Monteith and Winters’s article, “Why We Hate,” provides interesting perspectives into why prejudice exists and what can be done about it. If a person speaking to me told me claimed they were not prejudiced, I would be inclined to doubt their claim because, as the article says, people in general have a tendency to “quickly divide the world into ‘us’ and ‘them’” (Monteith and Winters 48). However, I do not think it would be useful to simply respond by saying, “Of course you’re prejudiced, everybody has prejudices.” Rather, I might ask them, “Do you prefer Coke or Pepsi?” When they choose one of the colas as their preferred drink, I would then say, “Well, obviously you have a bias towards that brand and against the other!” While this is not an example of a serious and detrimental bias, we could next discuss how biases such as this are similar or different from those people have toward each other. I would also suggest that they visit the Southern Poverty Law Center’s website and take the IAT to see how they compare to others (Monteith and Winters 50).
There are probably many ways to test whether a person is prejudiced toward a specific group. One would be for them to self-report on their prejudices, but that would not be the best test because it would not account for unconscious biases. Another would be to show experiment participants several 30-second fake advertisements for proposed television shows; all of the shows would be of the same genre such as sitcoms, but each would feature a different racial or ethnic group. The participants could then fill out surveys about why they preferred one show and why they liked it, and what was less preferable about the other shows.
I do not think that prejudice can be eliminated from society, but the effects of it can be lessened. As researchers have found, people have the power to correct their own prejudices; in one study the researcher discovered “The guilt behind learning about their own prejudices made the subjects try harder not to be biased” (Monteith and Winters 87). Education about diversity and self-awareness of relationships with other individuals and other groups can help lessen the problems caused by prejudice. Another researcher found that “simple steps, such as integrating basketball teams, can reset mental divisions, rendering race and ethnicity less important” (Monteith and Winters 50). Having integrated schools in racial, socioeconomic, and ethnic aspects where students work together frequently in groups is one of those simple steps.
The story of Kitty Genovese’s assault and the discrepancies surrounding it provide an interesting social portrait. It illustrates a situation where people’s helping behavior fell through. Many factors came into play in her assault. Originally, it was thought that many people saw what happened but that the “bystander effect” stopped people from helping her. In a large city like New York, some people theorize that in spite of the number of people, many tend to ignore events happening directly in front of them. This is the “bystander effect,” in which people can ignore terrible things like the murder of Genovese even though they are in close vicinity to the event. Genovese did eventually get help, though not in time to save her life. People choose to help or not for several reasons. For example, “evolutionary psychologists believe that people help others because of three factors,” including kin selection, reciprocity, and “the ability to learn and follow social norms” (Aronson, Wilson, and Akert 346). Other researchers show a relationship between socioeconomic class and prosocial behavior, in which “lower class individuals proved to be more generous, . . . charitable, . . . trusting, . . . and helpful” (Piff, Kraus, Côté, Cheng, and Keltner 771). The question of whether or not the bystander effect really came into play is a good question; for instance, many “witnesses” may not have actually seen the incident, but simply heard it and thought it was just another couple having an argument, a common thing in the city. Some people in the area may have been disinclined to help for other reasons, including fear for their own lives or of retaliation, self-preoccupation, or other lack of reason to believe anything unusual was happening.
Aronson, Elliot, Wilson, Timothy D., and Akert, Robin. Social Psychology, 6th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2006.
Monteith, M., and Winters. “Why We Hate.” Psychology Today (May/June 2002): 35, 44-50, 87.
Piff, P., Kraus, M., Côté, S., Cheng, H., and Keltner, D. “Having Less, Giving More: The Influence of Social Class on Pro-social Behavior.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 99 (2010): 771-784.