Prejudice, Discrimination and Hate: A Psychological Overview


Prejudice, Discrimination and Hate: A Psychological Overview

This is a general discussion, an attempt to bring to light the psychological reasons behind why we discriminate against other human beings based on some irrational   differences such as color of skin, ethnicity, gender, religion and language.


Quite literally prejudice means to pre-judge or to form an opinion about something before all the facts are gathered. One of the earliest psychological explanations of prejudice described it as: “an antipathy based on faulty and inflexible generalization towards a group as a whole or towards an individual because they are a member of that group.”

The first thing that this explanation tells us is that prejudice is not something logical or based in fact, but rather, on a series of assumptions, half-truths and guesses. Secondly, it tells us is that prejudice is based on generalization – on a whole host of characteristics and qualities that we assume a person has, based purely on the fact that he or she is a member of a particular group.


Assuming that prejudice is an attitude, then discrimination is manifestation of such attitude, which results in stigma and ‘Label’ as it is often called. A great deal of prejudice is unconscious, reflected in the basic stereotyped assumptions that we make about others every day. These generalizations affect our behavior and cause us to discriminate against whole sections of society. Eventually, large groups become ‘ghettoized’ and the people within these groups feel isolated and alone.


Extreme manifestation of prejudice and discrimination is that of hate which is defined as intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger,  sense of injury or extreme dislike or antipathy.

Why are we Prejudice?

One of the earliest attempts to try and understand the nature of prejudice, stated that prejudice was something hidden deep within each of us and ingrained in all of our personalities. Writing in a book called [The Authoritarian Personality], the psychologist Theodor Adorno put forward the idea that there were certain people with certain personality traits such as aggression, intolerance and conservatism that pre-disposed them to hold prejudiced views and be hostile towards ethnic minorities and other social groups.(1)

Another wildly accepted theory in explaining prejudice is known as [Social Learning Theory]. This theory places a strong emphasis on our ‘socialization’, or on how we are brought up; the values of our parents and friends which we absorb, where we live, and what culture we belong to. Psychologists have long questioned why people behave differently when they are in groups rather than when alone. They raise questions like: what is it about being part of a pack at a football match or being part of a community or culture that makes us almost lose our sense of identity and take sides against a supposed enemy? (2)

These psychologists see that the more dependent a person is on their social identity for their personal identity, or on their group to give them their feeling of self esteem, the higher the possibility of them being prejudiced. Among people who have a low opinion of themselves, prejudice is often used to separate themselves from groups they don’t want to belong to and grow closer to groups they do.

(1) The Authoritarian Personality (Studies in Prejudice); by Theodor W. Adorno (Author), Else Frenkel-Brunswik (Author), Daniel J. Levinson (Contributor) ; W W Norton & Co Inc; Abr Rei edition (November 1993), ISBN-13: 978-0393311129 –
(2) Ormrod, J.E. (1999). Human learning (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.……


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