People are prejudiced because of their difference in beliefs and values. Most people make an assumption about someone or something before gathering enough information to make a wise conclusion. The attitude towards a group or a person can be either positive or negative. However, most prejudices are negative. This is mainly attributed to the fact that everybody wants to prove that their group is dominant over others. Several psychology scholars have contributed to the causes of prejudice and identified the tools that can be used to eradicate them. There are four key theories that try to explain the possible causes of prejudice. These theories include terror management theory, subjective uncertainty reduction theory, social dominance theory and social identity theory.
Terror Management Theory
Even though humans know that death is inevitable, they will adopt a set of values, for example, religious and cultural beliefs, which will justify the importance and significance of their lives. These values help them to overcome death either literally or symbolically. Terror management theory assumes that human beliefs and actions are intended to ignore or avoid the certainty of death. The relationship between terror management theory and prejudice result from the fact that people have different views regarding death. Some people believe in life after death while others believe that their lasting cultural achievements will ensure that they are not forgotten.
Subjective Uncertainty Reduction Theory
The theory proposes that many human actions are driven by the desire of being associated with a specific social group. People will observe the norms and values that characterize a group. Once they feel connected to the group, they will conform themselves to it, to reduce the sense of uncertainty. Social categorization reduces uncertainty by establishing group values that illustrate how people will act and interrelate with each another. In an effort to eliminate uncertainty, people will categorize themselves with a group that is preferably highly independent, distinctive and has clear values. A good example of this theory is illustrated when a person converts to a religion that has stronger beliefs and values.
Social Dominance Theory
It was developed by Sidanius and Pratto in 1999. Social dominance theory assumes that societies are organized group-based hierarchies. This means that some social groups are perceived to be mightier than others are. The hierarchy may be classified in terms of class, ethnicity, gender or religion. Central to the theory is that hierarchical social order must be maintained. To sustain its dominance, the superior groups will create ideologies such as institutional discrimination to legitimize the status quo. These ideologies will provide moral and intellectual reasons for group inequality or even discrimination by some groups on others. In racism, the societal supremacy of white people can be justified by encouraging the belief that black people are intellectually inferior.
Social Identity Theory
This theory was formulated by Henry Tajfel in the 1970s. It states that people’s actions are determined by who they are based on their membership to a social group. Group members will judge other people as either ‘them’ or ‘us’. In-group (us) refers to the people who are part of the group while out-group (them) represents those who are part of another group. A good example of in-group out-group battle is the debate on gender equality. Some people support that the female gender is inferior to the male gender. The core of this theory is that people will seek membership of a dominant group to affirm their self-confidence. However, membership alone will not be enough to affirm their self-esteem. Members have to become prejudicial on other groups to prove that theirs is superior. Social identities result from political affiliation, citizenship, ethnicity, religion, age, sex and sexual orientation.
Possible causes of prejudice are well outlined in the above theories. However, the main cause evident from all the theories is the battle for societal dominance. Extremists are either defending the supremacy of their group, or joining other groups that represent their beliefs and values. Terror management theory is limited to the difference in opinions regarding human mortality. Subjective uncertainty reduction theory only accounts for a person’s self-actualization. Social dominance theory and social identity theory are almost related. The two theories explain that groups are driven by the desire to maintain their dominance. Nonetheless, the social identity theory stands out as the best theory among the four. Unlike other theories, it provides more information such as the degree to which group members feel attached to a certain group, as well as the status and uniqueness of this group, compared to other social groups. It illustrates how the mechanisms of inter-group prejudice works, and how people develop the sense of belonging and membership to a specific social group.
Prejudice holds the human race in every aspect of life. Friendships, families and jobs are lost because of chauvinism. As the world is becoming increasingly dynamic, people will continue to face ideologies that are different from theirs. It is crucial for people to recognize and use their diversity for the greater good. Even though accepting a different opinion takes time, there will be several benefits in the end. People should be willing to explore new experiences and change their ideologies accordingly.