Social Psychology of Prejudice
An individual cannot survive without the social relationships in the world. Social need is one of the basic needs of an individual. In these times the major areas of concern are the sensitive social issues like racism, reservation, minority rights, religious harmony, secularism etc. which should be understood from a psychological perspective to make appropriate changes. Social Psychology is a wide subject area which studies social perception, group behavior, nonverbal behavior, conformity, prejudice. It covers the various aspects of social interaction and other social influences to understand the social behavior. Attitudes and change in attitudes are the important research areas in social psychology as we all know attitude plays an important role in the individual’s healthy way of living. These elements define individual’s feelings, understandings, reactions and behavior in the context of their social surroundings. Prejudice, stereotypes, and discrimination are the important types of people’s behavior that exist in social groups. All of us have prejudices about members of groups (example students, colleagues, community etc.) different from ourselves. Social psychology is keen to study in this area to analyze the causal factors of these attitudes. Now, first of all, it is important to understand the meaning of this particular social attitude that is prejudice which is the prime concern area of this article. The word prejudice comes from the word pre-judge. We pre-judge when we have an opinion about a person because of a group to which that individual belongs. A prejudice has the following characteristics:
- It is based on real or imagined differences between groups.
- It attaches values to those differences in ways that benefit the dominant group at the expense of minorities.
It is generalized to all members of a target group. For example prejudice towards rural people by urban people, as these people are possessed by an orthodox mentality which can not be true for every second person, similarly rural people have a prejudice towards urban people that they don’t follow Indian Culture which of course can not be true for every second person. Therefore on the basis of these beliefs, people get indulged in the acquisition of attitudes towards the target group. For justification of above statements let’s focus on some fundamental ideas and studies in these areas. In one of the research done by Sherif and Sherif (1969) suggest that prejudices may frequently arise out of ordinary conflicts of interest between groups. This implies that prejudices are not developed since childhood due to being born in a particular family or group/community. In their studies of boys’ summer camp; they discovered that ordinary group competition for valued resources led to highly negative and stereotypical views of opposing groups and their individual members. People working together may feel equal in the beginning but distribution of labor and work unequally may make them biased towards some individuals which are getting higher privileges. They found that mere contact among opposing groups only intensified the hostility. Lack of conflict resolution among opposing groups leads to increased stereotypical attitudes and hostility. Hence, we should always work on our social interaction level as that will be helpful in the resolution of conflicts with the opposing group and will be helpful in maintenance of healthy social life.
On the other hand, social identity theory states that we categorize people into social groups and locate ourselves within a category. We then evaluate the value or worth of our social identities primarily by comparing our group with other groups. For example, a child born in a Brahmin family acquires a caste identity. Later when the child grows up, he\she tries to evaluate his/her caste on the basis of values and attitudes taught since childhood. The child develops prejudices due to such upbringing towards other lower castes of vaishya or shudra. The basic premise of social identity theory is that we are motivated to maintain a positively valued social identity and we may do so by creating or taking advantage of favorable comparisons with other groups. It will be difficult for the individual belonging to an upper caste to view people from other lower castes in equal light. The need to maintain a positive distinction between our own group and others can lead to behavior and attitudes that are biased in favor of our own group and against other groups. According to this perspective, prejudice, intergroup conflict, and stereotyping may arise simply from the struggle to attain or maintain a positive social identity. The person feels superior which gives a positive feeling of being in control of social matters.
The above findings suggest that prejudice can give lasting negative effect on individuals which is definitely not favorable for one’s healthy social and functional life. Therefore, we should, however, recognize that we are not acting fairly if we treat people differently because of these stereotypes and prejudices.Each one of us deserves to be considered a unique human being. It is important to become aware towards injustice, Prejudice, and discrimination, which have served as the precursors to persecution and violence. Social psychology, as seen above, helps us to illuminate about the psychological factors underlying these stereotypes. Through research-based evidence, we can educate the masses about the long harming effects of negative stereotypes and discriminations. For building a healthy society, field of social psychology can take us long distances which are yet to be known.
Ms. Dhanwanti Yadav