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Prejudice and Discrimination

Steel and Aronson (1995, as cited in Scholl and Sabat, 2008) proposed a theory of stereotype threat that suggested, “The mere awareness of the existence of a stereotype pertaining to a group with which one identifies can have a negative effect on the group’s subsequent performances” (p. 114). The theory also indicated that being stereotyped into a particular group may have a negative effect on people’s beliefs and attitudes about themselves and others. In addition, overgeneralized and negative-outcome stereotypes (not taking into account an individual’s abilities and characteristics) are considered discrimination.

Let’s discuss the social identity theory to understand how individuals relate stereotypes to prejudice and discrimination.

View the PDF transcript for Social Identity Theory:Prejudice and Discrimination


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PSY3011_Social Psychology Lab

© 2009 South University

Social Identity Theory: Prejudice and Discrimination

Social identity theory was originally developed to understand the psychological basis behind
intergroup discrimination.

How is social identity theory related to determining stereotypes?

Social identity theory provides a framework for understanding how individuals establish part of
their concept of self by identifying with their cultural traditions. An individual’s concept of self is
shaped by the individual’s life experiences, including interactions with family, friends, and
coworkers, as well as other social interactions. For example, an individual’s self-concept may
include identifying with a particular race, religion, career, and social activity (Myers, 2008).

What does social identity theory focus on?

Social identity theory helps explain that an individual’s self-concept (attitudes, beliefs, and
prejudices) is shaped through group identification. In addition, an individual’s social identity is
established by favorably comparing the individual’s in-group (those the individual identifies with)
with an out-group (those the individual doesn’t identify with). This theory concludes that
individuals identify themselves with the groups they associate with and actively differentiate
themselves from the groups they don’t identify with.

How is social identity theory related to coping with a negative social identity?

Shinnar (2008) interviewed 17 Mexican immigrants living in Las Vegas. Shinnar used a
face-to-face, semistructured interview method (a lead question with unscripted follow-up
questions). He concluded that the majority of those interviewed reported a negative social identity
and the motivation to maintain a positive self-concept created a need to cope.

Identifying and analyzing the participants’ responses helped Shinnar understand that the coping
mechanism for a negative social identity involves reflecting stereotypes and prejudices onto
out-groups. The results of the study implied that the perpetuation of prejudice and discrimination
will continue if they are used as the means of differentiating (negatively) between an individual’s
in-group and out-group.

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