Prejudices, Stereotypes & Discrimination: Individual, Group & Social Foundations

Genes, GoodI recently read an article by David Amodio (2015), a professor of psychology and neural science at New York University, in the New Scientist writing about prejudices which made for fascinating reading. Although the ‘case study’ material is not immediately relevant to the world of recruitment and training (white US police officers shooting black US men), the underlying principles about prejudices, stereotypes and discrimination are very relevant.

Major points:

  • Stereotypes can profoundly shape how we see and act towards racial minorities as studies of neural mechanisms demonstrate (Amodio, 2014).
  • For certain groups (e.g. white Americans) certain words (e.g. black, male and armed) are attributes that activate a network of information forming a stereotype and stored in the mind.
  • The medial frontal cortex is involved when we take another person’s perspective in order to understand their thoughts and motives. However, there is a reduction in activity when we think about people from a lower status group.
  • A person’s prejudices can be amplified if they feel threatened.
  • A person can be ‘primed’ by another through the description they give of a third person.
  • Whose prejudice: you (the individual); the person who primes you; the society you live in;  or your social system. Amodio suggests all combine together.
  • Interventions to reduce prejudice at the personal level may be the most effective in the short term.
  • Proactive Control (this involves anticipating a problem and having a planned response to deal with it).
  • Unconscious bias (the mind has a natural tendency to categorise people and because our culture exposes us to common caricatures about them).
  • Even egalitarians show bias in their behaviour when making snap judgements.
  • Although we might not be able to control our thoughts we can control their expression in our actions.
  • Biases are not hard wired, they can change.

New Scientist, Prejudiced Me, 18 July, 2015, p.26-27


Amodio, D. (2014) The Neuroscience of Prejudice and Stereotyping. Nature Reviews Neuroscience. 15, pp.670-682. doi:10.1038/nrn3800.

Amodio, D. (2015) Prejudiced? Me? New Scientist. 18 July, 2015, pp.26-27.


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