Wednesday, June 01, 2005
Peer Prejudice and Discrimination
Dr. Harold Fishbein, professor of psychology at the University of Cincinnati, stands among the modern forerunners of Developmental Psychology. His book Peer Prejudice and Discrimination (1966, Westview Press) speaks for it. Winner of the 1996 Eleanor Maccoby Book Award in Developmental Psychology, it forms a treatise on the evolutionary basis of human prejudice and subsequent discrimination.
Starting with simple definitions, the author explores the process of prejudicial development with brief histories of certain groups which have been the target of discriminatory treatment. Among these are Females, African-Americans, the Deaf, and the Mentally Retarded.
Part of the interest the author arouses lies in the discovery of the role our genetic apparatus plays in shaping our attitude. The topic Behavior Genetics reckons modern humans as ‘Hunter-Gatherer Minds in Post-Industrial Bodies.’ The assumption the book makes is that human genes are quite old and hence poorly capable to deal with the rapidly transformed societies. This seems to intimate that humans are not responsible for their own prejudice; only their genes are. But it is already imparted that genetic contribution to overall human behavior is 30 to 60 percent. Hence we are all, to varying degrees, free to make conscious modification of our behavior.
The final of the six chapters deals with strategies of modifying prejudice and discrimination. Two theories are presented to bring about a change in attitude:
The Contact Theory, stressing desegregation of different groups by bringing them together in daily interactions; and The Lewinian Theory, calling for the need to suppress strain in social interactions and hence allow the development of more positive attitudes.
One suggestion Dr. Fishbein makes at the end of the book is that challenging discrimination is more likely to succeed in modifying prejudice than challenging prejudice directly. It’s easy to see why: seeds of prejudice lie in overt discriminatory behavior.
The social implications of Dr. Fishbein’s studies are enormous. Uprooting prejudice and discrimination is the ultimate means of creating a harmonious world where peace reigns oblivious to any threat culturally-rooted in human mind.