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.
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