March 31, 2010

Learning Prejudice: Influence of Parents and Peers

One of the earlier sections in our prejudice and stereotypes course concerned how prejudices and stereotypes begin in children. This was a good set of readings, and I was particularly intrigued by Allport’s ideas on the different stages from which children learn prejudices (i.e., attaching emotions to labels, over-generalization of emotion to all people within a category, differentiation within the category, and then tailoring attitudes to fit self-image, status seeking, and values). His theories about these stages provided the framework for and were supported by research on the cognitive stages associated with category development years later. I think that this attests to how monumental Allport’s book on prejudice was, and why it’s still used as a main text today.

While going through the readings, I became more and more interested in the role of parents in the formation of childhood prejudices (perhaps because I want to become a parent myself one day). Allport (1954) argued for three social mechanisms of acquiring prejudice: learning, conformity, and contact. And he believed that parents were most influential within the realm of “learning." Not only does he argue that children adopt the prejudiced attitudes and ideas from their family environment, he also states that “rejective, neglectful, and inconsistent styles” of parental training lead to children developing prejudice.

Yet, that's a pretty remarkable statement to me. After reading Harris’ The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do, Revised and Updated (2009) a couple years ago, I was under the impression that parents had little lasting effect on the later personality and attitudes of children when they are grown. As I think Harris would argue, compared to parents, a child’s peer group is more influential on the later personality and attitudes that a child develops as he or she grows. Of course, to a point, parents do have the ability to control a child’s peer group . . . at least at a younger age. As Katz (2003) highlights, parents channel their children into their race beginning at 12 – 18 months. Many parents are likely not providing, nor approving of, access to peers from other ethnic backgrounds. Importantly, Katz explains that parents’ attitudes are indeed a significant predictor of racial bias. High bias children, more often than not, have parents with negative racial views and who don’t talk about other races. I think that this shows some support for Allport’s view. Of course, she also shows that the child’s best friend is a significant predictor of racial bias too. High bias children have more same-race friends.

I think the argument about whether parents or peers have the stronger influence relies too heavily on the explicit racial biases of each, and not on the power of implicit racial biases. Children appear to be very attuned to the non-verbal cues around them. As Castelli et al. (2008) show in their study, preschool children will express negative attitudes towards a Black model when a White model expresses some non-verbal (i.e., implicit) uneasiness over the Black model. This effect occurs regardless of whether the White model expresses any verbal friendliness with the Black model. More importantly, children appear to overgeneralize the negative views. They carry these views over to other Black models who have no relevance to the first situation. It's amazing how powerful implicit racial biases can be. Though, the White model in the experiments were not the children's parents, it is likely that children are picking up on the implicit biases of their parents from an early age.

References and further reading:

Allport, G. W. (1954/1979). The Nature of Prejudice. Perseus Books.

Dovidio, J. F., Glick, P., & Rudman, L. A. (Eds.) (2005). On the Nature of Prejudice: 50 Years After Allport. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

Bigler, R. S., & Liben, L. S. (2006). A developmental intergroup theory of social stereotypes and prejudice. Advances in Child Development and Behavior.

Cameron, J. A., Alvarez, J. A., Ruble, D., & Fuligni, A. (2001). Children's lay theories about ingroups and outgroups: Reconceptualizing research on prejudice. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 5, 118 - 128.

Castelli, L., De Dea, C., & Nesdale, D. (2008). Learning social attitudes: Children's sensitivity to the nonverbal behaviors of adult models during interracial interactions. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34, 1504 - 1513.

Harris, J. R. (1999). The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do. New York: The Free Press.

Katz, P. (2003). Racists or tolerant multiculturalists? How do they begin? American Psychologist, 58, 897 - 909.

February 28, 2010

Belongingness and Outgroup Derogation

Our first week of readings for our prejudice and stereotypes seminar gave a historical background and overview of research in prejudice and stereotypes. We read some of Gordon Allport’s classic work on prejudice, as well as pieces from more contemporary authors. Essentially, the readings dealt with the definition of prejudice, the cognitive aspect of stereotypes, and the group dynamics of in-groups and out-groups. Lots of good ideas were presented, but there were a few that really grabbed my attention.

First, Princeton psychologist, Susan Fiske, presented a “core social motives” approach to understanding prejudice, which I found particularly interesting. According to Fiske, as well as other theorists (e.g., Baumeister & Leary, 1995), we need other people to survive. As connecting with others is so important for our survival, we are embedded with various cognitive mechanisms and/or motivations that promote sociality. As we’re motivated to fit in with others, some of these motivations are likely to relate to group prejudices. The two social motives that I’m interested in most (as they relate to my own research) are the need to belong and the need for self-enhancement/self-esteem.

Belongingness is one of the most fundamental of human needs. It would therefore make sense that people will do whatever they can to connect with their group, encompassing what Allport (Chapter 2) refers to as “love-prejudice,” while avoiding being the target of ostracism or social rejection. This, of course, may come at the expense of out-group members (i.e. expressing in-group bias and out-group stereotypes). At the same time, people need to feel good about themselves and the groups to which they belong. Essentially, people are going to compare their group to others in ways that make them appear more favorable. For instance, when people experience temporary threats to their self-esteem, they make more stereotypical/prejudicial judgments of outgroup members.

This makes sense to me, especially in terms of Sociometer Theory (ST: Leary et al., 1995). According to ST, self-esteem and belongingness are intimately linked, in that self-esteem acts as a monitor of our inclusion status. When we are threatened with social exclusion, we experience a decrement in self-esteem which signals to us that we should adjust our behavior to avoid exclusion. In light of ST, the finding that people who experience threats to their self-esteem become more prejudiced makes very much sense to me. It’s possible that the decrement in self-esteem alerts the individual of an ostensible belongingness threat. And one way to seek out connections is to show more conformity to one’s in-group (i.e., expressing the in-group’s prejudiced opinions), as other members of one’s in-group are more likely to resemble candidates for future social acceptance than outgroup members.

Another interesting idea came from psychologists, Charles Stangor and Mark Schaller, who extend the idea of individual self-esteem to collective self-esteem. In their chapter, they bring up some evidence that when high status groups experience temporary evaluative threats, they also become more prejudiced. Perhaps Sociometer Theory has implications for collective self-esteem as well? Again, the findings would appear to coincide with ST. Yet, one question that I have is: under what conditions will an out-group member become a reasonable candidate for social connection? Essentially, when will people ignore their prejudices in order to seek connection with out-group members? Do people seek such a connection in moments of desperation, such as after being ostracized from their own in-groups?

Oh well, just some thoughts. More on prejudice and stereotypes next time!

References and further reading:

Allport, G. W. (1954/1979). The Nature of Prejudice. Perseus Books.

Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117, 497-529.

Dovidio, J. F., Glick, P., & Rudman, L. A. (Eds.) (2005). On the Nature of Prejudice: 50 Years After Allport. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

Leary, M. R., Tambor, E. S., Terdal, S. K., & Downs, D. L. (1995). Self-esteem as an
interpersonal monitor: The sociometer hypothesis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 68, 518-530.

Stangor, C., & Schaller, M. (2000). Stereotypes as individual and collective representations. Stereotypes and Prejudice: Essential Readings
(pp. 64 - 82). New York, NY US: Psychology Press.

February 22, 2010

a new post?

So, this is my first post of 2010. I know, I know. I'm not quite keeping up with my posting goals.

This has been a very busy semester for me, and my writing goals have been sucked up lately. Specifically, it was better for me to use my resources (i.e., free time) towards writing journal articles than towards writing blog posts. But things are slowing down a bit now, so I plan to get back to my goal of at least 2 - 4 blog posts a month.

So anyways, things are good here. I am running a lot of cool studies, teaching statistic labs, and taking two classes (i.e., one on aggression and one on prejudice and stereotypes). I've also been working on writing up a lot of papers for submission to journals . . . hopefully the hard work will pay off.

So, I'm trying to stay productive. Soon, I'll post about some of the readings that we've had in my classes so far. There are also a lot of links and videos that I have wanted to post on here, and just haven't had the time. One of which is below. This video is a talk by the neurobiologist, Robert Sapolsky, on the topic of the uniqueness of humans . . . or rather the non-uniqueness of humans. He explains that humans are not very different from animals in terms of aggression, empathy, pro-social behavior, and even theory of mind and culture. Well, enjoy the talk, and I hope everyone is doing well out there!