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Chapter 2

PSYC12H3 Chapter 2: Chapter 2


Department
Psychology
Course Code
PSYC12H3
Professor
Nick Hobson
Chapter
2

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Chapter 2 Historical overview
HISTORICAL OVERVIEW
- Both prejudice and discrimination can be seen as uniquely twentieth-century concepts, becoming
prominent in the social sciences only in the 1920s.
- Before, prejudice was viewed not as a social problem or a scientific construct; instead negative intergroup
attitudes were seen as natural and inevitable responses to group differences.
- It is suggested that each conceptualization of prejudice derived logically from a way of explaining
prejudice, which in turn implied social policies, forming distinct paradigms of prejudice that dominated
different historical periods
o The theory of the authoritarian personality could not easily explain prejudice at the group or
societal level, while the socio-cultural approach, which succeeded it in the 1960s and 1970s could
explain group differences in prejudice.
- The cognitive perspective could account for intergroup bias, stereotyping, and competition in minimal
group situations where socio-cultural or personality factors didn’t operate.
- These shifts in emphasis don’t seem to be fully explained in terms of evolution of knowledge.
- Older perspectives and theories were not refuted, or even shown to be seriously inadequate.
o Fundamental shifts of interest away from issues concerning the causes of prejudice to new or
different ones, which require different theories and perspectives.
- Historical events and circumstances can have more profound effects on thinking about prejudice than
merely shifting interest to new research topics.
- New conceptual and explanatory paradigms powerfully influence the research issues investigated, and the
kind of social policy interventions favored.
o It is suggested that at least eight distinct periods in the way in which prejudice has been
understood by psychologists may be identified.
UP TO THE 1920S: RACE PSYCHOLOGY
- During the 19th century virtually all scientific thought in both America and Europe accepted the idea of
race inferiority, and the concept of White racial prejudice was not an issue
- There was an obvious connection between these attitudes and European colonialism and American
slavery or segregation.
o As Fairchild and Gurin (1978) pointed out, the idea of the superiority of the White race was
useful in justifying the subjugation of people of color.
- ‘race theories’ in social scientific thinking about racial differences explained Black ‘inferiority’ in terms of
evolutionary backwardness, limited intellectual capacity, and excess sexual drive
- Thomas Garth in the Psychological Bulletin after reviewing 73 studies concluded seemed to indicate the
mental superiority of the White race.
THE 1920S: RACE PREJUDICE
- This change in the 1920s seems more feasibly interpreted as a response to two important historical
developments after the First World War
o These were the emergence of a Black civil rights movement in the United States and movements
challenging White European domination of colonial peoples, both of which gained sympathy
among intellectuals and social scientists.
- The restriction of immigration in the early 1920s may have shifted attention from justifying the exclusion
of certain peoples to conflict resolution within the country.
o The period was also characterized by an influx of ‘ethnics’, particularly Jewish people, into the
profession of psychology,

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o a leftward shift among psychologists during the Depression,
o and a desire to unite the country against an enemy proclaiming racial superiority.
Overall, these historical developments influenced a rapid shift among social scientists
away from beliefs of White racial superiority and the inferiority of other races.
Psychologists shifted their attention to White racial attitudes.
- With the belief in racial equality came the idea that negative White racial attitudes were unjustified and
unfair = emergence of the concept of prejudice as a basically unjustified, irrational, or, in some way
faulty, negative intergroup attitude.
- Initially research focused on measuring racial prejudice and delineating its extent.
o Bogardus published his research on the social distance scale in 1925, and in the next decade
literally hundreds of studies were reported describing social distance patterns.
o Katz and Braly’s (1933) stereotype checklist had a similar impact, followed by the use of
Thurstone and later Likert scaling to measure interracial attitudes.
o The major social policy implication of the ‘discovery’ of prejudice as a profoundly irrational, and
unjust group attitude held by Whites seems to have been the optimistic assumption that as social
scientists identified and documented the problem, knowledge and rationality would gradually
banish the injustice of prejudice.
THE 1930S AND 1940S: PSYCHODYNAMIC PROCESSES
- Psychodynamic theory explains prejudice through universal psychological processes such as defense
mechanisms.
- These processes operated unconsciously, channeling tensions arising either within the personality or from
environmental frustrations and threats into prejudice against minorities.
- The universality of these processes accounted for the ubiquity of prejudice, and their unconscious
defensive function for its irrationality and rigidity.
- A variety of psychodynamic processes were implicated, such as projection, scapegoating, repressed
frustration, and displaced hostility.
o displaced aggression, originating from chronic social frustrations, directed against minorities as
scapegoats
- Because psychodynamic processes such as displacement and scapegoating were inherently human, they
could not be changed easily.
- Thus, as culturally different and disadvantaged minorities became more similar to the majority, prejudice
and discrimination against them would gradually disappear.
- The dominant social policy approach of this era was that of assimilation or the ‘melting pot’.
THE 1950S: THE PREJUDICED PERSONALITY
- Instead of explaining prejudice in terms of universal intrapsychic processes, the new paradigm viewed
prejudice in terms of personality structures that conditioned the adoption of right-wing political
ideologies and prejudiced attitudes.
- Prejudice was therefore seen as the expression of an inner need that was characteristic of a kind of
disturbed personality.
- The crucial social scientific question became that of identifying and describing the personality structures
and characteristics making individuals likely to adopt authoritarian ideologies and prone to prejudice and
ethnocentrism.
o Theory of the authoritarian personality
a personality dimension determining the degree to which individuals would be prone to
adopt right-wing ideologies and prejudiced attitudes.
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Formed by harsh, punitive parenting within authoritarian families, in turn reinforced by
repressive, authoritarian socio-political milieus and ideologies.
- Rokeach’s dogmatism
o The dominant paradigm during this period was therefore not psychodynamic per se, but an
individual differences orientation to the explanation of prejudice.
- Social progress (winning the world war) would result in the defeat of authoritarianism in all its forms and
its replacement by liberal and democratic values and government.
- This would be associated with the progressive growth of political and racial tolerance.
THE 1960S AND 1970S: CULTURE AND SOCIETY
- At the end of the 1950s the emphasis in explaining prejudice moved away from individual psychological
factors to social and cultural influences
- Decline of interest in psychological explanations of prejudice in favor of more sociological ones.
- It has been suggested that two distinct phases can be distinguished within this period
o These seem to represent different responses to the distinctive historical contexts and
explanatory problems of American race relations, first in the 1960s, when the emphasis was on
normative influence, and then in the 1970s, when the emphasis shifted to intergroup conflicts
of interest.
- The dominant image of prejudice was that of a norm embedded in the social environment, which
suggested that prejudice might be substantially explained in terms of socialization in, and conformity to,
traditional norms and institutionalized patterns of interracial behavior and segregation
- This normative approach to prejudice tended to suggest a basically optimistic view of the future of race
relations.
- There tended to be a widespread assumption that the ‘problem’ South could become like the ‘liberal’
North by legally abolishing segregation, discrimination, and institutionalized barriers to contact, and
desegregating schools and workplaces and that these measures in themselves would be sufficient to
erode and ultimately eliminate racism.
o ‘consensus model’ of race relations, which took racial integration as its primary goal and largely
ignored issues of conflict, power, inequality and dominance relations.
- Racism and discrimination were far more deeply rooted in American society.
o Socially shared and normative patterns of prejudice and discrimination could no longer be
viewed as just cultural and institutional traditions characteristic of the South.
- As the institutionalized segregation and old-fashioned racism of the South disappeared, it seemed to be
replaced by informal discrimination and segregation, and the subtle ‘modern’ racism of the North.
o The paradigm that emerged saw racism and discrimination as being rooted in the power relations
between Whites and Blacks in American society.
- How do we identifying and explaining the intergroup conflicts of interest and structural power relations
that maintained racism and discrimination in America.
o Factors such as internal colonialism, a split labor market, institutionalized racism, and the socio-
economic advantages for Whites of maintaining a stable Black underclass
- The new paradigm of the 1970s therefore viewed racial prejudice as expressing the interests of the
dominant White group, which were served by the maintenance of racial inequality and keeping Blacks as a
disadvantaged, powerless, and impoverished underclass.
- White American racism was seen as a direct expression of elite group self-interest and the desire to
maintain historic privilege
- With this shift in the dominant understanding of racial prejudice in America came a shift in the social
policies favored to reduce prejudice.
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