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Chapter 2

PSYC12H3 Chapter Notes - Chapter 2: Floyd Henry Allport, Institutionalized Discrimination, Psychological Bulletin

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Nick Hobson

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Chapter 2
Historical Overview
The social scientific study of prejudice and discrimination began only recently
Both prejudice and discrimination can be seen as uniquely twentieth-century concepts, becoming
prominent in the social sciences only in the 1920s
o Prior to this, prejudice was typically viewed not as a social problem or a scientific construct;
instead negative intergroup attitudes were generally seen as natural and inevitable responses to
group differences
Shift to Prejudice Studies
The theory of the authoritarian personality --> dominated the 1950s, did have important methodological
problems, and 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
Historical events and circumstances can have more profound effects on thinking about prejudice than
merely shifting interest to new research topics
Fairchild and Gurin (1978) have suggested that the topics psychologists chose for study reflected events
that were of local or national importance at the time, but this seems too limited. Historical events and
circumstances can have more profound effects on thinking about prejudice than merely shifting interest
to new research topics. Important historical circumstances may make fundamentally new and different
questions about the nature of prejudice salient, while obscuring others.
During the nineteenth 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
White race was useful in justifying the subjugation of people of color. These historical circumstances
generated an interest among scientists in delineating and explaining the inferiorities of ‘backward’ races.
As a result ‘race theories’ dominated social scientific thinking about racial differences, and explained
Black ‘inferiority’ in terms of evolutionary backwardness, limited intellectual capacity, and even excess
sexual drive
In 1925 an influential paper by Thomas Garth in the Psychological Bulletin reviewed 73 studies on the
issue of race and intelligence, which he concluded seemed to indicate the mental superiority of the
White race. These attitudes had their logical social policy expressions in segregation, exclusion, and
institutionalized discrimination against these ‘backward’ peoples
If other races were not inferior, how could their deprivations and stigmatization be explained?
According to Milner (1975), Floyd Allport in 1924 was the first social psychologist to explicitly pose this
issue with the statement: ‘The discrepancy in mental ability is not great enough to account for the
problem, which centers around the American Negro or to explain fully the ostracism to which he is
In order to answer this question, 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.
This resulted in the emergence of the concept of prejudice as a basically unjustified, irrational, or, in
some way faulty, negative intergroup attitude.
During the 1930s social scientists began to research how prejudice should be explained
Research soon revealed that White racism was both widespread and highly resistant to change
If racism was a fundamentally irrational and unjustified response, how could its pervasiveness and
tenacity be explained?
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