Prejudice is a negative attitude about members of a group. Prejudice translated into behavior is called discrimination, behaving differently, usually unfairly, toward group members. Prejudice often develops through stereotypes, fixed, simplistic (usually wrong) conceptions of traits, behaviors, and attitudes of a particular group of people. The widely practiced discrimination termed sexism is based on a gender stereotype that women are inferior.
Causes of prejudice. While the causes of prejudice are complex, the following have been suggested as methods of acquiring prejudiced beliefs.
social learning: Children learn prejudice by watching parents and friends.
motivational theory: People motivated to achieve success develop negative views about competitors and generalize those views to all members of the competitors' group.
personality theory: People develop prejudices because of experiences during their development. For example, a person reared by a red‐haired authoritarian woman who uses physical punishment may develop a prejudice against all women with red hair.
cognitive theory: People conceptualize their world by using mental shortcuts to organize it, for example, by thinking such things as “all homeless people are alike.”
Elimination of prejudice. Prejudice can be eliminated in several ways, including acquainting prejudiced people with a member of the group they are prejudiced against and teaching them to think rationally about such matters as status equality and changing social norms through desegregation.