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Role of affect and emotions in prejudice

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 2968 words Published: 25th Apr 2017

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Prejudice is an intriguing topic in social psychology. Most studies focus on its cognitive and social representations and rarely do people notice the significance of affect in prejudice. In this essay, the focus of interest is on affect and emotions as a theoretical base in understanding prejudice. The role of emotions in intergroup processes and prejudice is explored, coupled with the discussion on the antecedents, nature, and consequences of intergroup emotions, which is illustrated by the specificity of intergroup emotions and its resulting behavioral tendencies. The relationship between intergroup emotion and intergroup forgiveness also shed light on devising strategies to reduce prejudice.

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Prejudice is a preconceived judgment towards a group and its members (Myers, 2010). This evaluation can be either positive or negative. In the intergroup context, prejudice is a group-based attitude elicited by intergroup interaction (Smith, 1993). According to ABCs of attitudes, Myers states that attitude is composed by affect (feelings), behavior tendency (inclination to act) and cognition (beliefs). Affect plays an important role in prejudice (attitude). To differentiate prejudice, discrimination and stereotype in simple terms, prejudice is an attitude, discrimination is a behavior, and stereotype is a belief towards a group and its individual members. They intertwine with one another. Prejudice and stereotype are neutral in comparison to discrimination which often refers to negative behavior attributed to prejudicial attitudes.

To study intergroup processes, emotion is narrowed down to intergroup emotion while groups are divided into ingroups and outrgoups. Intergroup emotion is an emotion in the intergroup context. It includes emotions felt towards one’s own group and emotions felt towards the outgroup. The role of emotions in intergroup processes lies in emotions provoking people’s reactions and responses to outgroups, which in turn affects intergroup relations.

The antecedents of intergroup emotions are (1) group membership, (2) intergroup interactions and (3) appraisals. Firstly, group membership can be explained by self-categorization theory, self-discrepancy theory and social identity theory. According to the self-categorization theory (Turner, Hogg, Oakes, Reicher & Wetherell, 1987), people define themselves in personal terms and in terms of group memberships in the social context. When people identify themselves as group members, this ingroup membership becomes part of the self; this extended social self (group) makes group membership and intergroup interactions evoke emotional responses (Mackie & Smith, 2002). According to the self-discrepancy theory, people often match their actual self with their ideal self and ought self. The greater the discrepancy between the matches, the greater the psychological discomfort. This is an emotion felt towards one’s self and group. Mackie and Smith think that negative emotions are aroused when people perceive the attributes of their ingroup do not correspond to those they wish or believe their ingroup ought to possess. Mackie and Smith give examples of dejection-related emotions including dissatisfaction, disappointment, sadness and hopelessness while agitation-related emotions include apprehension, nervousness, tension, threatenedness and uneasiness. Social identity theory (Brown, 2000) proposes ingroup favoritism and outgroup derogation. In other words, ingroup love may extend to outgroup hatred. Ingroup identification can give rise to hostile reactions to outgroups in forms of prejudice and discrimination. This illustrates an emotion one felt towards the outgroup. Social Identity Theory is an example of ingroup bias resulting from one’s purpose to enhance self-esteem by increasing the positivity of ingroups and the negativity of outgroups. Another manifestation of intergroup bias is realistic conflict theory, an ingroup bias which stems from hostility in response to a competitive and threatening outgroup (Shah, Brazy &Higgins, 2002). The regulatory and affective needs are fulfilled through ingroup bias.

Secondly, intergroup interaction is antecedent to intergroup emotions. The nature of specific interactions between groups acts as a source of differentiated affective reactions (Mackie & Smith, 2002). For example, interactions that produce positive affect can promote the liking of further interaction with outgroup members. This shows the nature of interaction between groups as a determinant of emotions. This is further explored in the following discussion on intergroup relations.

Thirdly, appraisals are also antecedent to intergroup emotions. Devos, Silver, Mackie and Smith (2002) describe the appraisal theories of emotion as a situation or an event can bring about emotions when the individual concerns, goals and motives are favored or harmed. Appraisals are a configuration of cognitions or beliefs, which triggers emotions. Ingroup emotions are triggered by group-based appraisals. For instance, if the social identity or integrity of the ingroup is threatened by the outgroup, the ingroup members may experience fear and anxiety. Appraisals cause emotions, which in turn correspond to its specific action tendencies.

The nature of intergroup emotions lies in intergroup relations. Intergroup relations can be exemplified by integrated threat theory and image theory. Integrated threat theory reflects the role of threat in intergroup relations. Stephan and Renfro (2002) focus on four types of threat-realistic threats, symbolic threats, intergroup anxiety and negative stereotyping. Realistic threats are threats to the group welfare including threats to the ingroup wellbeing. Stephan and Renfro (2002) propose that the concept of realistic threats comes from realistic group conflict theory, which argues that competition for limited resources giving rise to outgroup prejudice so realistic threats can have a broader denotation meaning any threat to the group welfare, not just competition for limited resources. Symbolic threat is an intangible threat to the ingroup values and beliefs. According to Dovidio and Gaertner (1996), intergroup anxiety includes discomfort, apprehension, fear and disgust owing to the expectation of negative results in intergroup interactions. Stephan and Renfro (2002) believe that there are negative psychological outcomes (embarrassment), negative behavioral outcomes (exploitation or physical harm) and negative evaluations by the both ingroup and outgroup members. Negative stereotypes are simplifications and guidelines for social interactions leading people think the outgroup behaves detrimentally to the ingroup. In the integrated theory, the above four threats are considered to cause outgroup prejudice, which includes negative affect associated with outgroups arousing negative emotions like dislike, disapproval and hatred towards the outgroup. Stephan and Renfro (2002) believe that the antecedents of threats stem from strong identification with the ingroup, frequent negative contact with outgroup members, disparities in the status of the two groups and ignorance of the outgroup.

On the flip side, the image theory describes intergroup emotions on the basis of relationship patterns and outgroup images. Relationship pattern are described in terms of goal compatibility, status equality and power equality. Thus, an outgroup image is formed corresponding to the relationship pattern, thereby arousing specific intergroup emotions and behavioral orientation.

There are two symmetric images where the two groups involved perceive the intergroup relations in the same way. Brewer and Alexander (2002) describe enemy image as an intense competition between two groups similar in power and status with incompatible goals. This intergroup relationship produces a feeling of threat. This arouses an affect of anger and prompts a behavioral tendency to eradicate the threat by containment or attack. Ally image is characterized with goal compatibility, equal status and power between groups (Brewer & Alexander, 2002). This produces an image of nonthreatening with positive attributes. Hence, emotions like admiration and trust are generated and it facilitates the behavioral inclination of intergroup cooperation.

Apart from the aforesaid, there are asymmetric relationships having mutually incompatible intergroup goal interdependence and differing in power and status. Barbarian image arises when the relationship has incompatible goals with the ingroup having lower status but higher power. The outgroup is then seen as evil and destructive. Affects like fear and intimidation are likely to be experienced by the ingroup so its behavioral orientation tends to adopt a defensive protection. When the ingroup is weaker and lower in status, sentiments like jealousy and resentment towards the outgroup are elicited. Behavioral orientation like resistance or rebellion is expected. This associates with the imperialist image.

Expressing and decoding emotions also play a part in intergroup relations. Emotional interactions between people involve feeling, expressing and perceiving (Leyens, Demoulin, Desert, Vaes & Philipot, 2002). If one of the above goes wrong, intergroup relations is likely to be jeopardized and prejudice will arise. Inadequate expressions and decoding of emotions may harm the intergroup interaction, leading to reciprocal misunderstandings at the level of feeling, expressing and perceiving. Such misunderstanding makes ingroup members fear, prevent or reject subsequent encounters with outgroup members. Hence, a vicious cycle is formed and it reinforces existing prejudice and discrimination.

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Based on the above discussion on the antecedents and nature of intergroup emotions, people experience emotions on behalf of their own group as they see themselves as a group member and others as fellow group members. These emotions make people manifest specific behavioral tendencies like collective action, effort in improvement of the intergroup relations and so on. Prejudice, stereotypes and discrimination are also consequences of intergroup emotions. Specific emotions also correspond to different patterns of behavioral tendencies. Action tendency refers to the impulses or inclinations toward a particular action. In the intergroup context, group-based appraisals of the situation or event often trigger specific intergroup emotions, which in turn trigger particular action tendencies and promote certain behaviors. According to Devos, Silver, Mackie and Smith (2002), fear and anxiety prompt ingroup members to keep away from the outgroup while anger generates a motivation to attack or aggress the outgroup; disgust and contempt trigger avoidance and separation while resentment and frustration spark off resistance and actions against the outgroup. These behavioral tendencies result from intergroup emotions.

The specificity of intergroup emotions and behavioral tendencies can be explained by Intergroup Emotions Theory (IET). IET is grounded on self-categorization-the mental representations of self and group. When group membership is rooted in the self-concept, individuals care about situations and events concerning the group. This demonstates the emotional significance in intergroup situations. According to Devos, Silver, Mackie and Smith (2002), ingroup members often develop fear towards a threatening and powerful outgroup; group conflicts generate anger; frustration shows up when the goals and actions of ingroup are blocked by outgroup. An outgroup violating moral standards breeds disgust. Resentment results on seeing outgroup enjoying underserved benefits. Specific inclinations of behavior t follow suit. Anger and frustration cause resistance and aggression. Fear can prompt ingroup protection and escape from the disadvantaged situation. Disgust and contempt deter interactions with an outgroup. Mackie and Smith (2002) believe that there is a limitation for predicting corresponding behaviors. The prediction can only be an action tendency rather than a concrete behavior because actual behaviors are constrained by situational factors and social norms. Action tendencies are deduced from affects and emotions so they can only represent an impulse or intention of actions. Mackie and Smith gave an example stating the constraint of situation factors concerning the presence of an outgroup or the means for the ingroup to act accordingly. Further example of social norms is that an ingroup having an inclination to attack and aggress the outgroup cannot display their aggression and act out due to social sanctions. Mackie and Smith suggest that an action tendency can be fulfilled by different concrete behaviors. For example, aggression can be elicited in terms of verbal aggression or physical aggression, which can prompt many other alternative concrete behaviors.

On the other hand, the correlation between intergroup emotions and intergroup forgiveness is worthy-of-note. Noor, Brown and Prentice (2008) define intergroup forgiveness as a process which involves making a decision to learn new aspects about one-self and one’s group-one’s emotions, thoughts, and capability to inflict harm on others. This reflection on intergroup emotions and intergroup relations does not mean to devalue the severity and consequences of misdeeds, but to reverse the negativity of affect between the groups. Intergroup emotions play an important role in the willingness to engage in forgiveness. Emotions like pity, guilt and sympathy can melt people’s heart of stone and motivate them to forgive. Experiencing empathy (compassion and sympathy) for an individual outgroup member can produce more positive attitudes towards the outgroup as a whole, thereby enabling forgiveness. Nevertheless, the willingness to forgive is difficult to achieve at the group level. Noor, Brown and Prentice (2008) illustrate that some group members may be willing to forgive the outgroup but they might withhold or withdraw their forgiveness in fear of shaking their ingroup loyalty.

The above correlation between intergroup emotions and intergroup forgiveness sheds light on devising strategies to reduce prejudice. Intergroup forgiveness can be seen as a crucial step towards reconciliation. Intergroup reconciliation is much more than conflict resolution and the cessation of conflict. Intergroup forgiveness can motivate the ingroup to view the world from the outgroup’s perspective and standpoint with the intention to clarify misunderstandings, address mutual concerns and eliminate prejudice.

The role of contact in reducing prejudice lies in promoting positive affects and intergroup friendship. Mackie and Smith (2002) discover that the number of acquaintances has an effect on prejudice, which is significantly mediated by prejudice. Their research analysis discovers that acquaintances reduced negative emotions and increased positive emotions, both of which reduced prejudice. Mackie and Smith discover that the closeness of the relationship can significantly reduce prejudice when participants are aware of different group membership.

Oskamp (2000) proposes the motivational approach of reducing feelings of threat from an outgroup, demonstrating that the outcomes of ingroups and outgroups are interdependent, and accentuating that each individual is accountable for intergroup events. This strategy corresponds to the Integrated Threat Theory and tackles some of the antecedents of threat like disparities in the status of the two groups. An antecedent of threat like frequent negative contact with outgroup members can be tackled by promoting favorable and rewarding intergroup contact to reduce prejudice. Another antecedent of threat like ignorance of the outgroup can be compensated by eliminating misunderstandings. This involves the appropriate expression and decoding of emotions between groups. Due to the illusion of transparency, most people have an impression that their expression of emotions is especially transparent for outgroups, but they are in fact less accurately perceived. This communication gap hinders favorable intergroup contact and reinforces existing prejudice. Hence, ingroup members may need to pay extra efforts to show their emotions to outgroupers to prevent prejudice. Myers (2010) suggests we can use guilt to motivate ourselves to break the prejudice habit. It is applicable in terms of collective guilt which urges collective action serving to change existing intergroup relations, correct past injustices and reduce ongoing inequality. As unequal status breeds prejudice, seeking cooperative and equal-status relationships can help reduce prejudice (Myers, 2010). The antecedent of threat-strong identification with the ingroup leads to ingroup bias (intergroup bias). This bias can be reduced by fostering a sense of belonging with outgroup members to satisfy people’s affective needs. This corresponds to our understanding of the social identity theory that explains ingroup favoritism and outgroup derogation. This sense of belonging arouses positive emotions of love, support and liking, in order to reduce negative prejudice.

To wrap up, the role of affect and emotions in prejudice cannot be underestimated. It is significant to grasp an understanding of correlations and causal relationships among affect, emotions, intergroup processes, intergroup emotions, behavioral tendencies, intergroup forgiveness and prejudice. With these understandings, affective aspect of prejudice can eventually be tackled and reduced.

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