How Can We Reduce Prejudice?

Most of the research has focused on reducing racist prejudice, especially that of Whites toward Blacks.

The most extensively studied interventions designed to reduce racist prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination are based on Gordon Allport's (1954) contact theory of intergroup relations. The necessary conditions for prejudice reduction suggested by contact theory are that: interracial contact is sustained; individuals be of equal status; individuals work toward common goals; there is an absence of competition for scarce resources; and there is strong support from relevant authorities.

Contact theory has received a great deal of empirical attention and support. A national survey of the friendship patterns of white adults was done by Jackman and Crane (1986). Only 21% could name an acquaintance who was black and only 9% could name a "good friend" who was black. Those whites who did have black friends or acquaintances were less likely to say that they preferred to live in an all-white neighborhood and were less likely to believe that whites were more intelligent than blacks. Especially unique is their finding that whites, whose black friends or acquaintances were of a higher socioeconomic status than themselves, were less likely to prefer an all-white neighborhood or to believe that whites are more intelligent than blacks. Stuart (1990) found that cooperative, equal status contact between black and white adults resulted in increased favorable beliefs about, and liking for, blacks by formerly prejudiced whites. Whites who experienced such contact with blacks demonstrated increased readiness to extend equality in housing, education and employment.

Contact theory is the framework for "cooperative learning" educational techniques which have been credited with improving intergroup relations in classrooms (Slavin, 1985). Cooperative learning techniques involve assigning White and Non-White children to "interdependent teams that cooperate to complete classroom assignments" (Sears, Peplau, & Taylor, 1991, p. 434). In a review of cooperative education, Slavin (1983) concluded that academic performance of all students was increased in 63% of cooperative classrooms compared to 4% of traditional classrooms. A program which increased the interracial contact among 80 fourth and fifth graders in a desegregated school was found to increase children's acceptance of members of another ethnicity, decrease racial preconceptions, and increase their willingness to consider reducing the social distance between themselves and a member of another ethnicity (Colca, Lowen, Colca, & Lord, 1982). A recent study (Vohra, Rodolfa, de la Cruz, & Vincent, 1991) found that White college students in a semester long cross-cultural training program for peer counselors who met regularly with members of ethnic minorities increased their awareness of the effects of racism and rated the meetings highly.

Less optimistic findings were obtained by Sampson (1986) in his study of the effects of desegregation on racist attitudes and expectations among college students attending an "elite, predominantly white, desegregated" university. Sampson found that the attitudes of Whites toward Blacks were more negative at the end of the freshman year than at the beginning, possibly due to the lower status of Black students and to the lack of interaction among White and Black students.

Other interventions associated with the reduction of racism are of the educational type and typically involve strategies that directly or indirectly address racial stereotypes; that is, strategies that focus on the cognitive (belief) aspect of racism. Some social scientists have suggested that educational approaches which address prejudice (i.e., those which emphasize attitudes and values are more effective in reducing racism than those which primarily address beliefs). Katz and Hass (1988), for example, investigated value conflict and racism and argued that racism can be mediated by an educational approach that stresses the relationship between egalitarian values and the rights of ethnic minority groups. Further support for the effectiveness of educational interventions that focus on prejudice has been provided by Furuto and Furuto (1983) who found a workshop which addressed racist attitudes to be more useful than a workshop addressing stereotypes in reducing self-reports of prejudice toward various ethnic groups among White university students in Hawaii.

Others have suggested that the most effective educational programs for reducing prejudice are those that involve simulation or role-playing. Byrnes and Kiger (1990), for example, found that college students who participated in a three-hour prejudice reduction simulation game ("Blue Eyes - Brown Eyes") were less prejudiced three weeks later, whereas those students who experienced a lecture on prejudice reduction and those who viewed others playing "Blue Eyes - Brown Eyes" on film did not self-report less prejudice. Bruin (1985) has argued that the use of simulation games in workshops allows participants to see the importance of the dominant culture's role in shaping their opinions of ethnic minorities. Conflicting evidence has been offered by Sedlacek, Troy, and Chapman (1976) who found that, of three interventions to decrease racism and sexism among college students, a role playing "Starpower" game was preferred by students and a movie format inspired participants "with a wish to do something about racism or sexism," but students who participated in a discussion group with a leader led workshop gained the most knowledge.

Barnard and Benn (1988) examined the relationship between workshop group composition and the effectiveness of workshops in reducing prejudice. They found that participation in a workshop discussion about racism reduced prejudice in a sample of 74 White male undergraduates whether or not others in the discussion group held beliefs similar to those of the participants. Other researchers have argued that an important factor in the effectiveness of educational programs to reduce prejudice is that of the program leadership. Lowenstein (1985), for example, in a study of prejudice among boys and girls living in a therapeutic community in the United Kingdom, found that those who attended workshops on racial tolerance manifested a reduction in prejudice that was maintained for at least six months. Lowenstein argued that the status of the group leader and the overall atmosphere of support for the workshop from other staff members were the main contributors to prejudice reduction.


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References for this Page:

Allport, G.W. (1954). The nature of prejudice. Cambridge, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Barnard, W.A., & Benn, M.S. (1988). Belief congruence and prejudice reduction in an interracial contact setting. Journal of Social Psychology, 128 (1), 125-134.

Bruin, K. (1985). Prejudices, discrimination, and simulation/gaming: An analysis. Simulation and Games, 16 (2), 161-173.

Byrnes, D.A., & Kiger, G. (1990). The effect of a prejudice-reduction simulation on attitude change. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 20 (4), 341-356.

Colca, C., Lowen, D., Colca, L.A., & Lord, S.A. (1982). Combating racism in the schools: A group work pilot project. Social Work in Education, 5 (1), 5-16.

Furuto, S.B., & Furuto, D.M. (1983). The effects of affective and cognitive treatment on attitude change toward ethnic minority groups. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 7 (2), 149-165.

Jackman, M.R., & Crane, M. (1986). "Some of my best friends are black...": Interracial friendship and whites' racial attitudes. Public Opinion Quarterly, 50, 459-486.

Katz, I., & Hass, R.G. (1988). Racial ambivalence and American value conflict: Correlational and priming studies of dual cognitive structures. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 55 (6), 893-905.

Lowenstein, L.F. (1985). Investigating ethnic prejudices among boys and girls in a therapeutic community for maladjusted children and modifying some prejudices: Can basic prejudices be changed? School Psychology International, 6 (4), 239-243.

Sampson, W.A. (1986). Desegregation and racial tolerance in academia. Journal of Negro Education, 55 (2), 171-184.

Sears, D.O., Peplau, L.A., & Taylor, S.E. (1991). Social psychology (7th ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Sedlacek, W.E., Troy, W., & Chapman, T. (1976). An evaluation of three methods of racism-sexism training. Personnel and Guidance Journal, 55, 196-198.

Slavin, R.E. (1983). When does cooperative learning increase student achievement? Psychological Bulletin, 94, 429-443.

Slavin, R.E. (1985). Cooperative learning: Applying contact theory in desegregated schools. Journal of Social Issues, 41 (3), 45-62.

Vohra, S., Rodolfa, E., de la Cruz, A., & Vincent, C. (1991). A cross-cultural training format for peer counselors. Journal of College Student Development, 32, 82-84.


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