Politics and Prejudice – Insights from Psychological Science

New research from psychological science explores factors operating in political attitudes that could explain why political ideology and prejudice are often linked.

Liberals and Conservatives Both Prejudiced Against Groups with Opposing Values

Research has associated political conservatism with prejudice toward various stereotyped groups. But research has also shown that people select and interpret evidence consistent with their own pre-existing attitudes and ideologies. In this article, Chambers and colleagues hypothesized that, contrary to what some research might indicate, prejudice is not restricted to a particular political ideology. Rather, the conflicting values of liberals and conservatives give rise to different kinds of prejudice, with each group favoring other social groups that share their values. In the first study, three diverse groups of participants rated the ideological position and their overall impression of 34 different target groups. Participants’ impressions fell in line with their ideology. For example, conservatives expressed more prejudice than liberals against groups that were identified as liberal (e.g., African-Americans, homosexuals), but less prejudice against groups identified as conservative (e.g., Christian fundamentalists, business people). In the second and third studies, participants were presented with 6 divisive political issues and descriptions of racially diverse target persons for each issue. Neither liberals’ nor conservatives’ impressions of the target persons were affected by the race of the target, but both were strongly influenced by the target’s political attitudes. From these findings the researchers conclude that prejudices commonly linked with ideology are most likely derived from perceived ideological differences and not from other characteristics like racial tolerance or intolerance.

John Chambers, Department of Psychology, University of Florida – jrchamb@ufl.edu

“Ideology and Prejudice: The Role of Value Conflicts” – Forthcoming in Psychological Science

Abstract Thinking Reduces Prejudice Toward Outsider Groups

The abstract value of fairness is an essential part of the American ethos and yet bias and discrimination are still a part of everyday life in the United States. In this article, Luguri and colleagues investigated whether encouraging people to use an abstract thinking approach would reduce prejudice toward three groups that are often perceived as outside the norm: homosexuals, atheists, and Muslims. In three different studies, volunteers were primed to think in either an abstract or concrete manner and were then asked to rate their feelings toward different groups of people. While liberal participants reported positive feelings toward non-normative groups regardless of their mode of thinking, the abstract/concrete distinction made a difference for conservative participants: conservatives were significantly more positive toward non-normative groups when they were primed to think abstractly. These findings suggest that encouraging an abstract mindset could be a useful intervention—albeit a temporary one—for improving attitudes toward highly stigmatized groups.

Jamie B. Luguri, Department of Psychology, Yale University — jamie.luguri@yale.edu

“Reconstruing Intolerance: Abstract Thinking Reduces Conservatives’ Prejudice Against Nonnormative Groups”– Published in the July 2012 issue of Psychological Science

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