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gives us some idea of the complexity of the issue (Flohr, 1987).

The Role of Language in Maintaining Bias
Categorization is, generally, an automatic process. It is the ¬rst step in the impression
formation process. As mentioned earlier, it is not the same as stereotyping and preju-
dice, but it powerfully affects these other processes. One way in which categorizing
can lead to prejudice is through language. The way we sculpt our world via the words
and labels we use to describe people connects the category to prejudice. Social psy-
chologist Charles Perdue and his colleagues tested the hypothesis that the use of words
describing in-groups and out-groups unconsciously forms our biases and stereotypes
(Perdue, Dovidio, Gurtman, & Tyler, 1990).
Perdue suggested that the use of collective pronouns”we, us, ours, they, their,
theirs”is very in¬‚uential in how we think about people and groups. We use these terms
to assign people to in-groups and out-groups. In one study, Perdue and his colleagues
showed participants a series of nonsense syllables (xeh, yof, laj) paired with pronouns
designating in-group or out-group status (we, they). Participants were then asked to
rate each of the nonsense syllables they had just seen in terms of the pleasantness or
unpleasantness of the feelings they evoked. As shown in Figure 4.6, nonsense words
paired with in-group pronouns were rated much more favorably than the same nonsense
words paired with out-group pronouns or with control stimuli. Out-group pronouns gave
negative meaning to previously unencountered and neutral nonsense syllables.
In a second experiment, these investigators demonstrated that in-group and out-group
pronouns bias the processing of information about those groups. Participants saw a series
of positive- and negative-trait words, such as helpful, clever, competent, irresponsible,
sloppy, and irritable. Now, a positive trait ought to be positive under any circumstances,
and the same should hold true for negative traits, wouldnʼt you agree? Skillful is gener-
ally positive; sloppy is generally negative. But as Figure 4.7 shows, it took participants
longer to describe a negative trait as negative when that trait had been associated with
an in-group pronoun. Similarly, it took participants longer to describe a positive trait
as positive when it had been associated with an out-group pronoun. It took them little
time to respond to a positive trait associated with an in-group pronoun and to a nega-
tive trait associated with an out-group pronoun.
These ¬ndings suggest that we have a nonconscious tendency (after all, the par-
ticipants were not aware of the associations) to connect in-group labels with positive
attributes rather than negative ones and out-group labels with negative attributes rather
than positive ones. These associations are so strong that they shape the way we process
subsequent information. They also seem to be deep and long lasting, a fact that may
help explain why stereotypes remain so tenacious.
illusory correlation
An error in judgment about Illusory Correlations
the relationship between
The tendency to associate negative traits with out-groups is explained by one of the
two variables in which two
fundamental cognitive bases of stereotyping, the illusory correlation. An illusory cor-
unrelated events are believed
to covary. relation is an error in judgment about the relationship between two variables or, in other
Chapter 4 Prejudice and Discrimination 129

Figure 4.6
Standardized ratings
of target syllables as
a function of pronoun
pairing. Syllables paired
with in-group pronouns
were judged more pleasant
those those paired with out-
group pronouns.
From Perdue, Dovidio, and Tyler.

Figure 4.7 Reaction
times to positive and
negative trait descriptors as
a function of pronoun type
(in-group or out-group).
Information processing is
affected by in-group and
out-group thinking.
From Perdue, Dovidio, and Tyler (1990).

words, a belief that two unrelated events covary (are systematically related) (Hamilton
& Sherman, 1989). For example, a person may notice that each time he wears his old
high school bowling shirt when he goes bowling, he bowls very well. He may come to
believe that there is a connection between the two events. Similarly, if you think that
members of a minority group are more likely than members of a majority group to have
Social Psychology

a negative trait, then you perceive a correlation between group membership and behav-
ior relating to that trait (Schaller, 1991).
Sometimes this cognitive bias crops up even among trained professionals. For
example, a physician diagnosed a young, married African American woman with
chronic pelvic in¬‚ammatory disease, an ailment related to a previous history of
sexually transmitted disease. This diagnosis was made despite the fact that there was no
indication in her medical history that she had ever had such a disease. As it turned out,
she actually had endometriosis, a condition unrelated to sexually transmitted diseases
(Time, June 1, 1992). The physicianʼs beliefs about young black women, that they
are sexually promiscuous, led to a diagnosis consistent with those beliefs. Research
supports this anecdote. For example, participants have been found to ascribe different
abilities to a girl depending on whether she is portrayed as having a lower or higher
socioeconomic-status background (Darley & Gross, 1983).
These examples illustrate the human tendency to overestimate the co-occurrence of
pairs of distinctive stimuli (Sherman, Hamilton, & Roskos-Ewoldsen, 1989). In the case
of the misdiagnosis, the presence of two distinctive stimuli”a young black woman and
a particular symptom pattern”led the physician to conclude that the womanʼs disor-
der was related to her sexual history. The tendency to fall prey to this illusion has been
veri¬ed in other experiments (Chapman & Chapman, 1967).
The illusory correlation helps explain how stereotypes form. The reasoning goes like
this: Minority groups are distinctive because they are encountered relatively infrequently.
Negative behavior is also distinctive because it is, in general, encountered less frequently
than positive behavior. Because both are distinctive, there is a tendency for people to
overestimate the frequency with which they occur together, that is, the frequency with
which minority group members do undesirable things (Sherman et al., 1989).
Research shows that if people are presented with information about a majority group
and a minority group and these groups are paired with either rare or common traits,
people associate the smaller group with the rarer trait (Hamilton & Sherman, 1989).
If both a minority and majority group have the same negative trait, say a tendency
toward criminal behavior, the negative behavior will be more distinctive when paired
with the minority as compared to the majority group. Our cognitive apparatus seems
to lead us to make an automatic association between negative behavior and minority-
group membership.
Distinctive characteristics are also likely to play a critical role in the formation
of category-based responses. In any gathering of people, we pay more attention to
those who appear to be different from others, such as a white in an otherwise all-black
group, or a man in an all-woman group. Skin color, gender, and ethnicity are salient
One function of automatic evaluation is to point to events that may endanger the
perceiver (Pratto & John, 1991). Certainly, sociobiologists would agree with that notion.
The human ability to recognize friend from foe, safety from danger, would have fun-
damental survival value (Ike, 1987). For example, people automatically responded to
an angry (salient) face in a happy crowd (Hansen & Hansen, 1988). An angry person
among friends is dangerous. Another study demonstrated that individuals automatically
turn their attention from a task to words, pictures, or events that might be threatening
(Pratte & John, 1991). Participants attended more rapidly to salient negative traits than
to positive ones. This automatic vigilance may lead people to weigh undesirable attri-
butes in those around them differently than positive attributes.
Chapter 4 Prejudice and Discrimination 131

When we encounter other groups, then, it is not surprising that we pay more atten-
tion to the bad things about them than the good. Negative social information grabs our
attention. This greater attention to negative information may protect us from immediate
harm, but it also helps perpetuate stereotypes and may contribute to con¬‚ict between
groups (Pratto & John, 1991).

From Illusory Correlations to Negative Stereotypes via the Fundamental Attribution
Error The fact that a negative bit of information about a different group has grabbed
our attention does not necessarily lead to discrimination against that group. There
must be a link between the salience of negative information and prejudiced behavior.
The fundamental attribution error”the tendency to overestimate internal attributes
and underestimate the effect of the situation”supplies this link and plays a role in the
formation of discriminatory stereotypes. This is particularly true when perceivers do
not take into account the roles assigned to people. Recall the quiz show study described
in Chapter 3 in which participants thought that the quiz show questioners were smarter
than the contestants (Ross, Arnabile, & Steinmetz, 1977), even though roles had been
randomly assigned.
This confusion between internal dispositions and external roles has led to punishing
negative stereotypes of different groups. Letʼs consider just one example, the experi-
ence of the Jews in Europe over the past several hundred years (Ross & Nisbitt, 1991).
Historically, Jews had many restrictions imposed on them in the countries where they
resided. They were prevented from owning land; they often had to be in certain desig-
nated areas; they could not enter politics; and many professions were closed to them.
This exclusion from the greater society left the Jews with two options: either convert
to Christianity or maintain their own distinctive culture. Most Jews opted for the latter,
living within the walls of the ghetto (in fact, the word ghetto is derived from the Venetian
word Gheto, which referred to a section of the city where iron slag was cooled and
Jews were forced to live) assigned to them by the Christian majority and having little
to do with non-Jews. Exclusion and persecution strengthened their in-group ties and
also led the majority to perceive them as clannish. However, one segment of the Jewish
population was highly visible to the mainstream society”the money lenders. Money
lending was a profession forbidden to Christians and open to Jews (Ross & Nisbett,
1991). Although it was held in contempt, it was an essential function in national and
international business, especially as capitalism began to develop. Jewish money lenders
became important behind-the-scenes ¬gures in the affairs of Europe. Thus, the most dis-
tinctive members of the group”distinctive for their visibility, their economic success,
and their political importance”were invariably money lenders.
The distinctive negative role of money lending, although restricted to only a few
Jews, began to be correlated with Jews in general. Jews were also seen as distinctive
because of their minority status, their way of life, their unique dress, and their in-group
solidarity. All of these characteristics were a function of the situation and roles thrust
on the Jews by the majority, but they came to be seen, via the fundamental attribution
error, as inherent traits of Jewish people in general. These traits were then used as a
justi¬cation for discrimination, based on the rationale that Jews were different, clan-
nish, and money grubbing.
Jews have been depicted in negative ways throughout history. For example, in
Shakespeareʼs The Merchant of Venice, the Jewish money lender, Shylock, is depicted
as a bloodthirsty person who will stop at nothing to extract his pound of ¬‚esh for
repayment of a defaulted debt. However, do these stereotypes still crop up today in
Social Psychology

“enlightened” American communities? Movie director Steven Speilberg grew up in
New Jersey and Arizona but never experienced anti-Semitism until his family moved
to Saratoga, California, during his senior year in high school:

He encountered kids who would cough the word Jew in their hands when they
passed him, beat him up, and throw pennies at him in study hall. “It was my
six months of personal horror. And to this day I havenʼt gotten over it nor have I
forgiven any of them.” (Newsweek, December 20, 1993, p. 115)

Historically, Jews were not the only group to suffer from majority exclusion and
the fundamental attribution error (Ross & Nisbett, 1991). The Armenians in Turkey, the
Indians in Uganda, and the Vietnamese boat people were all money middlemen who
took on that role because no other positions were open to them. All of these groups
suffered terrible fates.

The Con¬rmation Bias
People dealing with Jews in the 18th century in Europe or with Armenians in Turkey
at the turn of the 20th century found it easy to con¬rm their expectancies about these
groups; perceivers could recall the money lenders, the strange dress, the different
customs. Stereotypes are both self-con¬rming and resistant to change.
Numerous studies show that stereotypes can in¬‚uence social interactions in ways that
lead to their con¬rmation. In one study, some participants were told that a person with
whom they would soon talk was in psychotherapy; other participants were told nothing
about the person (Sibicky & Dovidio, 1986). In actuality, the individuals they talked to
were randomly chosen students from basic psychology courses; none were in therapy.
After the interviews, participants were asked to evaluate the person with whom they had
interacted. Those individuals identi¬ed as therapy clients were rated less con¬dent, less
attractive, and less likable than the individuals not described as being in therapy.
We can see from this study that once people have a stereotype, they evaluate infor-
mation within the context of that stereotype. After all, none of the people being inter-
viewed in the experiment were in fact in therapy. The differences between the ratings
had to be due to the participantsʼ stereotypical view of what somebody in therapy must
be like. Describing a person as being in therapy seems to lead to a negative perception of
that person. People who hold negative stereotypes about certain groups may behave so
that group members act in a way that con¬rms the stereotype (Crocker & Major, 1989).
The con¬rmation bias contributes in many instances to self-ful¬lling prophecies. If
you expect a person to be hostile, your very expectation and the manner in which you
behave may bring on that hostility. In the study just described, participants who thought
they were interacting with someone in therapy probably held a stereotypical view of all
people with psychological problems. It is likely that they behaved in a way that made
those individuals uneasy and caused them to act in a less con¬dent manner.

The Out-Group Homogeneity Bias
An initial effect of categorization is that members of the category are thought to be more
similar to each other than is the case when people are viewed as individuals. Because we
have a fair amount of information about the members of our own group (the in-group),
out-group homogeneity
we are able to differentiate among them. But we tend to view members of other groups
bias The predisposition to see
(out-groups) as being very similar to one another (Wilder, 1986). This phenomenon of
members of an out-group as
perceiving members of the out-group as all alike is called the out-group homogeneity
having similar characteristics
or being all alike. bias (Linville, Fischer, & Salovey, 1989).
Chapter 4 Prejudice and Discrimination 133

The out-group homogeneity hypothesis was tested in one study involving students
from Princeton and Rutgers Universities (Quattrone & Jones, 1980). Participants, who
were either Rutgers or Princeton students, saw a videotape of a student supposedly
from the other school. The videotaped person had to decide whether he wanted to wait
alone or with other people before being a participant in a psychological experiment.
The actual participant then had to predict what the average student at the target uni-
versity (Rutgers for Princeton students and Princeton for Rutgers students) would do
in a similar situation.
Would the participants see students at the other university as similar to the student
they had viewed? Would they predict that most Princeton students (or Rutgers students)
would make the same choice as the Princeton student (or Rutgers student) in the ¬lm
clip? These questions get at the issue of whether people see out-group members as more
similar to one another than to the in-group members. In fact, this is pretty much what the
study showed, although there was a greater tendency to stereotype Princeton students
than Rutgers students. That seems logical, because it is probably easier to conjure up a
stereotype of Princeton student. In general, however, results supported the notion that
the out-group homogeneity bias leads us to think that members of out-groups are more
similar to one another than to members of in-groups.
A second outcome of out-group homogeneity bias is the assumption that any behav-
ior of an out-group member re¬‚ects the characteristics of all group members. If a member
of an out-group does something bad, we tend to conclude, “Thatʼs the way those people
are.” In contrast, when an in-group member does something equally negative, we tend
to make a dispositional attribution, blaming the person rather than our own in-group
ultimate attribution error
for the negative behavior. This has been referred to as the ultimate attribution error:
The tendency to give in-group,


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