Prejudice is an attitude (usually negative) toward the member of some group solely on their membership in that group. Prejudice can also bee seen as part of the general process of ethnocentrism. Discrimination can be seen as the behavioural expression of prejudice. Psychological theories which attempt to explain the origins of prejudice fall into two major categories. Personality theories, which see the source of prejudice as being in the individual and social psychological theories, which see prejudice as a result of group membership. An example of a personality theory would be Bandura’s social learning theory, which argues that attitudes such as prejudices are learned from role models. Many social psychological theories argue that society may be much more important than personality types in accounting for prejudice. Such theories see prejudice as a result of group membership and group interaction. An interesting social psychological approach was demonstrated by Sherif. Sherif (1966) believes that prejudice arises out of conflict between two groups. For example when two groups want to achieve the same goal but cannot both have it, hostility is produced between them. Increased competition between various groups during periods of economic decline, for example, may be one of the factors contributing to prejudice. Tajfel like Sherif believes that the personality approach is inadequate in explaining prejudice and he also uses a social psychological approach. However, Tajfel et al (1971) argue that ‘competition’ is not a sufficient condition for inter-group conflict and hostility. Tajfel does not deny the importance of ‘competition’ between groups, personality types as explanations for the origins of prejudice but argues that mere perception of the existence of another group can itself produce discrimination. Tajfel et al argue that, before any discrimination can occur, people must be categorised as members of an in-group or an out-group, but more significantly the very act of categorisation by itself produces conflict and discrimination. By in-group we mean a group to which a person belongs, or thinks he or she belongs. By out-group we mean a group to which a person does not belong, or thinks he or she does not belong.
The aim of Tajfel’s study was to demonstrate that merely putting people into groups (categorisation) is sufficient for people to discriminate in favour of their own group and against members of the other group.
The study consisted of two laboratory experiments. The independent variable was the type of allocation they were asked to make and the dependent variable was the choices they made (either being fair or showing discrimination)
The First Experiment (under-estimators and over-estimators)
The subjects were 64 boys, 14 and 15 years old from a comprehensive school in a suburb of Bristol. The subjects came to the laboratory in separate groups of 8. All of the boys in each of the groups were from the same house in the same form at the school, so that they knew each other well before the experiment. The first part of the experiment served to establish an intergroup categorisation. At first the boys were brought together in a lecture room and were told that the experimenters were interested in the study of visual judgements. Forty clusters of varying numbers of dots were flashed on a screen and the boys were asked to record each estimate in succession on prepared score sheets. There were two conditions in the first part of the experiment. In one condition, after the boys had completed their estimates they were told that in judgements of this kind some people consistently overestimate the number of dots and some consistently underestimate the number, but that these tendencies are in no way related to accuracy. (‘under-estimators - over-estimators’ condition). In the other condition the boys were told that some people are consistently more...