The role of emotion in racial prejudice

Essay by rudog October 2004

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Racial prejudice was defined by Allport , one of the first researchers in psychology to investigate the issue, as "an aversive or hostile attitude towards a person who belongs to a group, simply because he or she belongs to that group, and is therefore presumed to have the objectionable qualities ascribed to that group. It is an antipathy based on a faulty and inflexible generalization" (Allport, 1954).

Racial prejudice exists on 3 levels: behavioral, cognitive and affective. The actual discrimination or unequal treatment towards a particular group based on their race is the behavioral component of racial prejudice. The cognitive component is made up of stereotypes. Stereotypes are categories of cognitions concerning the members of a particular group. These cognitions are usually simple, often over generalized, and frequently inaccurate. Stereotypes are not simply abstractions about group categories. They can act as "cognitive filters" through which we select what information to use, what to ignore, and how to interpret it.

Stereotypes do not exist in isolation. They are accompanied by emotions, which are usually expressed in terms that can be distributed along a continuum ranging from the intensely negative to the very positive. (Simpson and Yinger, 1972)

The emotional level is a major element of racism, because it serves as the motivation for stereotyping. Stereotypes would not be so powerful without affective links. After the cognitive level has been challenged and undermined, one continues to maintain stereotypes at the emotional or affective level. As the intensity of emotion increases, so does the level of prejudice. This paper will explore the influence of emotions on one's unconscious and conscious inclinations towards stereotyping and racism.

Fear, anxiety, disgust and anger are all emotions that exist at the root of racism. According to an evolutionary perspective, fear is one of the most motivational emotions...