Causes and Consequences of Discrimination

The discrimination Is the conduct directed at someone solely because they belong to a particular group. It is an observable behavior, refers to manifest acts of the people towards the members of the groups.

Two of the most widespread types of discrimination are racism when this behavior Is directed towards a racial group and the one who carries it out is called racist. And sexism when it is based on sex and is called sexist. It is usually stereotypes and prejudices that lead to discrimination.

Causes and consequences of discrimination

He prejudice Is defined as an attitude, usually negative, towards the members of a group. It is the evaluation of someone based on their race, sex, religion or simply belonging to a group other than their own.

The Stereotypes Are the beliefs that members of a group share a particular characteristic, can be positive or negative.

They represent the knowledge they have about members of certain groups, even though it is known that such knowledge is false. For example, older people are weak, Americans are obese or Germans are not friendly.

Causes of Discrimination

Numerous investigations have been carried out to study the concept of discrimination and its possible causes. Different factors have been found, each of them sufficient but none necessary, so that the discrimination takes place: motivational, sociocultural, personality And cognitive.

Next, let's look closely at what each of these factors and their different components consists of.

Motivational Factors

From this approach discrimination is the result of tensions, emotions, fears and needs of the subject. This behavior serves to reduce negative emotional states or satisfy basic needs. Within the motivational factors we can distinguish:

  • Frustration and scapegoats . As Berkowitz put it, interference in achieving goals (frustration) produces emotional arousal (anger) that sometimes culminates in aggression. The scapegoat theory holds that the various frustrations of life can generate a displaced aggression that reduces and relieves this level of frustration. Often the targets of the displaced aggression are the members of groups to which we do not belong.
  • The theory of social identity . This theory indicates that we are motivated to maintain a positive overall evaluation of ourselves that is determined by personal identity and social identity. Personal identity is based on personal achievements and how we value them in comparison to others. And on the other hand social identity is based on belonging to certain groups. Usually we assign the groups that we belong a higher value and therefore we remove them to the groups of which we are not part. In this way, by favoring the perceptions of our groups and disregarding the groups to which we do not belong, our social identity improves.

Socio-cultural factors

Some researchers point out that discrimination, just as prejudices are learned. This information learned usually comes from three different sources:

  • Parents or persons of reference . In a study conducted in the 1950s by Bird, Monachesi, and Burdick, they found that nearly half of the white families they interviewed had barred their children from playing with black children. In addition these parents used to emphasize any news of criminal acts of this group to prove that they were right before that prohibition. As a result, another study conducted in the 1990s by Rohan Y Zanna concludes that the levels of racial bias of parents and children overlap. Another consequence of this factor of discrimination is that children from different countries or regions of the same country learn to hate different ethnic groups.
  • The mass media . Although in recent years attempts have been made not to transmit prejudice or discrimination through these means, even today one can see sexist or racist attitudes in advertisements, television programs, etc. Although in a more subtle way or that passes more unnoticed than a few years ago.

Personality Factors

Different studies have concluded that there is a type of authoritarian personality, and that the most authoritarian individuals tend to be more racist. In this way it has been shown that personality factors can also influence a person's use of discrimination or not.

Like the others is not a determining factor. It may happen that an individual has an authoritarian personality but never gets to exercise discrimination.

Cognitive factors

The belief that a group possesses negative characteristics generates dislike towards it and therefore discriminatory behaviors. The main component in this case is the negative biases about that group. For example, a fundamental aspect of the Nazi campaigns against the Jews was the negative propaganda that spread of these.

In this way they justified the arrests and later assassinations. They showed the Jews as conspirators, dirty and dangerous, and therefore it was necessary to control them. The formation of these negative stereotypes that lead to discrimination can come from two processes:

  • Categorization . This process consists of placing a person, object or stimulus in a group. It is about making assumptions about the characteristics of that element that it shares with the other members of the group in which we are including it. This categorization is necessary to develop in the day to day and on many occasions those assumptions that allow us to classify are correct. But on other occasions the categorization is incorrect, and this usually occurs mainly with human groups. We usually attribute to all members of a group the same characteristics that in turn make them different from our own group.

These prejudices are once again being learned from parents, peers and institutions. They are also acquired through experiences that have been lived with that group that is generalized to all members.

  • Selective information processing . On one hand people tend to see what we want to see. We pay special attention to the information that confirms our expectations or stereotypes and we omit the one that denies them. In addition research has also shown that information consistent with these stereotypes is best remembered. In a study by Cohen in 1981, participants were shown a video of a woman having dinner with her husband to celebrate her birthday. When the subjects were told the woman was a waitress, they remembered that on the scene she drank beer and had a television set. When they were told she was a librarian, they remembered wearing glasses and listening to classical music. The stereotypes they had about waitresses and librarians made them remember only the data that were consistent with those beliefs.

Therefore, biases or errors in processing information strengthen negative beliefs or stereotypes about a group, even if they are erroneous.

Consequences of discrimination

We can enumerate consequences of discrimination at different levels:

1- For the person victim or target of discrimination

First, members belonging to a minority over what is discriminated against are objectively worse off than they would be if there were no such prejudices against them. They are psychological, economic and physical.

Some studies have indicated that belonging to a minority may be a risk factor for developing some mental illnesses such as the Depression or the anxiety . In addition, members of minority groups have fewer jobs, have more difficulty accessing a job, are less prestigious and have a lower salary than members of majorities.

On the other hand, individuals belonging to minority groups are more likely to be victims of the violence of the subjects that form part of majority groups.

2- At the community level

Discrimination affects different spheres of society, in many cases impeding their own growth due to a social fracture and preventing the benefits of diversity.

In addition, the group tends to be marginalized, avoid contact with them and excluded from society. This marginalization usually leads to more serious problems such as the formation of gangs that engage in illegal and criminal acts.

3- Negative Attitudes

Discrimination also generates in people a series of negative attitudes and behaviors such as anger and aggression against members who do not belong to their group.

On many occasions this leads to verbal and physical violence among members of different groups that can have very serious consequences such as murder.

Ways to combat discrimination

As we have seen, discrimination has very different causes and therefore it seems complicated to eliminate discrimination and negative prejudice altogether.

But there have been numerous studies aimed at reducing them and several techniques have been pointed out that may be useful for this.

1- Conscious control of stereotypes

In the late 1980s, Devine conducted a series of investigations that pointed out that even subjects who are not prejudiced in principle sometimes had discriminatory behavior or thoughts because there are a number of prejudices that are acquired unconsciously.

On the other hand, from these same investigations, he concluded that individuals without prejudice consciously control their thoughts about the minority group, although he knows what the negative stereotypes of that minority are, he does not believe in them and does not use them to discriminate against them.

So this author indicates that you can overcome the prejudices instilled, although it requires an effort of attention and time because it will not happen automatically. It is a question of consciously controlling the effects of stereotypes on minority group judgments themselves.

2- Legislation against discrimination

It seems complicated to eliminate discrimination through laws, because you can not control a person's prejudices and stereotypes, just as you can not control your thoughts.

But laws can ensure that members of minorities are not treated differently, and anti-discrimination laws reduce the frequency and severity of such acts.

Another function of laws is to set standards and indicate what is acceptable and what is not in a society. To the extent that the individual understands that discrimination is not accepted in their environment, they will be less likely to engage in such acts.

Over time, non-prejudiced attitudes become internalized, because these behaviors become routine, non-discrimination becomes a habit. Do not stop exercising for fear of laws if not because the person already understands it as a behavior that is not correct.

3- Contact between majority and minority groups

As Pettigrew asserts the contact hypothesis states that contact between members of different groups leads to more positive attitudes towards each other. This contact will help the people in the majority group to verify that the stereotypes that exist about the minority group are not correct.

Although it has also been seen that this contact has to have a number of characteristics to be effective against discrimination. These requirements are, above all, that the context in which the encounter takes place is one of cooperation between the members of both groups and that the individuals have an approximate social position.

It is also advisable that this contact begins to occur at an early age because children can more easily modify their prejudices than adults who have had a certain belief for years.

Bibliographic references

  1. Austin, W., Worchel, S. (1979). The Social Psychology of Intergroup Relations . Brooks-Cole Publishing Company.
  2. Worchel, S., Cooper, J. (1999). Social Psychology . Wadsworth Publishing Company.
  3. Allport, G.W. (1954). The nature of prejudice . MA: Addison-Wesley.
  4. Dovidio, J.F. (1986). Prejudice, discrimination and racism: Theory and research . New York.
  5. Katz, P.A., Taylor, D.A. (1988). Eliminating racism: Profiles in controversy . New York.
  6. Zanna, M.P., Olson, J.M. (1994). The psychology of prejudice: The Ontario symposium , Vol. 7. NJ: Erlbaum.
  7. Dovidio, J.F., Evans, N., Tyler, R.B. (1986). Racial stereotypes: The contents of their cognitive representations. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.
  8. Image source .


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