Stereotypes, Bias, Prejudice, and Discrimination, Oh My!

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From the day we first learn about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement in elementary school, words like “discrimination” and “prejudice” frequently get thrown around left and right. They’re important concepts, but people tend to use them interchangeably when discussing social issues that come up in life. And we get it, they all sound pretty similar.

Do people intentionally jumble them up together? Probably not.

But let’s try to clear up the confusion.

 

It all starts when we get outside information about people of different groups from some kind of source, whether it be your family, media, or even your own experience. We gain ideas about these particular group members, and these ideas allow us to create certain expectations of them.

Take this chicken in the comic for example. One day, the chicken goes on its laptop and discovers that members of the cat species commit the highest rates of crime.

 

Let’s say the chicken connects crime with being “dangerous.” The chicken now establishes a stereotype as it takes the adjective of being dangerous and completely overgeneralizes an entire group. In this situation, the chicken says, “All cat people must be very dangerous!”

 

As you can see, the chicken notices a customer, which is a cat, and takes a rather dramatic moment to pay attention to the customer. This relatively fixed change in perspective is known as bias.

Poor kitty! The chicken has an undeserved, negative attitude towards the cat and mentally grumbles at its customer. At this point, it’s important to notice that the chicken does not display an obvious action towards the cat… yet. This unfair attitude is called prejudice.

While prejudice is what I think, discrimination is what I do. The chicken acts on its prejudice of the entire cat species and chooses to engage in discrimination by physically kicking out the harmless customer.

All of these concepts often work together to create interesting results, and it isn’t uncommon to see people hold certain stereotypes. How can we explain this behavior? What can we do to prevent it?

Re-posted with permission from Brain Stamp, an online community that brings high schoolers together under one passion: psychology.

About the Author

Yena is a senior at Roslyn High School, NY. After excelling in her AP Psychology course in tenth grade, she received the Academic Achievement in Psychology Students Award from the APA Education Directorate and TOPSS. Yena has been interested in psychology since she first entered her school's behavioral and social sciences research program four years ago. During her past summers, she has worked as a research assistant at Long Island University Post and Boston College. In college, Yena seeks to study the intersection between psychology, education, and public policy. To further explore the field outside of the classroom, Yena co-founded the online psychology magazine Brain Stamp (www.brainstamp.org) with her friend Abby Flyer.