Prejudice, Stereotypes, and Discrimination

Prejudice, stereotypes, and discrimination are major concerns among our society today and influence the lives of many people in damaging ways. These are all biases that act together causing social inequality. The violence to certain groups in recent times has been the driving force behind the study of these biases.

Prejudice is an unjustifiable negative attitude toward an outgroup or the members of outgroups based on their group membership. Prejudice is an assumption about a group or individual without sufficient information to do so accurately. Prejudice can cause strong feelings of dislike, fear, discomfort, disgust, anger, or go as far as hatred. These types of emotional states can lead to violent behaviors such as hate crimes against those who are seen different according to societal origins. Prejudice usually affects someone due to their social class, gender, race, ethnicity, disability, age, religion, sexual orientation, or other personal traits such as being obese.

Stereotypes are the beliefs we have about the traits of specific groups or the group’s members. An example of a stereotype is to assume that a woman is nurturing because she is a female. Research has shown that people show a reduction in performance when they are stereotyped. Stereotypes lead to the misrepresentation of truth regarding an individual or a group. They cause individuals to focus on the information in conformity of the stereotype, rather than the information to disprove it. Stereotypes cause individuals to exaggerate the variances among groups. Stereotypes tend to promote prejudice and discrimination.

Discrimination is negative behavior toward an individual or specific group as a result of beliefs and feelings about that group. It is the unfair treatment or denial of rights without reasonable cause. Federal statutes prohibit discrimination based on age, sex, sexual preference, religion, race, national origin, and disability. However, this does not stop discrimination.

Ingroup favoritism is when a person demonstrates special behavior to members of their own group. A group you are associated with is referred to as your ingroup. A group you are not associated with is referred to as your outgroup. Ingroup favoritism also promotes prejudice and discrimination.

Social and cognitive origins of prejudice and stereotypes come from the way we cognitively process information, and how those processes cause generalizations about other people. The fact that those generalizations do not consider the individuality of the person can lead to these judgments. Social categorization is the process of grouping or classifying people into different groups. People are typically grouped according to classes based on common features members share in a category and distinct features which differentiate these members from those of other categories. Social categorization occurs mostly automatically and unconsciously. An example of social categorization is when we group a person by their sex, age, or race.

Ingroup favoritism and the outgroup homogeneity effect are also a social and cognitive origin of prejudice and stereotypes. Ingroup favoritism tendencies appear even when membership, assignment, or identification with a group is random or arbitrary. The outgroup homogeneity effect is the tendency to see members of outgroups as more similar to each other than we see members of ingroups.

Societal origins of prejudice and stereotypes come from societal norms, the competition for resources, and social inequalities. Societal norms are the beliefs about what is acceptable behavior among members of their society, and are shaped by the culture in which they live. Competition for resources is when groups who may be at odds with one another live among the same society and are in competition for the same resources. These resources might include economics, politics, religious affiliation, or to the safety of the group. Social inequality is demonstrated when resources are distributed unevenly based on social position or status. Of the categories presented, the one most significant in our society and in my particular community is ingroup favoritism.

Social categorization, social norms, and ingroup favoritism are a few influences that promote stereotyping. These cause people to view members of outgroups as being different from them. Strategies to reduce prejudice tend to occur when people or groups of people are at an equal status, share common goals, participate in intergroup cooperation, and supported by the larger social context such as government authority (Feenstra, 2013). The consequences of stereotyping and discrimination can have an adverse effect on the performance of the stereotyped group or individual. Studies have linked these biases to lasting negative effects for the individuals who encounter them such as feelings of shame, anger, obesity, the inability to focus, a hard time making rational decisions, and sadness. We are inadvertently creating self-fulfilling prophecies in our society by the way we think about, talk about, and treat groups outside of our ingroup. One way to improve attitudes, judgments, and behaviors is for individuals to speak up for those biases that occur within their ingroup.



Feenstra, J.  (2013).  Social psychology (2nd ed.) .  Bridgepoint Education, Inc.

Kemick, A. (2010, August 12). Stereotyping Has Lasting Negative Impact – Prejudice has lingering effects, study shows. Retrieved February 20, 2016, from

Stangor, C. (2012). Social Psychology Principles. Mountainview, CA: Creative Commons.






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