Prejudice, Discrimination & Personality Theory

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  • 0:04 Social Perception
  • 1:01 Implicit Personality Theories
  • 2:45 In-Group & Out-Group Biases
  • 4:29 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Why do people discriminate against others? What's up with stereotypes? In this lesson, we'll look at the way social perception affects the way we view others, including implicit personality theories and in-group/out-group biases.

Social Perception

Candy is fed up. She's pretty and blonde, and because of that, people assume that she's stupid. They discount what she says and treat her like a child. Her friend David is upset for a similar but different reason. He grew up in the projects and people often judge or say rude things to him because he was raised poor.

Social perception is the way we experience society around us. As the name suggests, social perception is how we perceive the people around us. Prejudice and discrimination, whether it's because of the color of one's skin, their gender, their socio-economic status, or because they have blonde hair, is tied to the social perception of the biased individual. For example, when someone treats Candy like she's stupid, that's linked to the way they perceive people with blonde hair. In other words, their social perception is driving their prejudice.

To help Candy and David understand social perception and prejudice, let's look at implicit personality theories and in-group/out-group biases.

Implicit Personality Theories

Whenever Candy encounters someone who thinks she's stupid just because she's blonde, she's running up against their beliefs about blondes. Implicit personality theories are assumptions about the way that traits and behaviors are linked. For example, someone might hold an implicit theory that being blonde is linked to being stupid.

Implicit personality theories are often about making assumptions about non-observable traits, or elements of a person we can't see, based on observable traits, or elements of a person we can see. Intelligence is non-observable; you can't know how smart a person is just by looking at them. Hair color is observable; you can see if a person has blonde hair when you look at them. So the prejudice Candy is running up against involves people making assumptions about the non-observable trait of intelligence based on the observable trait of hair color.

Most of the time, people's implicit personality theories are subconscious; the person holding the belief might not even realize that he or she is making assumptions. Take David's situation. He regularly runs into people who assume that people who live in the projects are lazy and stupid. They are often surprised that he's both hardworking and smart and, for that matter, that so are his parents. They don't even realize that their belief about people from a low socioeconomic status is an assumption.

Stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination can all come from implicit personality theories. Whenever people make assumptions about others' non-observable traits based on observable traits, they're likely to end up with a stereotype. When a stereotype causes a negative perception of someone's character, it's prejudice, and when the person acts against someone because of prejudice, it's discrimination. All of these things are linked.

In-Group & Out-Group Biases

Implicit personality theories aren't the only way that social perception impacts prejudice, though. Everyone is a member of an in-group, or a crowd of people they belong to and associate with. Most people are members of many in-groups. Take Candy: she's a woman, middle class, and a fan of science fiction. These are all examples of in-groups that she belongs to.

In contrast, an out-group is a group that a person doesn't belong to and/or associate with. For example, David isn't a woman, he doesn't like foreign language films, and he isn't rich. These are all out-groups to him and in-groups to someone else.

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