Since we are all living in a bias society, I thought everyone could benefit from the following information. We know we are all guilty, no matter how hard we try.
As a species, humans have a tendency to treat others differently than those that are not included in their own group. People belong to many groups and some are intentional, while others are not. People that have a bias tendency toward their own group have difficulty with identifying with those that are not included into this group. This tendency can be called a bias towards those with which they identify. The following paragraphs will discuss specific biases, such as stereotyping and discrimination, and varying degrees of bias, such as blatant and subtle. The impact of this concept will also be discussed, as well as possible strategies that may be used to for individuals and groups to overcome social biases.
Many types of social biases exist in today’s society, but none as prevalent as prejudice and discrimination toward an individual or group. As with any behavior, a cognitive and an emotional element are present that influence the behavior of the individual. The cognitive component of prejudice is stereotyping (Huffman, 2004). “Stereotyping is a set of beliefs about the characteristics of people in a group that is generalized to all group members” (Huffman, 2004, p.566).
Thoughts and beliefs of this nature have an emotional factor associated with them and in the case of stereotyping, it is called prejudice. Prejudice is a learned attitude toward towards members of a group and this attitude is usually negative (Huffman, 2004). Once the thought and feeling about a group of people is established, the possibility of discrimination increases.
Discrimination is the behavioral component of this tripod of thoughts, feelings, and actions and is defined as negative behaviors directed toward a group of people. This action portion of the trio is always negative in some respect. The individual that is affiliated with this group of people is denied the same treatment or privileges by a person or other group that inaccurately perceives this person to be different or less of a person in some way.
Stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination are all viewed as negative concepts that can have negative consequences, but there are varying degrees of these social biases. Subtle and blatant biases are just two categories on each end of a severity spectrum, but there are other concepts to consider that some might view as somewhere in the middle of this spectrum.
Blatant biases are usually what are conjured up in a person’s mind when thinking about the concept of prejudice and discrimination. This is the more severe or overt degree of social bias and can yield negative behaviors, such as harming another simply because they are a member of another group (Fiske, 2004). These extreme actions derive from extreme thoughts and emotions associated with the out-group and can be fueled by in-group activity and validation. People that demonstrate blatant bias are not afraid to express their prejudice towards another group and at times may appear to be proud of this demonstration.
Subtle biases are less intentional and less overt, but can be just as harmful. With recent social views of racism and prejudice surfacing and being viewed as unacceptable, people that want to be acceptable in their society will follow this concept, but still hold emotional and cognitive components that affect their behavior. Although many people believe that prejudice and discrimination are wrong, this can often be an automatic response to a situation. Although an individual from a perceivably undesirable group may outwardly appear to be accepted, they are not honestly and fully accepted by the discriminating group in the case of subtle bias.
The impact of social biases can be detrimental to both the recipient and the instigator. To the instigator, the impact may affect the person or group on a more extrinsic level than an intrinsic one. For example, if a business owner or company chooses to discriminate against a potential employee without just cause (criminal record, lack of education), the growth and future of their business can possibly be affected. This scenario could affect the company or owner’s actions or discrimination, but more importantly would not affect their cognitive or emotional component.
The recipient of the social bias is almost always affected more than the instigator because this effect can produce emotional pain and cognitive changes. For example, using the scenario above, the potential employee being discriminated against would be affected emotionally and could possibly become prejudice based on this negative experience. He or she may believe that all people in this group behave this way and treat others in this group with the same distain with future encounters.
The above scenario is just one probable case of discrimination, but thousands of people from all groups are challenged with social biases every day. It is difficult to pinpoint all the damage social bias can cause, as it has a tendency to affect more than just the people directly involved. Fortunately, there are strategies that exist to help combat or possibly over come some of these biases.
Overcoming social biases is difficult, but not impossible. As mentioned above, an emotional and cognitive component is involved with this biased concept. Starting in these two areas will eventually affect the behaviors that cause the damaging results. One aspect that divides people is differences and lack of experience with or contact between different groups.
One study that was conducted in 1966 showed that division among groups can promote prejudice, as well as diminish it, given the right circumstances (Huffman, 2004). The study first divided a group of adolescent boys at a summer camp into different cabins and assigned them different tasks so that they were competing with one another. This created feeling of group identity and eventually strong negative feelings toward the other groups with which they were competing. This lead to name-calling, fights, and others behaviors that could be labeled as prejudice.
Following this, the researchers then created a minicrisis, or superordinate goals, that required labor, expertise, and cooperation from both groups to overcome this new situation. As they worked together, the hostilities began to subside, all to conquer the goal of all groups involved. At the end of this summer camp, there was no preference towards members of common groups, demonstrating integration from the superordinate goals they worked to achieve together.
As demonstrated by the study above, varying circumstances that divide people can also bring different groups of people together. This same strategy can be used to overcome social biases. For example, if a manager at a company has employees with social biases, the manager can encourage the employees to attend a workshop or create a project together that produces the need for cooperation from all individuals involved in order to complete the given task or goal.
Social biases can create hate, anger and discontent among everyone involved. Some people have the desire to overcome these biases, while others do not. Those that seek a positive change still have many obstacles to overcome, including their own subconscious. People that fit into this category need to take every opportunity to educate themselves on these differences and acknowledge that any change, whether it’s a perspective or behavior, begins with them. These concepts help to explain implications and assumptions that many people have about out-groups and may help them to unite by understanding the very thing that seems to divide them.
Fiske, S. (2004). Social beings. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
Huffman, K (2004). Psychology in action. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.