AskDefine | Define prejudice

Dictionary Definition

prejudice n : a partiality that prevents objective consideration of an issue or situation [syn: bias, preconception]


1 disadvantage by prejudice
2 influence (somebody's) opinion in advance [syn: prepossess]

User Contributed Dictionary



Old French, from Latin praejudicium - previous judgment, damage. prae- before + judicium judgment


  1. An adverse judgement or opinion formed beforehand or without knowledge of the facts.
  2. Any preconceived opinion or feeling, whether positive or negative.
  3. An irrational hostile attitude, fear or hatred towards a particular group, race or religion.
  4. The damage caused by such fear or hatred.


adverse judgement formed beforehand
  • Czech: předsudek
  • Dutch: bevooroordelen
  • Estonian: eelarvamus
  • Finnish: ennakkoluulo
  • German: Vorurteil
  • Greek: προκατάληψη
  • Hungarian: előítélet
  • Japanese: 偏見 (へんけん, henken)
  • Portuguese: preconceito
  • Spanish: prejuicio
  • Swedish: fördom
any preconceived opinion
irrational hostile attitude
damage caused

Derived terms


  1. To have a negative impact on someone's position, chances etc.
  2. To cause prejudice.


to have a negative impact
  • Finnish: vahingoittaa, vaarantaa
  • Portuguese: prejudicar
to cause prejudice

Related terms

See also

Extensive Definition

The word prejudice refers to prejudgment: making a decision before becoming aware of the relevant facts of a case or event. The word has commonly been used in certain restricted contexts, in the expression 'racial prejudice'. Initially this is referred to making a judgment about a person based on their race,religion,etc., before receiving information relevant to the particular issue on which a judgment was being made; it came, however, to be widely used to refer to any hostile attitude towards people based on their race or even by just judging someone without even knowing them. Subsequently the word has come to be widely so interpreted in this way in contexts other than those relating to race. The meaning now is frequently "any unreasonable attitude that is unusually resistant to rational influence". Race, gender, ethnic, sexual identity, age, and religion have a history of in citing prejudicial behavior.

Forms of prejudice

Frank J. Farley classified prejudice into three categories. Cognitive Prejudice refers to what people believe is true. An example of cognitive prejudice might be found, for example, adherence to a particular metaphysical or methodological philosophy to the exclusion of other philosophies that may offer a more complete theoretical explanation. Affective Prejudice refers to what people like and dislike. An example of affective prejudice might be found, for example, in attitudes toward members of particular classes such as race, ethnicity, national origin, or creed. Conative Prejudice refers to how people are inclined to behave. Conative prejudice is regarded as an attitude because people don't act on their feelings. An example of conative prejudice might be found in expressions of what should be done if the opportunity presented itself. These three types of prejudice are correlated, but all need not be present in a particular individual. Someone might believe a particular group possesses low levels of intelligence, but harbour no ill feelings toward that group. A group might be disliked because of intense competition for jobs, but still recognize no differences between groups. Prejudice was displayed towards Jews during the Holocaust.
'Discrimination' is a behavior (an action), with reference to unequal treatment of people because they are members of a particular group. Farley also classified discrimination into three categories. Personal / Individual Discrimination is directed toward a specific individual and refers to any act that leads to unequal treatment because of the individual's real or perceived group membership. Legal Discrimination refers to "unequal treatment, on the grounds of group membership, that is upheld by law." Apartheid is an example of legal discrimination, as are also various post-Civil war laws in the southern United States that legally disadvantaged negros with respect to property rights, employment rights and the exercise of constitutional rights. Institutional Discrimination refers to unequal treatment that is entrenched in basic social institutions resulting in advantaging one group over another. The Indian caste system is an historical example of institutional discrimination. As with prejudice generally, these three types of discrimination are correlated and may be found to varying degrees in individuals and society at large. Many forms of discrimination based upon prejudice are outwardly acceptable in most societies.

Reasons for prejudice

Prejudice has been researched extensively and psychologists generally come to a few approaches: arousal, personality, intergroup interaction, and by learning.

Arousal approach

Following the psychodynamic perspective, some traditional psychologists described prejudice a result of frustration. Psychodynamics theory assumed that human mind contains psychic energy, which serve as a tool for psychological activities and can only be discharged through cathartic – the completion of the activities – to maintain equilibrium (Dollard, Doob, Miller, Mowrer, & Sears, 1939). Impediment of dissipation results in frustration, which can only be corrected through aggression. Prejudice is an occasion in which a group of people is frustrated by a stronger group which is too powerful or remote to be aggressed against, thus they displaced the aggressive behavior onto weaker groups, which serve as a scapegoat. For example, when a boy is scolded by his parent, he may choose to displace the frustration to his weaker sister since he is unable to fight back to his parent. Although empirical data generally confirmed a correlation between frustration and aggression (Hovland & Sears, 1940; Miller & Bugelski, 1948), researches showed neither necessary nor sufficient causal relationship between frustration and aggression. Therefore, critics argue that this theory can only explain limited factors of intergroup aggression. Moreover, this theory has also been criticized on its reductionist approach that explains group behavior in terms of individual states (Billig, 1976; Brown, 2000; Hogg & Abrams, 1988).

Personality approach

Another classical explanation on prejudice concerns the personalities which create tendency on prejudice against minorities. Historically, psychologists suggested various personalities contributing to discrimination, including authoritarianism, dogmatism, closed-mindedness, dominant orientation, etc (Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswik, Levinson, & Sanford, 1950; Rokeach, 1948; Pratto, Sidanius, Stallworth, & Malle, 1994). In general, people having these personalities tend to bias towards their own group and refuse to accept belief-contradicting information, thus remain their stereotype on the prejudiced group. Concerning the origin of the prejudice personalities, psychologists following the psychodynamics perspective attribute the cause to excessive harsh and disciplinarian practices in childhood experience (Adorno et al., 1950). However, as the overemphasis on parental influence of psychodynamics theory has been strongly criticized in the previous century, modern psychologists adopted interracial contact as a more important determinant than childhood experience on shaping people’s prejudice traits (Stephan & Rosenfield, 1978). Personality theory has also been criticized on underemphasizing situational and socio-cultural factors such as the competition of resources between groups, and being unable to explain sudden change in attitude and behavior.

Intergroup approach

Some social psychologists explain prejudice as the effect of group interaction. According to social identity theory, when we are identified with a group, we show some general characteristics including ethnocentrism, ingroup favoritism, intergroup differentiation and so on, which contribute to prejudice. Tajfel, Billig, Bundy, and Flament (1971) further devised the minimal groups paradigm to illustrate the necessary condition for group identification, stating that merely categorizing people into group is sufficient to induce the general characteristics. Besides, group interaction would almost inevitably induce intergroup competitions, the realistic conflict between group could also accentuate the negative stereotypes on the out-group. Some empirical data disconfirmed the minimal groups paradigm by showing that social categorization is not sufficient for intergroup behavior (Grieve & Hogg, 1999). Moreover, since many variables are operating in intergroup studies, this approach has also been criticized on being unable to identify causal relationship between group formation and prejudice due to potential confounding (Dion, 1979; Turner, 1981).

Learning approach

Learning theories provide a way of understanding how behavior develops and propagate among generation. Dominant learning theories concerning prejudice include modeling, association learning and respond conditioning. Modeling, which is also known as learning by vicarious experience in social learning theory (Bandura, 1973), refers to learning a behavior through observing another individual engaging in that behavior. Since observation is already enough for learning the behavior, the individual does not need to participate in the behavior. According this theory, people can acquire prejudiced thinking by merely observing others discriminative behavior. For example, children may acquire a gender stereotype by observing their parents treating male and female differently. This effect would be amplified especially when the model is rewarded for the behavior. People can also learn to prejudice through association learning including classical and operant conditioning. In classical conditioning, instruct with flawed reasoning by presenting an attribute (e.g. greedy) with a specific group (e.g. merchants) repeatedly, people would link up the attribute to the group, resulting in prejudice. Operant conditioning refers to alteration of behavior by regulating the consequences following it. Reinforcement in is a kind of consequence or a procedure that specifically leads to an increase in frequency of the behavior immediately preceding it. When people gain acceptance from the individual’s reference group (Kelley, 1952) by discriminating towards another groups or individual, they would then be motivated to continue this discrimination due to the reinforcement following it. Although, empirical results often showed significant correlation between parents’ and child’s attitude, the correlations were typically low (Connel, 1972), especially after the child grow up. This suggests that learning theory can only explain part of the reason behind prejudice. Moreover, learning theorists suggested prejudice to be learned from others and therefore unable to explain how prejudice emerges from the very beginning.

Contemporary theories

Contemporary theories of intergroup bias (prejudice) tend to explain intergroup bias in terms of various social psychological motivations (Miles, Mark & Hazel, 2002). They are social identity theory, terror management and subjective uncertainty reduction theory.

Social identity theory

According to social identity theory (Tajfel & Turner 1979), a core premise is that social categories (large group such as countries, intermediate groups such as companies, or small group such as departments) provide members with a social identity which define and evaluate who they are and describe what this entails. Social identity is that part of the self-concept that derives from group membership. It is associated with group and intergroup behaviors. For intergroup behaviors, prejudice among groups creates or preserves relatively high in-group status, providing a positive social identity for in-group members and satisfying their need for positive self-esteem.
Hogg & Abrams (1990) derived two conclusions from this self-esteem hypothesis: (1) successful intergroup bias enhances self-esteem and (2) depressed or threatened self-esteem motivates intergroup bias. Meta-analysis (Aberson et al. 2000) of over 50 experiments shows that the majority of evidence supports conclusion 1, but there is little evidence for conclusion 2. It needs further studies.

Terror management theory

Solomon, Greenberg and Pyszczynski (1999) in their terror management theory proposed that people have a need for self-preservation which is raised and frustrated by their awareness of the inevitability of their own death. To deal with their mortality, people adopt a cultural world view that imbues subjective reality with stability and permanence and provides standards of value against which judgments of self-esteem can be made. According to Terror management theory, people evaluate in-group members positively because similar others are assumed to support, and therefore validate, their own cultural world view; in contrast, they evaluate out-group members negatively because dissimilar others are assumed to threaten their world view. There is extensive evidence that people show greater intergroup bias when they are made aware of their own mortality (Florian & Mikulincer, 1998).

Subjective uncertainty reduction theory

Moreover, Hogg (2000) in his subjective uncertainty reduction theory proposed that people are motivated to reduce subjective uncertainty by identifying with social groups, which provide clear normative prescriptions for behaviors and thus imbues people with a positive valence. Some evidence shows that manipulations of subjective uncertainty influence levels of both in-group identification and intergroup bias. For example, a positive relationship has been found between the need for closure and both in-group identification and intergroup bias (Shah et al. 1998).
For further interest, reader may refer to introduction to social psychology by Vaughan and Hogg (2005) or Annual Review of Psychology.

Examples of prejudice in fiction

In the book To Kill a Mockingbird , one of multiple themes concerns a man wrongly tried and convicted because of his race. The 1997 science-fiction movie Gattaca is about a future where genetically-enhanced people are the majority, while a non-genetically enhanced minority are socially and economically discriminated and marginalized for their "imperfections". A noteworthy example is the Mutant race in the X-Men, which are frequently subjected to prejudice.


  • Sociologists termed prejudice an adaptive behaviour. Biased views might be thought needed at times for survival. There is not always enough time to form a legitimate view about a potential foe before adopting a defensive stance that could save our lives. Prejudice is non-adaptive when it interferes with survival or well-being.

Common misconceptions

At times the terms prejudice and stereotype are confusing:
  • Prejudices are abstract-general preconceptions or abstract-general attitudes towards any type of situation object or person.
  • Stereotypes are generalizations of existing characteristics. These reduce complexity.


  • Aberson, C. L., Healy, M., & Romero, V. (2000). Ingroup bias and self-esteem: A meta-analysis. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 4, 154-173.
  • Adorno, T. W., Frenkel-Brunswik, E., Levinson, D. J., & Sanford, R. M. (1950). The authoritarian personality. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 11, 1177-1196.
  • Bandura, A. (1973). Aggression: Asocial learning analysis. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
  • Billig, M. (1976). Social psychology and intergroup relations. London: Academic Press.
  • Brown, R. J. (2000). Group processes (2nd ed.). Oxford, UK: Blackwell.
  • Connell, R. W. (1972). Political socialization in the American family: The evidence reexamined. Public Opinion Quarterly, 36, 323-333.
  • Dalrymple, Theodore (2007). In Praise of Prejudice: The Necessity of Preconceived Ideas / ISBN 1594032025
  • Dion, K. L. (1979). Intergroup conflict and intragroup cohesiveness. In W. G. Austin & S. Worchel (Eds.), The social psychology of intergroup relations (pp. 211-224). Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole.
  • Dollard, J., Doob, L. W., Miller, N. E., Mowrer, O. H. & Sears, R. R. (1939). Frustration and aggression. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
  • Farley, John E., Majority - Minority Relations (4th Ed.), Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, ISBN 0-131-44412-3
  • Floriab, V, & Mikulincer, M. (1998). Terror management in childhood: Does death conceptualization moderate the effects of mortality salience on acceptance of similar and different others? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 24, 1104-1112.
  • Grieve, P., & Hogg, M. A. (1999). Subjective uncertainty and intergroup discrimination in the minimal group situation. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 25, 926-940.
  • Hogg, M. A. (2000). Subjective uncertainty reduction through self-categorization: A motivational theory of social identity processes. European Review of Social of Social Psychology, 11, 223-255.
  • Hogg, M. A., & Abrams D. (1988). Social identifications: A social psychology of intergroup relations and group processes. London: Routledge.
  • Hogg, M. A., & Abrams D. (1993). Towards a single-process uncertainty-reduction model of social motivation in groups. In M. A. Hogg & D. Abrams (Eds.), Group motivation: Social Psychological Perspectives (pp. 173-190). London: Harvester Wheatsheaf.
  • Hovland, C. I., & Sears, R. R. (1940). Minor studies in aggression: VI. Correlation of lynchings with economic indices. Journal of Psychology, 9, 301-310.
  • Jack Levin and William Levin, The Functions Of Discrimination and Prejudice (2nd Ed.), Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc., ISBN 0-060-43964-5
  • Kelley, H.H. (1952). Two functions of reference groups. In G.E. Swanson, T.M. Newcomb, & E.L. * Hartley (Eds.), Readings in social psychology (2nd ed., pp.410-414). New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.
  • Miles, H., Mark, R., & Hazel, W. (2002). Intergroup bias. Annual Review Psychology. 53, 575-604.
  • Miller, N. E., & Bugelski, R. (1948). Minor studies in aggression: The influence of frustrations imposed by the ingroup on attitudes toward outgroups. Journal of Psychology, 25, 437-442.
  • Pratto, F., Sidanius, J., Stallworth, L. M., & Malle, B. F. (1994). Social dominance orientation: A personality variable predicting social and political attitudes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67, 741-763.
  • Robertson, Ian, Society: A Brief Introduction, New York: Worth Publishing, 1989, ISBN 0-879-01415-6
  • Rokeach, M. (1948). Generalized mental rigidity as a factor in ethnocentrism. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 15, 111-138.
  • Shah, J. Y., Kruglanski, A. W., & Thompson, E. P. (1998). Membership has its (epistemic) rewards: Need for closure effects on in-group bias. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75, 383–393.
  • Solomon, S., Greenberg, J., & Pyszczynski, T. (1991). A terror management theory of social behavior: The psychological functions of self-esteem and cultural worldviews. In M. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in Experimental Social Psychology (Vol. 24, pp. 93-159). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
  • Stephan, W. G., Rosenfield, D. (1978). Effects of desegregation on racial attitudes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 36, 795-804.
  • Tajfel, H., Billig, M., Bundy, R. P., & Flament, C. (1971). Social categorization and intergroup behaviour. European Journal of Social Psychology, 1, 149-177.
  • Tajfel, H., & Turner, J. C. (1979). An integrative theory of intergroup conflict. In W. G. Austin & S. Worchel (Eds.), The Social Psychology of Intergroup Relations (pp. 33-47). Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole.
  • Turner, J. C. (1981). The experimental social psychology of intergroup behaviour. In J. C. Turner & H. Giles (Eds.), Intergroup behaviour (pp. 66-101). Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Vaughan, G. M., & Hogg, H. A. (2005). Introduction to social psychology (4th ed.). French Forest NSW, Australia: Pearson Education.
prejudice in Arabic: تحامل
prejudice in Bulgarian: Предразсъдък
prejudice in Catalan: Prejudici
prejudice in Corsican: Preghjudiziu
prejudice in Danish: Fordom
prejudice in German: Vorurteil
prejudice in Estonian: Eelarvamus
prejudice in Modern Greek (1453-): Προκατάληψη
prejudice in Spanish: Prejuicio
prejudice in French: Préjugé
prejudice in Indonesian: Prasangka
prejudice in Italian: Pregiudizio
prejudice in Hebrew: דעה קדומה
prejudice in Latvian: Aizspriedums
prejudice in Lithuanian: Prietaras
prejudice in Hungarian: Előítélet
prejudice in Dutch: Vooroordeel
prejudice in Japanese: 偏見
prejudice in Norwegian: Fordom
prejudice in Polish: Uprzedzenie
prejudice in Portuguese: Preconceito
prejudice in Russian: Предрассудок
prejudice in Simple English: Prejudice
prejudice in Serbian: Предрасуде
prejudice in Finnish: Ennakkoluulo
prejudice in Swedish: Fördom
prejudice in Ukrainian: Упередження
prejudice in Venetian: Pregiudisio

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

a thing for, abuse, affinity, afflict, aggrieve, angle, apartheid, aptitude, aptness, bag, befoul, bend, bent, bewitch, bias, bigotry, blemish, blight, cast, chosen kind, color, conatus, condemn, conduciveness, corrupt, cronyism, crucify, cup of tea, curse, damage, defile, delight, deprave, despoil, destroy, detriment, diathesis, disadvantage, discrimination, dispose, disposition, disserve, distort, distress, do a mischief, do evil, do ill, do wrong, do wrong by, doom, drawback, druthers, eagerness, envenom, fancy, favor, favoritism, feeling for, forejudgment, get into trouble, handicap, harass, harm, hex, hurt, impair, impairment, inclination, incline, inequality, infect, influence, injure, injury, intolerance, jaundice, jaundiced eye, jinx, leaning, liability, liking, loss, loss of ground, male chauvinism, maltreat, mar, menace, mischief, mistreat, molest, one-sidedness, outrage, parti pris, partialism, partiality, particular choice, partisanship, penchant, persecute, personal choice, play havoc with, play hob with, poison, pollute, preapprehension, preconception, preconclusion, preconsideration, predecision, predetermination, predilection, predispose, predisposition, preference, prejudge, prejudgment, prejudication, prejudice against, prejudice the issue, premature judgment, prenotion, prepossess, prepossession, presumption, presupposal, presupposition, presurmise, probability, proclivity, proneness, propensity, racialism, racism, readiness, savage, scathe, sensitivity to, sexism, skew, slant, soft spot, spoil, step backward, style, susceptibility, sway, taint, tarnish, taste, tendency, thing, threaten, torment, torture, tropism, turn, twist, type, undetachment, undispassionateness, unfairness, violate, vitiate, warp, weakness, willingness, wound, wreak havoc on, wrong
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