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date: 19 June 2019


Summary and Keywords

Prejudice is an attitude toward a social group and its members that can be expressed as either a negative or positive (e.g., paternalistic) evaluation and creates or maintains hierarchical status relations between groups. The origins of prejudice include individual differences in personality and ideological preferences, socialization experiences relating to exposure to different social norms, and the functional ways that groups relate to one another. Prejudice can be measured directly through self-report measures or indirectly through patterns of behavior or with techniques such as response latency methods. Moreover, implicit prejudice, which is automatically activated, can be distinguished from explicit prejudice, an attitude people know that they hold and may be able to control. Both types of prejudice predict discrimination—the differential treatment of a group or its members—but the strength of these relationships varies as a function of a variety of contextual factors (e.g., social norms). Because of the wide range of forces that shape prejudice and the functional nature of bias, prejudice can be difficult to change. Among the more robust ways to reduce prejudice are strategies that promote frequent, positive contact with members of another group; encourage people to categorize others in ways that emphasize shared group identities; or alter automatic associations underlying implicit bias. The study of prejudice continues to be an important and actively researched topic in social psychology, with contemporary approaches increasingly considering a broader range of micro- (e.g., genetics) and macro-level (e.g., culture) forces that shape the nature of prejudice and its influence on discriminatory behavior.

Keywords: attitudes, discrimination, diversity, implicit bias, ideology, intergroup contact, intergroup relations, social cognition, social identity, stereotyping

Within psychology, prejudice has traditionally been characterized as a negative attitude reflecting “an antipathy . . . directed toward a group as a whole, or toward an individual because he [sic] is a member of that group” (Allport, 1954, p. 9). However, recent conceptualizations have broadened this definition to incorporate functional and experiential aspects of prejudice (e.g., perceived and experienced conflict, stigma, and group-based advantage or disadvantage). From this perspective, prejudice can be conceived as “an individual-level attitude (whether subjectively positive or negative) toward groups and their members that creates or maintains hierarchical status relations between groups” (Dovidio, Hewstone, Glick, & Esses, 2010, p. 7). Thus, prejudice need not involve personal antipathy and may be expressed in the form of positivity toward another group, but in a way that ultimately maintains or enhances the status of one’s own social group (e.g., as patronizing help).

Although social psychologists have typically studied prejudice as an individual-level attitude that has a range of psychological and material effects on members of targeted groups, it is fundamentally an intergroup phenomenon. According to social identity theory (Tajfel & Turner, 1979) and self-categorization theory (Turner et al., 1987), a person’s experience of identity varies along a continuum that ranges from the self as a separate individual with personal motives, goals, and achievements, to the self as the embodiment of a social collective or group. Salient group identities provide the psychological basis for distinguishing between “us” and “them,” and thus for defining individual others as potential targets of prejudice. Because a salient group identity is deeply intertwined with the kinds of prejudices that develop and how these biases are exhibited, prejudice—even when studied as an individual-level attitude—is inherently a social phenomenon, shared among members of one’s ingroup and expressed between groups. Prejudice is manifested in intergroup emotions, judgments, and discriminatory behavior.

Prejudice is related to, but conceptually distinct from, two other types of intergroup bias—stereotyping and discrimination. Stereotypes are beliefs about the particular characteristics of a group or its members—they are cognitive schemas that often rooted in cultural beliefs and may be used to infer information about members of other groups. As such, stereotypes not only reflect beliefs about the traits of typical group members but can also contain information about other qualities, such as the expected social roles and broader characteristics of a group. Whereas prejudice is an attitude and stereotypes are beliefs about another group and its members, discrimination refers to biased behavior toward a group or its members. Discrimination includes not only actions that directly harm or disadvantage another group but also those that favor one’s own group, thus creating a relative advantage that can fuel inequality and intergroup disparities.

Traditional Theoretical Approaches

Psychological research on prejudice has been guided by a number of general theoretical approaches. One approach, characteristic of North American social psychology, has had a strong emphasis on the individual, including investigations of individual differences in the propensity for and expression of prejudice, intra-psychic processes (i.e., processes within individuals) that underlie prejudice, and their consequences for discrimination. For instance, social-cognitive perspectives in this tradition have conceived of prejudice as the outcome of generally normal cognitive processes associated with simplifying and storing the overwhelming quantity and complexity of social information encountered in everyday life. Specifically, this approach has emphasized the key role that categorizing others into ingroups versus outgroups has for the emergence of processes underlying prejudice.

Beyond individual differences and the cognitive distinction between others as ingroup or outgroup members, other theoretical perspectives have emphasized how functional relations between groups (e.g., in the form of competition or cooperation) play a fundamental role in the psychology of prejudice. Pioneering work on realistic group conflict (Campbell, 1965; Sherif et al., 1961), for example, reveals that perceived competition for resources can arouse prejudice toward an outgroup and its members, which in turn can promote intergroup discrimination. In addition to material (i.e., realistic) threats, symbolic threats (which reflect perceived challenges to core values, conventions, or a group’s traditions) can fuel prejudice (Stephan, Ybarra, & Morrison, 2016).

Another theoretical approach, which originated in European social psychology, places a stronger emphasis on the social nature of prejudice and in particular the role of group identities in fostering intergroup bias. Beginning in the 1970s, social identity theory (Tajfel & Turner, 1979) stimulated a new wave of prejudice research and continues to be a dominant framework in the field. As noted earlier, the social identity perspective views prejudice as primarily an intergroup phenomenon, distinct from individual-level processes. A key premise of the theory, as initially conceptualized, was that people’s need to feel favorably about themselves motivates them to join social groups that enhance their sense of positive distinctiveness, which can lead them to act in ways that promote their group’s advantage over other groups. Subsequent theoretical developments, such as self-categorization theory (Turner et al., 1987; see also Hogg, Abrams, & Brewer, 2017), have demonstrated additional social motivations underlying prejudice, and work in this tradition continues to highlight the importance of the strength, forms, and dynamics of identification with an ingroup and their relation to people’s biases toward other groups and their members.

Origins of Prejudice

These and other theoretical perspectives have been enormously influential in shaping current understandings of why prejudice exists as well as uncovering situational factors and psychological processes that promote and sustain it. Four such sets of psychological processes include (a) individual differences in personality, (b) the influence of ideologies, (c) dynamics of group categorization and social identity processes, and (d) the roles of social influence and functional relations between groups.


Early work on the role of individual differences in prejudice was heavily inspired by the psychodynamic perspectives of Sigmund Freud, who conceptualized prejudice as an abnormal orientation stemming from displaced hostility and aggression. Classic research on the authoritarian personality (Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswik, Levinson, & Sanford, 1950) relatedly proposed that family experiences with harsh discipline lead children to develop traits such as adherence to conventional values and rigid, all-or-nothing ways of thinking that make them susceptible to prejudice.

Since the 1960s, there has been a notable shift away from psychodynamic perspectives on prejudice to a view of prejudice as an attitude that both stems from, as well as satisfies, a range of human motivations. These motivational approaches have revealed evidence of “generalized prejudice”—the tendency for people who show bias against one outgroup to also show bias against other outgroups. For instance, people who possess personality traits reflecting greater need for structure, need for closure, preference for consistency, and intolerance of ambiguity tend to display higher levels of prejudice and show more resistance to changing their biases (see Hodson & Dhont, 2015). Moreover, with respect to the “Big Five” personality dimensions, people lower in “Agreeableness and Openness to Experience” tend to be higher in prejudice against other groups (Sibley & Duckitt, 2008).


Ideologies are belief systems that shape how people view their social world. Four types of ideological beliefs that consistently relate to prejudice are (a) right-wing authoritarianism, (b) social dominance orientation, (c) religiosity, and (d) political ideology.

Right-wing authoritarianism (RWA; Altemeyer, 1996), which was derived from the classic work on authoritarianism, remains one of the most prominent individual-difference measures in the study of prejudice. People high in RWA exhibit a strong commitment to traditional norms and values, an inclination to submit to those with high status or authority, and a general hostility toward members of other groups and those perceived as socially deviant. Individuals higher in RWA display greater prejudice toward a range of different social groups, including ethnic minorities, women, and people with disabilities (Duckitt & Sibley, 2017).

Social dominance orientation (SDO) is an individual difference variable reflecting the extent to which people endorse hierarchical versus equal relations between groups (see Sidanius et al., 2016). Two key facets of this ideology are support for systems of group-based dominance that permit the oppression of low-status groups and a preference for inequality and policies that maintain it (Ho et al., 2015). Because the belief system associated with social dominance concerns hierarchical relations rather than group differences more generally, individual differences in SDO primarily predict prejudice toward low-status, marginalized groups (Bergh, Akrami, Sidanius, & Sibley, 2016). RWA and SDO are moderately correlated, and because they rely on different belief systems, they are associated with different kinds of prejudice: aversion to deviants and social change (RWA) versus a preference for hierarchical group relations (SDO).

Religiosity is another individual difference variable, which also encompasses ideological beliefs that can relate to prejudice (see Ng & Gervais, 2017, for a review). For example, people who report that they are more religious, regardless of their particular religious affiliation, tend to show greater prejudice toward gay men and lesbians. However, the nature of religiosity, not simply the degree of religiosity, matters. In general, people higher in intrinsic religiosity, who are more personally invested in religious values, report lower levels of prejudice toward other groups. By contrast, perhaps because it reflects a commitment to conventional social standards as well as commitment to a particular group, people higher in extrinsic religiosity, in which religion is viewed as a means to external rewards, tend to express greater prejudice toward a variety of social groups.

Finally, political ideology (liberalism–conservatism) is also related to outgroup prejudice. Compared to liberals, people who are more politically conservative report less positive attitudes toward a wide range of social groups, including racial and ethnic minorities, homosexuals, and immigrants (Jost, Federico, & Napier, 2009). However, conservatives’ bias against these groups may be partly due to perceiving them as politically liberal and thus as violating conservative moral values (Chambers, Schlenker, & Collisson, 2013). By contrast, politically liberal people exhibit prejudice against groups that may be viewed as oppositional to traditional liberal values, such as business people and Christian fundamentalists. Thus, both liberals and conservatives may express bias toward groups perceived to espouse opposing political ideologies. Consistent with this view, individuals at both extreme ends of the political spectrum have been found to hold more negative intergroup attitudes toward a range of social groups, including artists, soldiers, and religious people, compared to politically more moderate individuals (van Prooijen, Krouwel, Boiten, & Eendebak, 2015).

Social Categorization and Identity

Beyond the study of personality and ideology, social identity perspectives remain highly influential in the psychological study of prejudice (Tajfel & Turner, 1979; see also Hogg et al., 2017). As noted earlier, research in this tradition, including major theoretical extensions such as self-categorization theory (Turner et al., 1987), has focused on the ways in which individuals are categorized—by others as well as the self—into social groups.

Social categorization has profound consequences for how people think and feel about themselves, how they relate to others, and how they interpret their social environment (Tajfel, 1970). Social categorization, in which people are perceived primarily in terms of the groups to which they belong (e.g., a nation) rather than with respect to their individual qualities, provides a relatively effortless way of inferring others’ characteristics by relying on prior knowledge of the group. Upon categorization, differences between members of the same category are minimized in people’s perception, and differences between groups are amplified. Thus, categorization can distort perceptions of social difference and group distinctiveness.

The social categorization process, however, is not limited to the mere assignment of individuals to categories. A fundamental feature of social categorization is the distinction between categories that contain the self (ingroups) and categories that do not contain the self (outgroups). The insertion of the self into the social categorization process can further distort and amplify intergroup biases by increasing the emotional and functional significance of group differences (see Dovidio & Gaertner, 2010). As initially explained by social identity theory (Tajfel & Turner, 1979; see also Hogg et al., 2017), people’s desire for positive self-regard may be satisfied not only by their own accomplishments but also by their membership in prestigious or otherwise favored social groups. This need for distinctiveness and positive self-regard motivates social comparisons that favorably differentiate the ingroup from the outgroup, and, consequently the self from others. As a result, group memberships, even when they are determined on a trivial or arbitrary basis, can initiate motivational biases that in turn promote and reinforce intergroup bias.

To illustrate, participants in a classic experiment were assigned to groups arbitrarily, based on their preference for different abstract paintings, and this distinction alone elicited a significant preference for the ingroup (Tajfel, Billig, Bundy, & Flament, 1971). Although categorization into such “minimal groups” can be sufficient to promote intergroup bias, biases tend to be more pronounced for groups that have greater significance for their members, and more strongly identified group members generally exhibit greater efforts to achieve positive distinctiveness by displaying prejudice and discrimination (see Yzerbyt & Demoulin, 2010).

Intergroup emotion theory (Maitner, Smith, & Mackie, 2017) similarly proposes that a salient social identity also shapes intergroup dynamics—specifically, by arousing particular group-based emotions. These group-based emotions are functional, reflecting and signaling the significance of an event not only for oneself but also for one’s ingroup (e.g., feeling angry about an ingroup disadvantage), which can promote specific intergroup prejudice and discriminatory behavior.

Even when people do not develop negative attitudes toward an outgroup, they can still show a selective positivity or preference for ingroup members (i.e., “ingroup love”; Brewer, 2017; Greenwald & Pettigrew, 2014). For instance, people behave more generously in reward allocations and are more likely to cooperate with and offer help to ingroup than to outgroup members. Overall, these preferences are relatively resistant to change because social categorization also initiates a range of cognitive biases that help to perpetuate stereotyping and prejudice, even when people are presented with countervailing evidence.

Social and Functional Influences

Whereas individual differences, ideologies, and social categorization processes provide foundations for the development of bias, how and when prejudice manifests itself and is expressed is shaped by additional factors, including (a) personal experiences, (b) the influence of others, and (c) perceptions of the functional relations between one’s ingroup and other groups (e.g., cooperation versus competition).

One’s history of social experience with members of other groups can substantially contribute to prejudicial attitudes. Specifically, negative personal experiences with individual outgroup members can produce unfavorable attitudes toward the group as a whole, whereas positive experiences tend to produce favorable attitudes (see Dovidio, Love, Schellhaas, & Hewstone, 2017). With respect to others’ influence on one’s attitudes, people form more favorable attitudes when interactions between ingroup and the outgroup members are more common where one lives (Christ et al., 2014) and where others in the locale are less prejudiced (Payne, Vuletich, & Lundberg, 2017). This effect may occur through different social influence processes such as informational social influence, which reflects a desire to have a better understanding of one’s environment, and normative social influence, which is based on the desire to be accepted by others (Deutsch & Gerard, 1955).

Socialization, which involves the development of an understanding of one’s social and physical world through family and peers, incorporates both informational and normative social influence in the development of intergroup attitudes. As a consequence, people’s prejudice correlates with their parents’ prejudice (Degner & Dalege, 2013), as well as with the social attitudes of their peers. People are particularly likely to align their attitudes with those of others when they have a desire for personal connection with them (Sinclair, Lowery, Hardin, & Colangelo, 2005), and even when others’ attitudes are not fully internalized, normative cues, such as antiracist messages, can facilitate the behavioral expression of intergroup attitudes (see Crandall & Stangor, 2005; Tankard & Paluck, 2017).

As we noted earlier, how people perceive functional relations between the ingroup and an outgroup also plays an important role in the development of prejudice. Perceiving that relations between one’s own group and another group are competitive generates prejudice (Sherif et al., 1961). In addition, in the absence of direct evidence or personal knowledge, people tend to presume that members of other groups are competitive and motivated by hostility toward members of one’s own group (Waytz, Young, & Ginges, 2014). Moreover, prejudice and competition often work in tandem to escalate intergroup biases: greater prejudice leads to more perceived and actual competition between groups, which exacerbates threat; in turn, greater threat predicts more negative intergroup attitudes (Riek, Mania, & Gaertner, 2006). By contrast, inducing cooperation between groups, particularly in the form of shared goals that neither group could accomplish alone, changes functional relations between groups in a way that can promote more favorable intergroup attitudes (Sherif et al., 1961).

Measurement of Prejudice

Traditional measures of prejudice were typically explicit and relied on self-report. These more direct measures of prejudice assessed general preferences for social distance, feelings toward groups, or negative evaluations. However, as norms inhibiting the open expression of prejudice have evolved in many societies, indirect measures have been developed to capture more subtle prejudices that people may be less aware of or that they may be reluctant to disclose.

Direct Measures

One of the most enduring examples of a direct, or explicit, measure of prejudice is the Social Distance Scale (Bogardus, 1925), which assesses people’s self-reported willingness to engage with members of other groups in activities of varying degrees of intimacy (e.g., work with or marry members of another group). Another common explicit measure is the feeling thermometer, a single-item instrument typically used to assess how people feel about a target, from 0 (very coolly) to 100 (very warmly). Both measures continue to be widely used within psychology because they allow for simple comparisons in attitudes across groups, as well as for cross-cultural comparisons in prejudice toward the same groups.

Several more narrow types of self-report measures have been used to assess attitudes toward specific outgroups, often defined in terms of ethnicity or social constructions of race. For example, researchers interested in whites’ prejudice toward blacks in the United States developed multidimensional measures capturing different elements of this type of prejudice, such as support for segregation, opposition to intimacy between whites and blacks, and endorsement of policies that limit opportunities for blacks. The Attitudes Toward Blacks Scale (Brigham, 1993) has been one of the most frequently employed measures of prejudice between white and black Americans. Similar measures have been developed to assess individual differences in prejudice toward a wide range of other groups in the U.S. context, such as toward Asian Americans (Ho & Jackson, 2001), and these direct measures of prejudice of various forms still generally predict social biases well (Axt, 2017).

In the second half of the 20th century, egalitarianism became a stronger core value in many societies. As a consequence, people may be reluctant to express or even personally acknowledge their prejudices because these attitudes are inconsistent with cultural values. These changes to the expression and self-control of prejudice, along with methodological advances in capturing subtle and unintended manifestations of bias, spawned new measures designed to capture these subtleties and complexities.

Indirect Measures

Beginning in the 1970s, empirical research on prejudice, particularly in terms of white Americans’ attitudes toward black Americans, revealed that as blatant expressions of bias were declining, subtler forms of intergroup bias were emerging (see Dovidio, Gaertner, & Pearson, 2017). These changes in the nature and expression of bias stimulated the development of measures that were potentially better suited for assessing contemporary forms of prejudice (e.g., Pettigrew & Meertens, 1995). Whereas measures of blatant prejudice reflect overtly negative feelings toward another group and are directly predictive of discrimination, measures of subtle prejudice reflect relatively less positive views of the group and are typically predictive of discrimination primarily when negative actions can be justified as non-bigoted. In a related vein, two distinct forms of sexism have been shown to contribute to hierarchical gender relations, but in different ways (Glick & Fiske, 2001). Whereas hostile sexism represents an overtly negative attitude toward women who are perceived to challenge men’s privileged social position, benevolent sexism reflects a seemingly favorable attitude that includes affection toward women who endorse conventional, subordinate roles, and motivations to protect women.

With respect to relations between white and black Americans specifically, the Symbolic Racism Scale (Sears & Henry, 2005) focuses on the cloaked denial and justification of bias based on factors other than group membership (e.g., the belief that anti-black discrimination is “a thing of the past”). The Modern Racism Scale (McConahay, 1986) similarly assesses bias indirectly but through responses to a range of policies and positions that to triangulate on prejudice as the guiding factor. The Modern Racism Scale has been adapted to study subtle prejudice in a wide range of intergroup contexts.

Implicit and Explicit Prejudice

Because prejudice may often be viewed as inconsistent with a positive self-image, many people who endorse egalitarian values and truly believe that they are non-prejudiced may nevertheless harbor unconscious negative feelings and beliefs about members of other marginalized groups (see Dovidio et al., 2017). These unconscious negative feelings and beliefs have been posited to be rooted in general processes of social categorization and ingroup–outgroup biases, media portrayals, and cultural representations of groups, as well as the residual effects of socialization. Evidence that people may harbor unconscious feelings and beliefs that systematically influence their behavior stimulated the development of implicit measures of intergroup attitudes as well as advances in theorizing about the origins and nature of prejudice.

In contrast to the traditional conceptualization of prejudice as an explicit attitude that people know they hold and may be subject to deliberate control—implicit prejudice was assumed to involve automaticity, a lack of awareness, and unintentional forms of expression. Whereas explicit attitudes are typically assessed with self-report measures, implicit attitudes are typically gauged with response latency procedures, memory tasks, physiological measures (e.g., heart rate and galvanic skin response), and indirect self-report measures (e.g., biases in behavioral attributions). One of the most widely used implicit measures, the Implicit Association Test (IAT; see Greenwald, Poehlman, Uhlmann, & Banaji, 2009), relies on the general finding that people are faster and more accurate when categorizing groups of stimuli that are strongly associated in the perceiver’s mind, compared to groups of stimuli that have weaker cognitive and neural associations. As such, in a typical IAT, respondents’ levels of implicit bias are represented by the extent to which they categorize prejudice-consistent attributes and social stimuli (e.g., white faces and positive words) with greater speed and accuracy than prejudice-inconsistent attributes and stimuli (e.g., black faces and positive words).

Initially, research on implicit attitudes focused on developing and refining implicit measurement techniques, distinguishing implicit from explicit measures, and clarifying the meaning of implicit measures of intergroup attitudes. Consistent with the distinction between implicit and explicit prejudice, scores on the IAT are only modestly associated with self-report measures of intergroup attitudes (Kurdi et al., 2018).

Relationship Between Prejudice and Discrimination

In general, attitudes and behavior have a moderately strong relationship (Glasman & Albarracín, 2006). However, prejudice is subject to a number of factors, such as social desirability concerns, that may erode the degree to which it predicts discriminatory behavior. A number of meta-analytic reviews have examined the relationship between explicit measures of prejudice and different forms of discrimination. Overall, these analyses converge on the conclusion that explicit prejudice significantly predicts discrimination, although their relationship is somewhat weaker than the general attitude–behavior relationship (see Greenwald et al., 2009; Oswald et al., 2013). Moreover, the relationship between explicit prejudice and discrimination tends to be weaker when the target group is one for which normative proscriptions against prejudice are stronger (e.g., for black targets more than for sexual minority targets in U.S. samples).

Because implicit measures of prejudice are believed to be less influenced by social desirability pressures, one might expect that measures of implicit prejudice would correlate more strongly with discrimination than explicit prejudice, particularly in socially sensitive intergroup contexts. Although some meta-analytic evidence supports this reasoning (e.g., Greenwald et al., 2009; Kurdi et al., 2018), the association between implicit prejudice and discrimination is still weaker than the general attitude–behavior relationship. Moreover, some meta-analyses suggest that the effect of implicit prejudice on discrimination is weak overall (e.g., Oswald et al., 2013) and that, perhaps as a result of this modest relationship, even when experimental interventions successfully reduce implicit prejudice, they do not correspondingly reduce discrimination (Forscher et al., 2018).

One factor that may account for the overall modest relationships between discrimination and prejudice, either explicit or implicit, is that the nature of the social context may moderate the strength of the association. For instance, many people may wish to avoid being seen as prejudiced (Crandall & Eshleman, 2003) and may genuinely be motivated to behave in ways they perceive to be non-prejudiced (Dovidio et al., 2017). Such individuals may therefore be guarded in their responses toward members of another group when their actions could be interpreted as discriminatory. According to the justification-suppression model of prejudice (Crandall & Eshleman, 2003), people who are more prejudiced (and are aware of it) are more likely to act in negative ways toward a member of the targeted group when they can justify that action based on a rationale unrelated to group membership that permits it. For instance, in one set of studies (White & Crandall, 2017), white participants higher in anti-black prejudice were more likely to perceive punishment of anti-black derogatory comments as a violation of free speech, and they applied the principle of freedom of speech in order to preserve their own right to engage in similar behaviors in the future.

The aversive racism framework (Dovidio et al., 2017), which proposes that many people who believe that they are not prejudiced actually do harbor unconscious prejudice, offers another perspective on how social context determines when discrimination against blacks and other minority groups will occur. Specifically, people who consciously endorse egalitarian values and believe that they are non-prejudiced are predicted to act in a less biased fashion when discrimination would be obvious to others and themselves. In situations in which the normatively appropriate response toward the outgroup is clear, people will be especially motivated to avoid feelings, beliefs, and behaviors that could be associated with discriminatory intent. However, discrimination is more likely to occur in situations in which the normative structure is weak, when the guidelines for appropriate behavior are vague, and when one can justify or rationalize a biased response on the basis of factors other than group membership—allowing people to engage in discriminatory behaviors while maintaining their self-image as non-prejudiced.

Social context may also moderate the relationship between implicit prejudice and discrimination. Explicit prejudice, of which people may be aware and in control of its expression, better predicts deliberative behaviors in which the costs and benefits of various courses of action are weighed. By contrast, implicit prejudice, which is automatically activated, better predicts spontaneous behaviors such as nonverbal behaviors, which are difficult to monitor or control (Dovidio, Kawakami, Smoak, & Gaertner, 2009). Consistent with this interpretation, in medical contexts, doctors with more negative implicit attitudes toward blacks dominate interactions with black patients more and are perceived by black patients as less friendly and less patient-centered in their interactions (Penner et al., 2019); by contrast, doctors’ explicit attitudes do not show these effects.

In summary, both explicit and implicit forms of prejudice predict discrimination, but the magnitude of this effect is generally modest and often lower than the general attitude–behavior relationship typically observed in psychological research. Nevertheless, the prejudice-discrimination relationships for both explicit and implicit prejudice may vary as a function of the degree to which the social context permits biased responses, and of the extent to which behaviors are easily monitored or controllable.

Reducing Prejudice

Several social psychological strategies have been developed to reduce prejudice. The specific interventions associated with these strategies draw on foundational processes underlying the dynamics of prejudice, including personal experience and social influence, the ways people socially categorize others, and other psychological factors that underpin bias (see Schellhaas & Dovidio, 2016). Three specific approaches involve (a) intergroup contact, (b) recategorization, and (c) implicit bias interventions.

Intergroup Contact

The reformulated contact hypothesis (Allport, 1954), a classic position, argues that contact between members of different social groups under specific conditions can reduce prejudice (for reviews, see Dovidio et al., 2017; Pettigrew & Tropp, 2011). This contact approach draws heavily from work on bias involving the roles of personal experience, social influence, and functional relations between groups. The contact hypothesis originally posited that intergroup contact would be successful in reducing prejudice primarily when the “prerequisite” conditions of equal status between group members; cooperation; common goals; and the support of authorities, law, or custom were satisfied. More recently, researchers have identified additional important facilitating factors, such as the formation of intergroup friendships.

A substantial body of laboratory and field research across a wide range of contexts has supported the contact hypothesis (see Pettigrew & Tropp, 2011; see also Paluck, Green, & Green, 2018) and demonstrated that contact can be effective (albeit, less effective) at reducing prejudice even when the originally specified conditions for prejudice reduction are not met. Generally, although both aspects of contact can promote prejudice reduction, the quality of contact (i.e., the favorability of the contact experience) is typically more influential than the quantity (i.e., frequency) of contact for reducing prejudice. Highlighting the potential of contact interventions, positive intergroup contact has been shown to improve not only explicit but also implicit attitudes toward outgroup members—albeit with weaker effects (see Dovidio et al., 2017).

Opportunities for direct contact between members of different groups may be limited because of geographical, residential, or employment segregation. However, under these conditions, indirect forms of contact can reduce prejudice. For example, the extended contact hypothesis (Wright, Aron, McLaughlin-Volpe, & Ropp, 1997) proposed that mere knowledge of ingroup–outgroup friendships leads to a reduction of intergroup bias, in part because it makes positive relations between groups appear more normatively acceptable. Other forms of indirect contact, such as mentally simulating positive contact experiences (imagined contact) and media-mediated interactions (virtual contact), can also reduce prejudice (see Dovidio et al., 2017). Although effects of these indirect forms of contact tend to be smaller than those of direct contact (Lemmer & Wagner, 2015), they are important for improving attitudes toward outgroups—especially in contexts where direct contact is rare, difficult, or nonexistent.

Effects of positive intergroup contact, both direct and indirect, on intergroup attitudes occur through several distinct mechanisms. Contact results in more personalized connections with outgroup members and greater interest in learning about their group; enhances empathy and perspective taking with the outgroup; and reduces group-based anxiety (see Pettigrew & Tropp, 2011). Finally, the beneficial effects of intergroup contact on prejudice generalize more readily when the member of the other group in the contact situation is seen as more typical of the outgroup.


Another strategy for reducing prejudice, recategorization, is rooted in research on social categorization (i.e., ingroup versus outgroup category boundaries). Recognizing that social categorization is a flexible process, work in this tradition suggests that it may be possible to harness and redirect categorization processes to reduce prejudice.

According to this approach, as articulated in the common ingroup identity model (Gaertner & Dovidio, 2000; Gaertner et al., 2016), highlighting a shared group identity can extend and redirect the forces of ingroup favoritism toward former outgroup members. Encouraging people to focus on a shared categorization at a superordinate level (“we”) can transform ingroup–outgroup boundaries and lead to the categorization of outgroup members into ingroup members, thereby improving intergroup attitudes. Common identities may become salient when people’s expectations or goals for intergroup interactions shift toward shared goals and interdependence, or when shared group memberships become focal (e.g., a team, school, or nation).

Recategorization improves intergroup attitudes through a variety of ingroup-favoring processes, such as greater empathic concern, reduced feelings of threat, and enhanced perspective taking with recategorized outgroup members. These psychological mechanisms are activated when others formerly perceived to be outgroup members become seen, through recategorization, as ingroup members within a common group identity. Under some conditions, however, recategorization may be ineffective, or even exacerbate bias. For instance, emphasizing only a common ingroup identity may threaten the need for positive distinctiveness and, as a result, intensify attitudinal bias to re‑establish positive differentiation. However, this defensive response is less likely when both a common ingroup identity and the original subgroup identities are made salient and integrated into a dual identity (e.g., German and European, or Muslim and American; Gaertner et al., 2016).

Other prejudice-reduction approaches target different social categorization processes. For example, decategorization interventions aim to weaken the salience of group boundaries so that people relate to one another primarily in interpersonal (“me” and “you”) rather than group-based (“us” versus “them”) terms. Decategorization may be achieved by personalization, in which individuals are encouraged to focus on the individual qualities of another person (Miller, 2002), as well as by cross-cutting categorization, in which people from opposing groups are made aware that they share membership in a third group, thereby weakening the relevance of the original categorization. However, decategorization may often be difficult to maintain because people tend to default to group-based (vs. individuated) processing of others in their social environment.

Implicit Bias Interventions

Although positive intergroup contact and recategorization can reduce implicit as well as explicit prejudice to some degree, other interventions have been developed to target implicit prejudice specifically. Some of these interventions inhibit the activation of negative implicit attitudes associated with an outgroup, for instance, by leading people to think about highly admired members of the group (e.g., Dasgupta & Greenwald, 2001). Reconditioning, an alternative technique, is based on the premise that implicit attitudes represent associations that may be changed or inhibited by creating incompatible associations. For example, white participants may be presented repeatedly with positive words paired with photographs of black faces and negative word paired with white faces. When pairings occur with sufficient frequency to create associations that are incongruent with prevailing cultural associations, implicit prejudice can be reduced (Kawakami et al., 2000; see also Burns, Monteith, & Parker, 2017). A recent meta-analysis revealed that the most promising techniques for reducing implicit prejudice were tasks designed to strengthen positive or weaken negative associations, to make non-prejudiced goals salient, or to help people exert more cognitive control over their biases (Forscher et al., 2018).

Overall, compared to interventions designed to reduce explicit bias, interventions designed to reduce implicit biases have received more mixed empirical support. Although the malleability of implicit attitudes has been demonstrated in the lab, implicit attitudes are culturally transmitted and deeply entrenched, and may thus be difficult to unlearn via brief experimental interventions. Accordingly, structured interventions that involve longer and more intensive training procedures have shown greater promise in producing enduring reductions in implicit bias and discriminatory behavior (Devine, Forscher, Austin, & Cox, 2012).

Future Directions in Research on Prejudice

The study of prejudice has received both theoretical and empirical interest in social psychology for nearly a century—virtually across the full modern history of the discipline. Yet there are many new and emerging issues to pursue, including four areas of research highlighted in this section: genetics, geography, culture, and interventions targeting discrimination directly. We close with a brief consideration of how a diversity perspective may expand the scope of prejudice research generally.


Although there is an active research literature on developmental processes in prejudice, much of this work focuses on socialization and peer influences in bias. A fertile direction for future research would be to consider more fully the role of genetic influences in the acquisition and development of prejudice (see Barlow, Sherlock, & Zietsch, 2017). Potentially implicating a genetic influence, prejudice emerges relatively early developmentally: young children and even preverbal infants show a reliable preference for individuals on the basis of group markers, a finding that is consistent across cultures (Dunham, Chen, & Banaji, 2013). Recent research with twin samples more directly points to a distinct genetic component in the development of intergroup attitudes: A 10-year longitudinal study in the United States (Lewis & Bates, 2017) revealed a strong consistency in racial, ethnic, and religious intergroup biases among adult twins, an association that was primarily attributable to genetics. In addition, some individuals are genetically predisposed to show heightened sensitivity to social threat and social rejection, and these tendencies may influence both the acquisition and extinction of intergroup biases (see Olsson, Ebert, Banaji, & Phelps, 2005). Building on these developments, future research might productively consider how genetics shape foundational social psychological processes to influence the development of prejudice.


Social psychology has traditionally focused on discovering general, and potentially invariant, principles of human social behavior. Although replicability across contexts is important, studying the variability in effects associated with socio-geographical contexts may also be theoretically and practically informative.

Research on intergroup contact, for instance, has shown that certain geographic locations and contexts relate to prejudice independent of personal contact experiences. For example, people who live in environments where positive contact among residents is more frequent exhibit less explicit prejudice, independent of their personal intergroup contact (Christ et al., 2014). Conversely, when people live in environments that repeatedly expose them to expressions of prejudice and systemic inequalities, biased associations may be more likely to become cognitively accessible, potentially manifesting in greater implicit prejudice within a particular geographic location or context (Payne et al., 2017). Regions with higher aggregate levels of prejudice not only arouse greater personal prejudice, they also uniquely predict discrimination. For instance, in counties in the United States in which whites, on average, harbor greater implicit bias toward blacks, police are more likely to use lethal force against blacks suspected of criminal activity (Hehman, Flake, & Calanchini, 2018).

Future research might not only further document the existence of systematic differences by locale but also identify the psychological processes through which prejudice in both explicit and implicit forms, aggregated by location, influences discrimination exhibited by individuals within those locales through processes such as informational and normative social influence, or heightening the accessibility of biased associations.


Culture exerts a powerful and pervasive influence on all facets of human life. Future research on prejudice might also more fully consider the role of cultural variables in the acquisition and expression of intergroup bias. For instance, research in cross-cultural psychology (Nisbett, 2003) has shown that East Asian cultures tend to be more group-oriented, stress interdependence between the self and ingroups, and favor hierarchical relations within a group. By contrast, Northern European–heritage cultures tend to emphasize individual rights, self-determination, and the pursuit of self-interest. These general cultural orientations have significant implications for the study of prejudice. In one study (Shin, Dovidio, & Napier, 2013), for instance, people from group-oriented cultures (e.g., China, South Korea) showed higher levels of bias toward a range of outgroups, relative to respondents from individual-oriented cultures (e.g., Germany, United States). This cross-cultural difference in the expression of prejudice was in large part attributable to people from group-oriented cultures valuing difference and uniqueness less. Despite a general recognition of the fundamental influence of culture, studies of cross-cultural differences in intergroup relations and prejudice are rare and thus remain a promising avenue of research.

Intervening on Discrimination Directly

Both explicit and implicit prejudices drive consequential forms of discrimination. Although both forms of prejudice are malleable, attitude change may often be difficult to sustain beyond an immediate intervention. Implicit prejudice may be particularly difficult to reduce because it may be grounded in biased associations of which people may not be fully aware. Moreover, as we noted earlier, even interventions that successfully reduce implicit prejudice typically show limited or short-term effectiveness (Forscher et al., 2018). An alternative strategy for reducing discrimination might thus be to directly target discriminatory behaviors that stem from prejudice or to attempt to modulate expressions of prejudice indirectly via normative interventions, rather than to try to reduce prejudice directly.

Examples of two lines of research that have shown initial success with these strategies involve those targeting social norms about discrimination, and interventions that aim to establish habitual egalitarian action-tendencies. Social norms represent shared social standards for action and are significant drivers of prejudice and discrimination (Crandall & Stangor, 2005). Thus, creating or reinforcing egalitarian norms may efficiently reduce discrimination in ways independent of personal implicit or explicit attitudes. Indeed, perceptions of changing social norms that prohibit discrimination, such as through media portrayals of more harmonious intergroup relations (e.g., in a radio soap opera in Rwanda; Paluck, 2009) or institutional decisions in support of a stigmatized group (e.g., a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage; Tankard & Paluck, 2017) can reduce discrimination even when personal attitudes remain unchanged.

Another promising intervention for reducing discrimination focuses on making nondiscriminatory responses automatic. One such approach relies on implementation intentions, a technique derived from research on goal pursuit, whereby explicitly formulating “if–then” action plans ties situational cues to desired behavioral responses and, as a result, creates reflexive response patterns (Gollwitzer & Oettingen, 2011). In the domain of prejudice, implementation intentions, in which people establish a nondiscriminatory response to intergroup cues, have been shown to successfully inhibit discriminatory behavior (Mendoza, Gollwitzer, & Amodio, 2010). Future research on social norms and action plans, as well as on other interventions targeting the reduction of discriminatory behavior, promises to advance psychological scholarship on the dynamics of prejudice. Finally, extending research beyond the laboratory (e.g., field experiments) and beyond North American contexts can offer critical insights into the utility and durability of many common prejudice-reduction interventions that have shown success within the laboratory (see Paluck & Green, 2009).

Expanding the Scope of Prejudice Research

As previously discussed, the psychological study of prejudice has traditionally focused on processes within individuals, as well as the roles of social identity processes and functional relations between groups, as primary determinants of prejudice. This work has been highly generative, theoretically and practically. However, future work on prejudice might offer complementary perspectives by considering a more expansive conceptualization of prejudice, for instance, in conjunction with a diversity perspective.

A diversity perspective (see Jones & Dovidio, 2018) extends traditional research on prejudice in four ways. First, although prejudice research in psychology has increasingly considered a range of levels of analysis, a diversity approach requires analysis at multiple levels, ranging from micro to macro, and places greater emphasis on the interconnections and potentially reciprocal influences among social systems, institutions, social groups, and individuals. Second, a diversity frame embraces larger-scale mechanisms that are not contained solely in the mind of an individual, but rather are features or consequences of the systems (e.g., political, economic, educational) within which individuals are embedded (see Whitley & Webster, 2018). Third, a diversity perspective considers relations among multiple groups, including potentially unique properties of relations and attitudes between members of different minority groups (Craig & Richeson, 2016). This aspect of studying diversity expands the traditional focus beyond members of a majority group toward a minority group. And fourth, while recognizing that intergroup tension and conflict are important issues to address, a diversity approach also focuses on the benefits as well as the challenges that diversity presents. Highlighting the value of group differences can help undermine the threat, competition, and suspicion that fuel prejudice and group-based disparities.


Although prejudice, which is an attitude that creates or maintains hierarchical status relations between groups, is typically expressed as a negative evaluation of another group, in some forms (e.g., benevolent sexism) it may appear ostensibly positive but still function to subordinate a target group and its members. Also, explicit prejudice, which is conscious and intentional, can be distinguished from implicit prejudice, which is automatically activated, often without awareness. Prejudice affects behavior in the form of discrimination, but the magnitude of this effect may depend on features of the context, such as normative pressures. Because prejudice and discrimination typically engender social disapproval, prejudice is more likely to predict discrimination when such behavior can be rationalized as not indicative of bias.

Because of the multiple forces that shape prejudice, and the functional nature of bias, prejudice is difficult to change. However, both explicit and implicit prejudice may be reduced through intergroup contact and recategorization as well as by interventions developed specifically to reduce implicit prejudice toward outgroups and to reduce the extent to which intergroup bias translates into discrimination. The study of prejudice remains an active field of research, and future work may productively consider more micro-level processes (e.g., genetics) and more macro-level influences (e.g., culture, geography), as well as adopt a more expansive theoretical perspective to complement the important contributions of the traditional study of individual-level and intergroup dynamics of prejudice.

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