Social perception has been defined differently based on numerous studies that have been carried on the topic, but all the definitions centrally tend to delve into the same meaning. However, it is profoundly known as the ability of a person to create an impression of other peoples or social groups, based on observing and understanding information about such social groups or individuals and drawing conclusions based on such information. Social perceptions also develop from people’s attitudes and development of stereotypes about different aspects. There are different aspects of social perception such as central traits among others (CHIN 2009, p. 12). This paper provides a critical evaluation of the social perception concepts centrally focusing on the development, impact and reduction of prejudice.
The Process of Developing Stereotypes and Attitudes
The process of forming attitudes is based on individual thoughts, actions and beliefs about other individuals or a group, which can be either negative or positive. Such attitudes make people develop a good or a bad feeling, which promotes or destroy individuals well being. A structural approach can be adopted in understanding attitudes breaking down the attitudes into three categories such as the cognitive, affective and behavioral. On the other hand, stereotypes are based on two sections, which can either be individual or group stereotypes. Individual stereotypes are based on attitudes towards individual persons, while group stereotypes are based on attitudes towards people originating from members of a particular group (Oskamp 2013, p. 67). Such attitudes develop from early childhood based on beliefs and prejudices adopted by children from their peers, parents and siblings and other people close to them.
The most common stereotypes in numerous societies are based on gender, ethnicity and occupation, although there are other numerous basis of stereotypes. Stereotypes are rarely changed since in the case when there are instances disconfirming their stereotypes people tend to assume such instances are sub-types of such groups. In addition, the perceptions of people are based on their expectations. Stereotypes enhance people to process new information quickly about people and events. Stereotypes also facilitate the organization of peoples past experiences enabling people to assess the differences between groups and individuals. They also enhance the formation of prediction about the behaviors of people (Zebrowski 2007, p. 23). Stereotypes have large impacts on peoples’ lives and hence positive and negative stereotypes have a subsequent similar impact on such individuals. For example, positive stereotypes have positive impacts while negative stereotypes have negative impacts on such individuals' lives.
However, stereotypes can make people form wrong impressions or exaggerate differences between different groups of people. They can also make people make selective focus on information that agree with their stereotypes ignoring some information that can be essential because it is disagreeing with their stereotypes. Stereotypes can also tend to make people perceive other groups or individuals as overly homogeneous even when the groups they are belonging is heterogeneous. Fear can also form the basis of forming stereotypes especially for persons from minority groups. For example, there is a basic perception that individuals with mental illnesses are prone to causing violent acts. In addition, stereotypes in the American society have largely been based on ethnic belonging where African Americans were portrayed as prone to violence, un-intelligent, and lazy among others, while whites were perceived as intelligent, hardworking and digitized society (Levy & Killen 2008, p. 68). Similarly, in most social settings, beautiful and physically attractive women are portrayed as sexually promiscuous, unintellectual and unintelligent. This forms the basis upon which some of the stereotypes are formed when people form generalized view and perceptions about other peoples or individuals.
Concepts of Social Perceptions
Stereotypes can be described as a highly simplified form of descriptions of a set of features, which are believed to be typical for a set of people belonging to a certain group. Therefore, stereotypes do not take into account the uniqueness of individual people and hence perceived as unfair and misleading. Such stereotypes can be developed in the formative years of a child before even social interactions take place. This is based on what such an individual has been told or read about certain individuals or groups, which forms the basis of forming impressions about such people and they may be inaccurate or incorrect. There are numerous studies in understanding of the social perception concepts (Slaughter-Defoe 2012, p. 18). This has been based on numerous studies such as studies on the formation of impressions on people.
For example, some researchers have postulated that people forming impressions about other people use a theory referred to as implicit personality theory. This theory provides an explanation that people tend to assume that a person with certain personality characters and traits will have the tendency of having other similar and related traits. The primacy and recency effects are used in establishing whether the order in which the impression formation was presented has any effect on the impressions formed. The primacy effect is based on the ability of an individual to form positive impressions resulting from positive information given to an individual rather than negative information (Teiford 2008, p. 72). The recency effect is based on an individual's ability to form impressions based on the last information provided. It tends to occur frequently in the case of a time delay when two sets of information are provided.
Social schemas form another social perceptions concept and is based on where people form a mental representation about themselves, social situations and others based on past experiences. Self schemas are cognitive perceptions about self while person schemas are expectations and perceptions about other people. Role schemas are behaviors, which are expected in social situations while events schemas are sequences of events in different familiar situations. Prejudice and different theories associated with prejudice also form part of social concepts, which are based on extreme attitudes and stereotypes, leading to discrimination. Prejudice can be described as an unjustified positive or negative attitude towards a person based on the membership of such a person to a certain group (Zebrowski 2007, p. 129). However, there have been various studies, which have theorized that prejudices can be developed environmentally or genetically and can also be linked to ego-defense, which lead to scape-goating.
Social Psychological Theories on Causes of Prejudice and Discrimination
Researchers and psychologists have developed numerous theories in explaining the development of social perceptions and prejudices. For example, the Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytical theory, which links the development of prejudices and impressions to genetics and environment of an individual. This has been found to be kinked to ego-defense, causing scapegoats. Another theory is the frustration-aggression hypothesis, which is based on the aspect, that aggression against certain individuals or a group of people can be caused by frustration. Such aggression causes frustrations and the affected individual might not have the ability to take such frustrations out, which is commonly referred to as ‘displacement. In this theory, people seek to displace their frustrations substituting them with other objects, when it is not possible to express anger towards the real cause. In this case, the theory portrays that out of frustration a person become angered, and the anger causes frustration (Whitley & Kite 2010, p. 45). This postulates that the aggression frustration hypothesis is a vicious circle of ego-defense and scape-goating characterized by aggression and frustration.
Social identity theory has also been used in explaining prejudices and social perceptions, which emphasizes on the role played by both motivational factors and cognitive factors in the process of prejudice development. The theory postulates that individuals always strive to remain positive. This theory is based on prejudices that exist between in an in-group or an out-group. The categorization of people into different groups enhances self image and self identity. Therefore, according to this theory, an in-group will be prejudiced, which will result in discrimination against an out-group. In this theory, objects are first categorized into different groups, which they belong, which enhances different objects identify themselves socially with certain groups (Breckler Olson & Wiggins 2006, p. 34). After categorization and social identification, the final part of this theory is a comparison between different groups. According to this theory, individuals seek the maintenance of a positive self-identity and image with respect to positive personal identity and positive social identity.
The economic theory postulates that there are numerous cases when prejudice arises when people in different groups are competing for jobs directly. Therefore, the prejudices arising from this theory tend to increase significantly in times of economic and social strain. The authoritarian personality theory by Adorno is based on inferiority complex, where people of superior ranks become hostile to people of inferior ranks. However, such individuals with superiority feelings become servile when they are in the midst of people of higher status. These types of individuals are described to be inflexible and highly rigid and dislike ambiguity and uncertainty (Chin 2004, p. 209). They do not like self examining themselves and highly dislike introspection. The existence of different types of personalities is attributed to the existence of various social forces and authoritarians have been associated with harsh, disciplinarian upbringing, which make them feel aggression towards their parent. This makes them displace their feelings onto minority categories and display the aggression-frustration vicious cycle.
Effect of Prejudice and Discrimination
In the earlier studies, the focus was laid on understanding the personalities and traits of people while the modern research is highly focused on the identification of prejudices and discrimination consequences for the targeted individuals. Therefore, research focuses on the identification of strength and resilient behaviors that promote positive behaviors that enable such targets to cope and adapt. Prejudice and discrimination have been identified to cause low self esteem. For example, prejudices and discrimination based on racial and ethnic identities in schools and workplaces affects the performances, access to services and opportunities, as well as individual social belonging. Therefore, prejudice and discrimination have a significant impact on identity and group pride. The process of understanding the development of an identity core of an individual is essential to one’s growth and development (Whitley & Kite 2010, p. 55). The development of core identity facilitates the differentiation between an individual and other people. Social identities are substantially based on race, nationality, gender and ethnic background.
For example, in the US, there existed racial discrimination, where African Americans were discriminated by the whites. This had the impact of social backwardness of the African American community as compared to whites. Children belonging to the African American community were accorded low quality education based on second class institutions while white children attended the best schools. African Americans also worked on lowly paid jobs as compared to whites (CHIN 2009, p. 255). This had a significant impact on their self esteem, growth and development. However, after the civil rights movement, there has been an increasing positive self-consciousness and improved black identity, which has led to the reduction of psychological distress and improvement of self esteem by the black community. This has reduced the adverse effects of racism improving awareness and self consciousness among the black community. Prejudice and discrimination have been found to affect the competence of the targeted group. For example, in the early years before social rights movements African American only used to do menial jobs (Oskamp 2013, p. 167). Those who worked on better jobs were lowly paid as compared to the whites, which affected their motivation to work and improve their competence.
Ways to Reduce Prejudice and Discrimination
Based on the negative impact prejudice and discrimination psychologists and sociologists have looked for the numerous ways that can be used to reduce and eliminate conflicts and prejudices between different groups. There has been various hypothesis that have been formulated to facilitate the reduction and elimination of prejudice and discrimination. For example, the self-esteem hypothesis is based on providing appropriate education, which increases self esteem and hence reducing, and some cases eliminating prejudice. Contact hypothesis is another solution identified to reduce and eliminate prejudice (Breckler, Olson, & Wiggins 2006, p. 380). It is based on the aspect that prejudice brings together members of different groups, which enable them to appreciate their similar experiences and backgrounds.
Cooperation hypothesis is based on the aspect that conflicting groups need to cooperate through keeping off their individual interest and promoting understanding to work together for a common goal. Legal hypothesis has also been identified as essential in the process of reducing and eliminating prejudice through enforcement of laws against discriminating behaviors. However, in the modern environment, individual solutions have been emphasized in the process of reducing and eliminating prejudice and discrimination. However, an increasing social change and awareness against prejudice and discrimination has played an imperative role in the reduction and elimination of prejudice and discrimination. For example, economic competitiveness and increased desegregation in social institutions have played an imperative role in this process. Changes in the legal system have played an important part in altering some prejudiced attitudes in the society. For example, gendered attitudes, which prohibited women to vote have been eliminated through the enforcement of laws that enabled them to vote, own property and attend higher education. Enforcement of the laws has also enabled racial integration in the US, which could not have been possible without the necessary laws against segregation (Chin 2004, p. 57). Adoption of collaborative interactions and increased cooperative learning between students, will improve the positive value to students and facilitate the reduction of hostility between different conflicting groups.
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