Situationist Theories of Hate – Part IV
Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 13, 2007
Social Psychologist Alexander Gunz recently published a thoughtful and surprisingly fun summary of social psychological theories about why we humans seem to “hate” so readily and so often. The full article is in the latest edition of In-Mind, which we highly recommend.
We are excerpting portions of Gunz’s informative and entertaining article in this series of posts. Part I provided Gunz’s introduction to the topic of hate and a brief overview of the personality-based explanation by social psychologists (which we would describe as “internal situational” sources of hate. Part II included Gunz’s discussion of some of the external situational sources of hate first discovered by social psychologists. Part III discussed reasons why we hate and why we think we hate. This part, the final in the series, picks up there by discussing some of the new-fangled forms of hate, which help us protect our affirming self-image as people who don’t experience prejudice and then summarizes some reasons for hope.
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Why We Think We Hate – Me? Prejudiced?
Currently in North America, the predominant belief about “why we hate” is that “we don’t.” When asked “who are you prejudiced against?” most people respond as if the question was about their predilection for eating puppies.
Of course, most understand “prejudice,” here, to be synonymous with “hating ethnic minorities,” with a sideline in hating gays, and sometimes women. Christian Crandall (2002) points out that prejudice comes in a continuum, ranging from not-at-all hated groups (e.g., nurses) to very slightly disliked ones (e.g., Americans/Canadians, depending which side of the border you live on), to more openly disliked groups (e.g., prostitutes, gambling addicts), to the outright reviled (e.g., child molesters, rapists). But what about ethnic groups? Is prejudice against them dead? Adults may use more sophisticated epithets than ‘smelly’ (well, sometimes), but do we have more in common with Sherif’s boys than we care to admit?
The last half century has seen a steady decline in racial stereotyping — or at least, the type people admit to on surveys. There is a fair bit of regional variation in this of course, with equality being more fashionable in some places than others. . . .
But is prejudice really clearing up completely, if only in the staunchest bastions of egalitarianism? The late eighties saw several broadly similar theories emerge, each describing people as being conflicted over the expression of prejudice. Prejudiced actions would only emerge, these theories claimed, when they could somehow be coded (ambivalent racism theory), explained away (aversive racism theory), or when conflicting egalitarian beliefs were out of mind (symbolic racism theory).
Ambivalent racism theory argued that while “old fashioned” blatant hatred may be on the wane, its more subtle cousin, resentment, often creeps in to fill the hole. Reasoning along these lines McConahay invented the enormously influential modern racism scale, which aimed not directly at prejudice itself, but indirectly at people dragging their feet over steps to oppose prejudice. His scale quizzed people on issues such as whether Blacks were getting too pushy for civil rights, and whether Blacks’ anger was really so justified.
Gaertner and Dovidio (1986) took a subtly different approach, arguing that people don’t so much code their prejudices, as they acquire highly aversive feelings when those prejudices emerge too blatantly. Among the enormous volumes of evidence they accumulated for this aversive racism theory is one study that illustrates the difference particularly well. At an American university they found a significant drop in the amount of prejudice shown on the Modern Racism Scale between 1988 and 1999. On the surface of things, it seemed, progress was being made. But a second test showed far less encouraging results.
They asked students to evaluate a White or Black job candidate who was given credentials that were varied to be either weak, middling, or strong. The candidate’s race made no difference when his credentials were weak or strong. Nobody felt they could justify hiring a weak White candidate, or blatantly rejecting a strong Black one. But when he was given middling credentials, students had some wiggle room, with plausible reasons to hire or fire either way. In both 1988 and 1999 students said a middling candidate should be hired far less often when a photograph showed him to have Black skin rather than White. The only time race influenced people’s action was when they were able to plausibly claim that it hadn’t.
Is There No Hope?
He rigged a number of events in which the Eagles and Rattlers were obliged to work together to achieve larger goals. For example, he blocked up the entire camp’s water supply with an artfully placed sack, blaming the problem on “vandals.” The two groups investigated, and converged on the “broken” faucet, which they then struggled together to fix. Final success brought universal celebration. In another event, Sherif sabotaged their bus, and the boys had to use their tug of war rope to start it again – everyone pulling, for once, in the same direction on it.
Food fights in the cafeteria stopped, tauntings dropped right off, and on the last day of camp they overwhelmingly voted to go home on the same bus together. At a stop on the way home, the Rattlers even volunteered to use one of their $5 prizes up buying a round of malted milks for everyone.
Prejudices, it seems, are more malleable than the people holding them tend to think. . . . Ever since Sherif’s experiment, psychologists have wondered about the best way to help such thaws along. Recently psychologists Thomas Pettigrew and Linda Trop (2006) gathered the results from hundreds of studies on this question (covering thousands of people), and used complex “meta analysis” statistics to take a powerful new look at the collected results.
What they found is strong support for the ‘contact hypothesis’ – that personal contact between group members helps improve feelings. Contact even works substantially better when a number of conditions are present. From what you’ve heard so far, you won’t be surprised to know that it helps to have a shared goal to work towards (like getting your bus unstuck), and that it is good to have a shared outgroup to rally against (“stupid vandals”). Other things help too, though, such as having the contact occur on an equal footing, with no group having higher status than the other.
Our conviction over the years that TBOT [i.e., “those bastards over there”] are jerks has been matched in its consistency only by our inability to keep straight exactly who TBOT are. Three hundred years ago the French were popular in America as allies in the American Revolution; one hundred years ago Italians were looked down on as unwelcome American immigrants. Of late, Italians are considered non-specifically White, whereas the French have been castigated with outbursts of “freedom fry” munching spite by Americans who were upset that they weren’t doing their part to fight an even newer TBOT. If probed, many of these same Americans (of either period) will happily claim that they dislike the jerks they do, because, well, “everyone knows” that “that’s the way it’s always been.”
You may recall Muzafer Sherif ran his summer camp disguised as a janitor, but you may not have realized why. What Sherif knew was that boys will clam up instantly on sight of a grown up, but people will say almost anything when only the janitor is present. Janitors aren’t real people, you understand.
There is an old saying that you don’t understand anyone until you have walked a mile in their shoes. Sherif wore the shoes, shirt, slacks, and even pushed the broom. Maybe if the rest of us spent more time wearing the shoes of those we tread underfoot, there would be less hate in the world. Maybe, but prejudice is a remarkably consistent human passion.
Crandall, C. S., Eshleman, A., & O’Brien, L. (2002). Social norms and the expression and suppression of prejudice: The struggle for internalization. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 82, 359-378.
Gaertner, S. L., & Dovidio, J. F. (1986). The aversive form of racism. In J. F. Dovidio & S. L. Gaertner (Eds.), Prejudice, discrimination, and racism (pp. 61-89). San Diego, CA: Academic Press, Inc.
McConahay, J. B. (1986). Modern racism, ambivalence, and the Modern Racism Scale. In J. F. Dovidio & S. L. Gaertner (Eds.), Prejudice, discrimination, and racism (pp. 91-125). San Diego, CA: Academic Press, Inc.
Pettigrew, T. F., & Tropp, L. R. (2006). A Meta-Analytic Test of Intergroup Contact Theory. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 90, 751-758.
Sherif, M. (1961). Intergroup Conflict and Cooperation; The Robbers Cave Experiment. Norman, Oklahoma: University Book Exchange. Retrieved from http://psychclassics.yorku.ca/Sherif/index.htm.
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Again, to read the entirety of Gunz’s illuminating and engaging article, go to the latest edition of In-Mind.
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