constant social evolution with more psychological research being constantly published to guide society towards a more harmonious design.



Together, the theories seem to offer a plausible explanation for prejudice but cannot be ranked; as they compensate each other’s weak points. A sensible application of each theory – depending on the situation – seems like the rational method forward, since factors such as group-based behavioural patterns (culture), climate and norms remain vital considerations when researching about prejudice, its causes & a more direct approach to solutions.

Furthermore, the world has made such leap socially with the technological era, and people have been inclined towards knowledge, discoveries and innovation with social media contributing towards a more educated humanity [with its cultural barriers and linguistic differences as the main organising factors along with belief systems – e.g. religion, ethics, philosophy, etc – in each groups identity].

A new and strong global inclination towards a realistic synchronised unity [where the world’s population can live harmoniously in their own geographical location with their chosen units, laws and lifestyle, may shape intellectual thought in the decades to come now that the experience learnt from psychosocial disasters due to badly managed population shifts [turned out to be destructive to the safety of Western nations] can be considered in future policies.

The Climate Collapse disaster has also made Civilization aware of the importance of “synchronised unity” in matters of global human advancement – research surrounding prejudice and  discrimination would likely benefit the human world more if applied in intra-group scenarios – should the world’s population be managed and geographically engineered according to evolutionary logic [to fit their respective psychosocial & biological environments to further refine group evolution and guide society towards a harmonious pattern of living] for each group by their respective identities, collective beliefs, values & vision.



Boakes. R (1984) From Darwin to behaviourism: Psychology and the minds of animals. Cambridge University Press

Cohen D. (1979) J.B Watson: The Founder of Behaviourism. London, Boston and Henley

Gross. R (2005) Psychology: the science of mind and behaviour. London, Hodder and Stoughton Educational

Updated: 02.07.2016 | Danny J. D’Purb |


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