Can Flexible Beliefs Decrease Levels of Prejudice?

In the decades since the civil rights movement, prejudice toward individuals of different races, sexual orientations, religions, and cultures has diminished in some respects. Unfortunately, discrimination and prejudice still exist in the hearts and minds of many individuals, causing extreme stress and anxiety among those targeted. Individuals who are wary of other cultures and races sometimes experience anxiety when around people who are different from themselves. Prejudice is sometimes rooted in generational ignorance and exhibited overtly. Other times, prejudice exists in the consciousness of people who display their fears of others more subtly.

Regardless of how it occurs, overcoming the negative effects of prejudice, for victims and offenders, continues to be the goal of many social endeavors. To better understand how prejudice is conceptualized, Priyanka B. Carr of the Department of Psychology at Stanford University recently led a study that looked at how people viewed their prejudice toward others. Specifically, Carr wanted to find out how people who had firm prejudice acted when compared to people who held more flexible discriminatory beliefs.

Across eight studies, participants were asked how motivated they were to engage with people of other races. Carr then evaluated how flexible their prejudices were to determine if they were staunchly fixed or somewhat malleable. The results revealed that the participants with the most rigid prejudicial beliefs exhibited the highest levels of anxiety and stress when interracial engagement was proposed. In contrast, the participants with more malleable prejudices demonstrated lower levels of anxiety in the same situations. Fixed prejudice also predicted unwillingness to participate in activities with people of other races and unwillingness to take steps to minimize their prejudice. Carr notes that this study focused only on white participants’ beliefs related to prejudice and that future work should incorporate participants of other races and cultures. Regardless, these findings demonstrate the importance of considering individuals’ appraisals of prejudice in order to effectively reduce it. “For this reason, as well, addressing beliefs about the malleability of prejudice should be part of any intervention,” Carr said.

Carr, Priyanka B., Carol S. Dweck, and Kristen Pauker. “Prejudiced” behavior without prejudice? Beliefs about the malleability of prejudice affect interracial interactions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 103.3 (2012): 452-71. Print.

© Copyright 2012 All rights reserved.

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.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Bea


    September 19th, 2012 at 3:33 PM

    It is apparent that the more flexible your beliefs are, and the more willing we are to learn from one another and share our feelings, the the more willing you will be to disregard your former prejudices and make a change in yourself for the better. Those of us who have been raised a certain way could have a very hard time with changing how we feel, but if you are willing to learn and grow then you will be able to change your mind regarding those hurtful beliefs that you may have once had.

  • Barton


    September 20th, 2012 at 4:01 AM

    Prejudice is typically those beliefs that have been pressed upon us from a very young age, we have either heard our parents talking about them or we have had a negative experience that has reinforced this skewed belief system.

    For most of us these are not feelings that will be very easy to change. When these are the things that have been force fed to you for so mnay years that you have come to think of them as your own, well, those are pretty difficult to challenge.

    However that is not to say that changing these beliefs can’t be done. But it will take time and a good bit of work, it is not going to be easy.

  • Jenna


    September 20th, 2012 at 2:15 PM

    Well tbh all of us have some level of prejudice and discrimination in us.its almost impossible to not have it in us. but the difference is that some are making racist rants and others have it subtly in their minds and act upon those things only unconsciously.

    the latter group can overcome this and work with those from other race,gender or anything else while I do not see hope for the former group.its as simple as that!

  • Lily mae

    Lily mae

    September 20th, 2012 at 2:27 PM

    I am a little stumped by this, I have to admit, because in my point of view, if you are flexible would you even hold these beliefs and prejudices in the first place? You would think that if someone is that malleable and open to change that at some point in life something would have opened his eyes to the hatred that he is carrying around and would encourage him to change his mind and release himself from the shackles that these prejudices have placed upon his life. I realize that many times this has to happen after something very powerful occurs in one’s life o they meet someone who is the right person to help them to break free, but I just can’t help but feel like if the flexibility is there, then perhaps too were the beliefs not so deeply entrenched that they couldn’t have made the change a long time ago. I know, I know, better late than never but I can’t help but feel like they have probbaly wasted so much of their lives being bitter and cold when they could have been a little more loving and inviting.

  • george


    September 21st, 2012 at 4:11 AM

    How does someone like this gain your trust if you are familiar with his past?

  • Melissa


    September 21st, 2012 at 5:49 PM

    Anyone should at least be given the benefit of the doubt at least once and be given an opportuntiy to learn and change

  • larry


    September 22nd, 2012 at 5:22 AM

    you have to tread very carefully when trying to change the way that other people think
    you don’t like people trying to change your mind or tell you that you are wrong
    these are people who are going to be thinking the same exact thing

  • jason


    September 22nd, 2012 at 9:54 AM

    im actually happy reading this.why you ask?its coz it ppl with hard beliefs , wrong ones at that. that believe that they are putting others down with their prejudice and ideas like racism are actually harming themselves and they absolutely deserve that if u ask me!

  • naomi


    September 23rd, 2012 at 12:03 AM

    not everybody is the same even with their prejudices I agree.I have seen those that will say the tress are blue just because of their prejudice and then there are those that will see the situation and assess things and only then come to a conclusion.Not saying they are awesome but the latter group definitely is better than the former!

  • louis


    September 23rd, 2012 at 1:08 PM

    Lily mae:Thats exactly what I thought!But then maybe this flexible belief of theirs is what will go on to freeing them of their prejudice one day.It may not be an instantaneous process but it will succeed,eventually.

  • Sara t

    Sara t

    September 24th, 2012 at 4:21 AM

    A major downside that I could see is that what if all your life you have been open minded and willing to accept others for who they are no matter what? And then someone, let’s say of a different religion, attacks you or does harm to your personally? I am not willing to say that my prior beliefs about this person or group would stay the same because now i will have been wounded by someone whom I may have once trusted and that breach of trust could lead me to prejudices and beiefs that I could have been free from before then incidet.

  • deanne


    September 25th, 2012 at 5:45 AM

    If you are like me, I was brought up in a home filled with a lot of hate and prejudice, but I somehow always tried to not listen to all of that and have that affect the way that I felt about and interacted with other people.

    For the most part this worked for me because i did not have that deep seeded hatred toward others who may be different from me in the same way that my parents do, and still do today.

    I have to be careful not to necessarily share my views with them though, or they will go ballistic. But I also have to be very careful to not let my own children be innundated with those ideas because we do see my parents quite a bit and election years only seem to bring out the very worst in them!

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of's Terms and Conditions of Use.

* Indicates required field.

GoodTherapy uses cookies to personalize content and ads to provide better services for our users and to analyze our traffic. By continuing to use this site you consent to our cookies.