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Michelle Bal and Kees Van den Bos
In the literature on prejudice and derogatory reactions, two prominent lines of research can be distinguished, one focusing on the expression and endorsement of (mostly) negative stereotypes and prejudice, and one zooming in on how defense of cultural worldviews can lead to derogatory reactions toward those who are different from ourselves. Research on both stereotypes/prejudice and cultural worldviews reveals how personal uncertainty can lead to the occurrence of derogatory reactions. In research on prejudice, the automaticity of stereotyping and prejudice has been the subject of debate. Some scholars argue for the inevitability of stereotyping, as these processes are assumed to be automatic and inevitable. By contrast, other scholars distinguish automatic stereotype activation from more controlled stereotype endorsement. Importantly, stereotype activation may be altered by stereotype-negation training reducing the expression of prejudice. In worldview defense research, it is shown how uncertainty-related motives and other worldview threats are related to the expression of derogatory reactions toward those who fall outside our scope of justice.
In contemporary society, people frequently have to deal with feelings of personal uncertainty, especially regarding future-oriented delayed outcomes. To cope with these feelings, people adhere to their cultural worldviews. These belief systems enable people to strive for long-term goals, but also make them more vulnerable to expressing prejudice and other derogatory reactions. A wealth of research shows that when people’s worldviews are threatened, they tend to react more rigidly and negatively toward others, especially toward those who belong to an outgroup. For example, if one believes that the world is inherently just (i.e. in studies looking at “just world beliefs), interacting with innocent victims of crimes can threaten this worldview. In the face of this conflict, people sometimes respond in derogatory and prejudiced ways toward those victims in order to uphold their belief that the world is a just place where bad things can only happen to bad people. Importantly, alleviating feelings of personal uncertainty (either by affirming personal certainty or by refocusing attention toward other aspects of an unjust situation) can reduce derogatory reactions and instigate benevolent reactions focused on helping those who are less well off.