Reducing Prejudice: Techniques in Social Psychology

Instructor: Sunday Moulton

Sunday earned a PhD in Anthropology and has taught college courses in Anthropology, English, and high school ACT/SAT Prep.

There are several different categories of social psychology techniques used to reduce prejudice attitudes in individuals and among groups. This lesson will include techniques addressing inter-group familiarity, identity, affect, and thought.

Prejudice in Society

Sometimes it feels like prejudice is everywhere, regardless of the groups involved, the degree of conflict, and the openness or secretiveness of prejudiced beliefs and actions. Too often, we may hear others agree to the problem but say there's nothing that can be done to change it.

Fortunately, they are misinformed. Years of research and experimentation by social psychologists have produced a number of approaches to reduce intergroup conflict and diminish or negate individual bias.

Let's take a look at a number of these techniques that we can apply to school, workplace, community, and the world.

How can we reduce prejudice and encourage respect and acceptance?

Contact and Cooperation

Contact and cooperation approaches stem from the work of Gordon Allport in the 1950s. He advanced the contact hypothesis, that interaction between members of conflicting groups reduces the prevalence and intensity of prejudiced beliefs and actions. The idea is that time spent between groups breaks down the divide between ''us'' and ''them'' through positive contact and familiarity with individuals instead of stereotyping groups.

Later social psychologists increased the intensity of the contact by adding elements requiring interdependence between members of different groups. The following techniques all build on these early experiments and related research.

  • Contact approach: a group-based technique that increases contact between members of conflicting groups in a positive environment.

Social psychologists testified before Congress regarding the contact approach, which helped end segregation.
desegregation of schools

  • Cooperative learning: teaches different parts of a lesson or process to different groups, then requires them to teach each other.
  • Competitive cooperation: breaks up groups to form diverse teams. People from the different groups must work together to win against the other teams.

Identity and Categorization

The following identity and categorization approaches work to weaken the degree of difference people perceive between groups, whether based on gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or some other division.

  • Decategorization: combats stereotyping by focusing on individuals rather than the group as a whole. This breaks apart the categories, leaving just people.
  • Recategorization: rather than trying to dissolve group identities, this method helps people realize that both of their groups are part of a larger group, uniting them while respecting and even celebrating difference.
  • Crossed-categorization: reduces prejudice by helping individuals of conflicting groups to identify an unrelated group affiliation they may share.

Feelings and Affect

The following techniques all work to decrease prejudice through emotional methods.

  • Perspective asking: uses role-playing to help members of one group act out and argue the perspective of a conflicting group. In doing so, they gain a sense of understanding and even allegiance with that group.
  • Empathy: asks someone to imagine their life as if they were part of the other group.

An empathetic approach could be imagining if you lived during segregation as an African American.

Cognitive Approaches

Cognitive approaches involve changing the way people think. This can involve thought suppression, retraining, creation of internal conflict, or social discomfort. A former approach was suppression, which research has shown fails to reduce undesirable attitudes but actually can increase them. It seems that denying something makes it fester like an infected wound.

  • Reconditioning: educates people on the incorrect information in their bias and uses classical conditional to reward more understanding behavior and reactions.
  • Norms: showing someone that their prejudiced attitudes are actually abnormal among their peer group. The wish to belong links negative reactions with prejudice.
  • Accountability: after being scolded for prejudice, a person expresses fewer prejudice thoughts and behaviors and even engages in more inclusive or tolerant behavior. They may not show positive feelings toward the person who called them out though.

Calling out prejudiced behavior can reduce prejudiced attitudes.

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