There Is No Racial Inequality in How We Learn Prejudice

Racism and prejudice are issues that are at the forefront of social concern today. Ethnic differences are causing riots, uprisings, and loss of life in nations throughout the world, including our own. Classic conditioning is a theory that suggests that individuals learn racism and prejudice through exposure to events by either experiencing them personally or observing them. Once a perspective is formed, it can be reinforced through continual verbal, visual, or actual cues. For instance, a person who has a fearful encounter with someone from another race may later see others exhibit fear, thus reinforcing their opinion and prejudice of that race. Likewise, this effect can be reversed if this same person goes on to experience positive situations with people of the other race. Either way, discrimination and prejudice are learned at a very young age and unless it is reversed, can lead to significant stress and anxiety. People who are discriminated against based on their religion, race, or sexual preference often face obstacles in many areas of their lives. Finding a career, a job, or school can be a challenging experience for people who are faced with prejudice and discrimination.

To identify how different ethnic groups learn racism and how it is perceived across different races, David Rollock, Associate Professor of the Department of Psychological Sciences at Purdue University, recently conducted a study involving participants who were African American, White, Asian, and Hispanic. The 282 participants ranged in age from 17 to 61 years old and responded to a questionnaire that asked them about their experiences with prejudice. They were instructed to report their emotional responses to various interracial encounters, positive and negative.

Rollock discovered that the White participants had the strongest negative emotions as a result of bad interracial experiences, while other races experienced lower levels of negativity. The findings also showed that Whites reported fear as the most common response to negative interracial experiences, regardless of whether they were verbal, observed, or physically experienced. Whites and African Americans had similar levels of anxiety, but these levels were much lower than levels found in the Asian and Hispanic participants.

Although all the participants exhibited anger as a result of interracial experiences, it was minimal. Rollock also found that some of the participants had positive interracial experiences that decreased their prejudice, but the effect was minimal. Rollock added, “Interestingly, people from different ethnic and sex groups did not appear to ‘learn’ their adverse race-elicited emotions in different ways, suggesting that strategies that build or reduce adverse race-elicited emotion for members of one group should be similarly effective with other groups.” This finding could help clinicians who are dealing with victims and perpetrators of racial intolerance. By understanding that the mechanism that leads to prejudice and racism is similar across all races, mental health professionals should be able to help most people overcome these obstacles, regardless of their ethnicity.

Conger, A. J., Dygdon, J. A., Rollock, D. (2012). Conditioned emotional responses in racial prejudice. Ethnic & Racial Studies 35.2, 298-319.

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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • sierra t

    sierra t

    April 10th, 2012 at 4:12 AM

    I don’t know, I have witnessed just as much racial prejudice in blacks and hispanics as I have whites.
    That is not being said as some kind of excuse, but in my own experience that has been true. Sadly, prejudice and bias knows no racial lines. Just because someone is of a certain race does not mean that they are immune to having their own fears and hatreds that can automatically cloud your judgement.

  • Lamar


    April 10th, 2012 at 3:45 PM

    Question: I have hardly ever heard of someone who is racially prejudiced seeking help for this because to them they are not doing anything wrong, so how are we supposed to help them with a theory like this when they are not even seeking out the help?

  • BillMiller


    April 11th, 2012 at 12:16 AM

    Everybody says there is this RACE problem. Everybody says this RACE problem will be solved when the third world pours into EVERY White country and ONLY into White countries.
    The Netherlands and Belgium are just as crowded as Japan or Taiwan, but nobody says Japan or Taiwan will solve this RACE problem by bringing in millions of third worlders and quote assimilating unquote with them.
    Everybody says the final solution to this RACE problem is for EVERY White country and ONLY White countries to “assimilate,” i.e., intermarry, with all those non-Whites.
    What if I said there was this RACE problem and this RACE problem would be solved only if hundreds of millions of non-blacks were brought into EVERY black country and ONLY into black countries?
    How long would it take anyone to realize I’m not talking about a RACE problem. I am talking about the final solution to the BLACK problem?
    And how long would it take any sane black man to notice this and what kind of psycho black man wouldn’t object to this?
    But if I tell that obvious truth about the ongoing program of genocide against my race, the White race, Liberals and respectable conservatives agree that I am a naziwhowantstokillsixmillionjews.
    They say they are anti-racist. What they are is anti-White.
    Anti-racist is a code word for anti-White.

  • Lauren


    April 11th, 2012 at 4:22 AM

    The real truth to all of this is in the title to this story.

    how we LEARN prejudice. . .

    It is not like we are all ingrained from birth to feel hate or prejudice, we learn it from the others around us

    That is why we have to think before we speak and act in regards to others. Our children are always watching and learning from us.

  • blake


    April 11th, 2012 at 5:41 PM

    Yes, Lauren, you are right. And the worst part is that as easy as it is to learn, it is extremely hard to “unlearn” this.

    Also, having a negative impression of people from a different racial background due to observance is far easier than gaining a positive impression from something good, TBH.

  • Anonymous

    April 7th, 2013 at 3:37 PM

    What a JOKE! This article acts like the races are just different skin colors! B.S!!!! They are radically different, and often adversarial cultures.

    Blacks blame whites for slavery and their lot in life. Many want “revenge” on whites. Ditto for many other non-whites.

    Give it up!

    Diversity is NOT a strength

    And btw, I’ve lead a very diverse life. It’s always Blacks the ones who PROVOKE and ANTAGONIZE whites. I’m so sick of them. Sick of the white-bashing in general. Sick of Political Correctness.

    Sick of whites racist experiences not counting.

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