How attitudes and stereotypes develop

Attitudes usually develop from our own thoughts, beliefs, our actions and others actions about a group or the individual, which may be positive or negative. This may be how we promote our own wellbeing to make us feel good about ourselves. The structural approach to understanding attitudes can be broken down into three components:

Cognitive – which is to do with our thoughts

Affective – which is to do with our feelings or emotions

Behavioural – which is to do with our behaviour

This approach to understanding attitudes states that attitudes are an evaluation of an object that we hold an attitude about. (Katz, cited in Pennington D, McLoughlin J 2008:194).

Stereotypes can be placed into two sections; Individual stereotypes are attitudes towards individual people. These can be based on such things as what they wear, where they live, gender or sexuality. Group stereotypes are attitudes towards people who are members of in/out groups. These attitudes probably develop from early childhood taking beliefs and prejudices from parents, siblings, peers and other people close to them.

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“Stereotypes are highly simplified descriptions of a set of characteristics believed to be typical of members of a group. Stereotypes are unfair and misleading because they fail to take account of the uniqueness of each person” (Pennington D, McLoughlin J 2008:201).

Stereotypes can be formed before social interaction takes place. This could be what a person has been told or even read about a person or group and their impression could be formed inaccurately.

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Concepts in social perception.

There have been many studies into the concept of social perception. Asch (1946) carried out research on impression formation. He argued that people who formed impressions of someone else use something called ‘implicit personality theory’. (Eysenck,W 2002:236). This is where people have the tendency to assume that someone who has a specific personality trait will tend to have other related traits.

One study by Asch was to discover whether the order of information given about a person influenced the impression formed of the person. The order of which the information was presented may have an influence on the impression informed. This is called the primacy and recency effect. The primacy effect is where people will form favourable impressions based on the positive information about a person being given first rather than the negative information. The recency effect tends to occur more when there has been a time delay between the two sets of information given as shown in the study by Luchins (1957). The recency effect is where people will form impressions based on the last information given. Both have been shown operate in the process of impression formation.

Central traits are another concept in social perception. According to Asch’s configural model, central traits can have a strong and disproportionate influence over a person’s impression of someone. Peripheral traits have little or no influence on the formations of impressions. Hogg M, Vaughan G, (2005:44).

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Social schemas are another concept where people have a mental representation about themselves, others and common and social situations based on previous experience. Self schema is cognitions about yourself, person schema is expectations about people, role schemas is behaviours expected in social situations and event schemas is a sequence of events in familiar situations.

Theories of prejudice and discrimination. (Dunn 5)

Extreme attitudes and stereotypes are known as prejudice and will often lead to discrimination.

“Prejudice is an unjustified or incorrect negative (or positive) attitude towards an individual, based solely on the individual’s membership of a group. Discrimination is the behaviour or actions, negative and positive, towards an individual or a group of people.”

(Pennington D, McLoughlin J 2008:200).

Some psychologists have theorised that prejudices can be formed both genetically and can be environmentally determined. Prejudices are linked to ego-defence and this leads to scape-goating. This theory is derived from Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytical theory.

One theory is the ‘frustration- aggression’ hypothesis. Dollard et al. (1939) argued that aggression against individuals or groups could be caused by frustration. Frustration causes aggression and aggression causes frustration. Freud argued that if the group or cause of frustration was to powerful the individual may not be able to take his aggression out on the cause and called it ‘displacement’.

Another theory is the ‘Social Identity Theory’, otherwise known as ‘SIT’, which emphasises the role of both cognitive and motivational factors in the development of prejudice. Tajfel and Turner (1986). Tajfel (1970), conducted an experiment to show that random assignment to a group would be sufficient to result in prejudice between an in-group and an out-group. This maintains that individuals naturally strive for positive

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self-image, and social identity is enhanced by categorising people into in-groups and out-groups or ‘us’ and ‘them’. Social identity theory states that an in-group will be prejudiced, and as a result, will discriminate against an out-group. Firstly we categorise objects in order to identify and understand them. Secondly we use social identification to adopt the identity of the group we have categorised ourselves as belonging to. The final part is social comparison where we will compare the group we are in to the other group.

The authoritarian personality theory (Ardorno 1950) argues that this type of personality is more prone to prejudice beliefs. Ardorno believed that this personality develops in children who have a hard, strict upbringing and are overly disciplined. This brings a deep repression of anger towards their parents. They willingly obey authority but the repression is directed towards minority groups and people in lower positions. He produced questionnaires such as the F-Scale (fascism scale) and the E-scale (ethnocentrism scale) to support his theory. Ethnocentrism is the tendency to believe that one’s ethnic or cultural group is centrally important, and that all other groups are measured to one’s own.

The realistic conflict theory Sherif (1966), takes a very different approach to Adorno’s. This states that when there is competition between groups for limited resources, prejudice and conflict may arise. This is because members of the groups will have increasingly negative and prejudiced feelings against members of the other groups and

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would regard themselves as superior to the others. This was shown in Sherif’s ‘Robbers Cave’ experiments;

“The experiment focused heavily on the concept of a ‘group’ and what a perception of belonging to a group can actually do to the relationships of members within it and their relationships with people outside their group.

The same experiment also tried to observe conflicts or ‘friction’ between two groups and the process of cooperation or ‘integration’ of two previously conflicting groups.”

(Castillo J, 2010).

Evaluate the theories and methodology. (Dunn 8)

The frustration-aggression hypothesis was argued by Dollard (1939). He believed that aggression which originated from frustration is often displaced against an inferior or minority. It may be true that frustration is one of the causes of aggression and prejudice but frustration does not always lead to aggression and aggression is not always caused by frustration.

Berkowitz (1989), tried to modify the hypothesis;

“He argued that the behaviour we display in response to an unpleasant situation depends on our interpretation of the situation” Eysenck M, (2002).

Berkowitz also proposed three major changes to the hypothesis;

“The probability of frustration-induced aggression actually being vented is increased by the presence of situational cues to aggression. It is not objective frustration that instigates aggression but the subjective feeling of being frustrated. Frustration is only one of a large number of aversive events that can instigate aggression”.

Hogg M, Vaughan G, (2005).

The social identity theory devised by Tajfel (1982), argued that conflict did not occur solely due to hostility. His method was to conduct an experiment to show that random assignment to a group would be sufficient to result in prejudice between an in-group and an out-group. He assigned children aged between 11 and 14 randomly to one of two groups. He told them that they had been assigned to the groups on the basis of their

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preference for a famous artist. There was no interaction between the members of a group. Each child was asked to make models. They were then asked to allocate monetary rewards to each of the two groups. The results were that the allocation of monetary rewards maximised the difference in favour of the in-group. This type of experiment is known as the minimal group paradigm. This means that the group did not know the other members and did not engage in any interaction. The results showed that people show prejudice to an out-group when membership of the group is anonymous and no interaction takes place. Many other experiments took place, Billig and Tajfel (1973) and Turner (1978), to try to reinforce this theory.

However, experiments using the minimal group paradigm style have been criticised for being too artificial and the research has oversimplified real life.

“Another objection is that the conditions of the experiment create a demand characteristic whereby participants conform to the transparent expectations of the experiments or simply to general norms of intergroup competiveness”.

(Gerard and Hoyt, 1974)

Social Identity theory does not help us understand what is most important to the individual because most people are members of different groups. However it may show to an extent what prejudice is.

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The authoritarian personality Adorno (1950) looked at whether there was a specific personality trait that could be associated with prejudice. He suggested that this type of person exhibited prejudice, discrimination and held negative views of different groups. He argued that people with this personality often have excessive and blind obedience to authority, they are conventional and conservative, they readily stereotype others, they are submissive to higher powers and are aggressive to weaker people. His method used to prove this was to use questionnaires such as the F-Scale.

Brown (1995) suggests that there is a relationship between authoritarian personality and prejudice. Also there is more recent research by Altemeyer (1996) who devised his own questionnaire which is more reliable. Altemeyer’s revised authoritarian scale showed that authoritarian people give support to fundamental religious beliefs and are prejudiced towards groups such as homosexuals. Adorno’s f-scale suffers from an acquiescent response. A high score may indicate a person’s tendency to agree with a question rather than an authoritarian personality. This means it is unclear exactly what a high score means. The findings also may have been distorted because the interviewers knew in advance the f-scale scores of those being interviewed. Rokeach (1960) also criticised Adorno’s concept of authoritarian personality theory. He argued that people with closed minds have rigid thoughts and are intolerant to views different to their own.

Sherif (1936) carried out a study called the realistic conflict theory which looked into prejudices that could develop when there is a competition for limited resources between

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groups. His method was to put boys between the ages of 11 and 12 years, who did not know each other into two groups. He set up a series of competitive activities between the two groups and they played games for which they received rewards and prizes if they won. The activities were set up so that the two groups competed for limited resources. He found that conflict and prejudice would quickly develop between the groups. He then tried to reduce the conflict and prejudice by stopping the competitive games and instead getting the two groups of boys to work together to gain a common goal. Sherif noted that the prejudice reduced after the groups cooperated with each other.

Kerr and Park (2001) found that when there is competition for limited resources and personal interest is set against the common good. The usual outcome is for common good to come first. Recent research by Murrell et al. (1994) found that prejudice does develop from competition for resources, especially when groups have a position of power.

However, Prejudice cannot be explained solely by competition for resources. Tyerman and Spencer (1983) also did a similar study and found that when the two groups used already knew each other competition did produce the same negative results. There are also concerns about the ethics of this field study. Were the boys given the appropriate information and rights when the study took place as shown in [DRIP]? This means were they given a description of the study? Were they given a right to withdraw from the

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study? They may have found the experience distressing. Did they give informed consent and were they offered protection?

Prejudice and discrimination are attitudes very apparent in the world today. These attitudes can vary from just beliefs to violence and destruction. There are many studies and theories from lots of psychologists and all have contributed in some way to us understanding where these attitudes originate from and how we could suppress them.

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