Prejudice, stereotyping and discrimination are the three notions that play key roles in the understanding of present-day society and people’s interrelations within it. People have been categorizing everything and eventually they have divided themselves into groups according to many criteria. They stated that the representatives of different races, genders, or classes are not similar and have numerous differences in appearance, behavior and character. Being the results of categorization, prejudice and stereotypes usually have negative meaning and as they are the reasons for other people’s false perception, it is very important to develop effective strategies to reduce prejudice and its adverse consequences.
For better understanding of the origins and effects of prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination, one should orient himself in these terms and understand the difference between them. To start with, prejudice is defined as positive or negative attitude or feeling towards something or someone, by means of which people prejudge, taking into account some definite characteristics. Prejudice is learned and unconscious and this means that people are not born with these beliefs and do not usually realize that they have them (Allport, 2000). Prejudice is usually directed against all the members of the group.
Stereotype is the result of prejudice and it is defined as an attitude towards the members of the group. Stereotypes are the cognitive structures that contain our knowledge and beliefs. According to the interpretation of many scholars, stereotype acts as a justificatory device for categorical acceptance or rejection of people, and as a selective device to maintain simplicity in perception and thinking (Hamilton, 2005). Thus, stereotypes are exaggerated and oversimplified attitudes towards certain group of people, countries, or genders. Stereotypes are passed down over many generations and are used to justify prejudice and discrimination. Moreover, they are not based on facts and in most cases have negative meaning.
While prejudice and stereotypes refer to thinking and believing, discrimination consists of actions against people. Usually, acts of discrimination are based on religion, age, health, or race. According to the most general definition, discrimination is actively making decisions and choices, which have an adverse impact on the members of one group. Discrimination involves putting the members of a certain group at a disadvantage or treating them unjustly because of their group membership. Together with the other levels of acting out prejudice (antilocution, avoidance, physical attack and extermination), discrimination is difficult to erase from the society just by means of abolishment or speaking about it. Thus, summing up the three definitions, prejudice is the feeling about the group, stereotype is the set of attitudes towards the group and finally discrimination is the behavior directed at the members of a group.
The process of categorization of people has been taking place from the beginning of times, and according to the social identity theory, it can produce discriminating behavior. Being labeled evokes behavior that favors the members of one group and discriminated against the members of other ones. In terms of social psychology, an in-group is a group to which someone belongs, and an out-group is a group to which someone does not belong (Feenstra, 2011). Thus, a person's in-group is another person's out-group.
Speaking about the origins of prejudice and stereotypes, it needs to be mentioned that they exist due to the socialization, economic effect (competition for insufficient resources and jobs) and psychological effect (false sense of superiority). People use stereotypes to justify prejudice and to make life easier, to expect something from people, to interpret their actions and behavior and to maintain certain standards. As stereotypes can be individual and group their origin differs depending on this factor as well. Besides, prejudice can be either automatic or deliberate. People tend to evaluate each other depending of whether they are members of in-group or out-group and the issue is they make decisions in the basis of who is a representative of their own religion, race, gender, or social class (Feenstra, 2011). Some studies prove, that the tendency to dislike out-group members is evolutionary old and that is why it is very difficult to eliminate. However, the study conducted on monkeys also prove, that there is a flexibility, which can reduce prejudice and might allow people to be more tolerant creatures.
Among the most common effects, caused by such a categorization are the in-group favoritism and out-group homogeneity. When people identify themselves with a group, they perceive the group members as different from other groups. In-group favoritism is dominant in human behavior. According to this pattern of behavior, people help members of their group more than the members of the other ones and favor the people like them. Another major effect is the effect of out-group homogeneity. Research on the out-group homogeneity effect has found that people tend to see out-group members as more alike than in-group ones. As a result, out-group members are usually seen as interchangeable, and they are more likely to be prejudiced and stereotyped.
Of course, those stereotypes and prejudices, which result in discrimination or other advert actions, are to be reduced and we may single out some strategies to reduce prejudice. First, all people in the society are to have equal status so that there is only one group without divisions into race or class. Second, the contact between people must be personal and informal. Finally, it is essential to contact with multiple group members to break down existing stereotypes. People who do not want to use stereotypes and prejudge other people are to access the situation, to learn more about a person and to find out whether the existing stereotypes are applicable to him. Today the most powerful way to reduce prejudice and to prevent discrimination is the multicultural education. Study about multiculturalism helps students to learn more about the representatives of different cultures and to understand that all people are equal and no one wants to be prejudiced and accessed by means of stereotyping (Kellner, 2003). As for me, such an education, as well as other strategies is very important as negative stereotypes influence people’s judgments, decisions and interpersonal behavior. The acts of prejudice, including discrimination, may lead to fatal outcomes with lots of innocent victims.
Summing up, prejudice, stereotypes and acts of discrimination are closely connected and usually become apparent coefficiently. These notions are very important for understanding of present-day society and interrelations of its members. As humans have got into the way of categorizing things and other people, all of us are divided into groups, races, genders, and classes. Those stereotypes and prejudice, which have negative meaning and which are not based on facts, are the reasons for false perception of people and they definitely need to be reduced by means of multicultural education and close communication.