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A prejudice is a judgment that is imparted to a person, group , fact or situation prior to a thorough and comprehensive investigation, assessment, and consideration, without using the facts available at the time of the judgment . There are negative and positive prejudices. Mostly “prejudice” is meant negatively and is understood that way unless “positive” is explicitly put in front as a characteristic. There are more or less pronounced prejudices in all societies and all social groups, classes and strata. Scientific research on prejudice deals with the critical investigation of prejudices .



A well-known definition of prejudice comes from Gordon Allport in his work The Nature of Prejudice ( english The nature of prejudice ) of 1954. According to him, it has the two components attitude and belief and manifests itself with increasing strength in the stages slander , contact avoidance, discrimination , physical violence, extermination (see Allport scale ).

Werner Bergmann's definition is: “In everyday understanding we use the term prejudice to denote pronounced positive and negative judgments or attitudes of a fellow human being about an object of prejudice, if we do not consider them to be realistic and the person concerned does not deviate from his opinion despite counter-arguments. Since we mostly only reflect our point of view in our judgments and judgments almost always contain certain generalizations, there are moments of prejudice to be found in every judgment. "

The prejudice shares many characteristics with the stereotype . Prejudice is likely to be part of the psychological economy. Mental operation with stereotypes is simplified, relieves the burden of a flood of information.

People are most likely to change their attitudes when they otherwise suffer disadvantages or at least fewer advantages. For example, a person can maintain the prejudice "modern art is elitist" throughout their life without being detrimental, unless someone excludes them because of it.

According to Francis Bacon's doctrine of idols from 1620, limitations in the ability to make judgments can be defined as prejudices.

Critical consideration of prejudice

Historically significant, the early Enlightenment criticized thinking clouded by prejudices. The enlightener Christian Thomasius called on people to independently examine traditional judgments and ways of thinking and to discard them if necessary. This is where the later motto of the Enlightenment is rooted: “Dare to use your own understanding” ( Sapere aude ). The genres into which prejudices were divided pointed to various causes of incorrect judgment.

The current, colloquial term of prejudice follows on from this. Propaganda , advertising , etc. also actively promote it.

Rehabilitation of prejudice

Hans-Georg Gadamer saw in Enlightenment philosophy a discrediting of prejudice through the rejection of authority and tradition. As Gadamer continues to develop the ancient hermeneutic circle , the prejudice is neutral here, since every factual matter (be it a text) is compared with the pre-opinion of the subject, which is empirically constituted based on the experience and tradition in which it stands. After new experiences have been gained, the prejudices or prejudices of the subject are compared with them and consequently they become a judgment based on said factual and prejudice; analogous to the Hegelian dialectic: synthesis of thesis and antithesis. Thus the prejudice according to Gadamer is detached from positive or negative evaluations.

Types of prejudice

Positive and negative prejudices

“The negative prejudice is one with the positive. They are two sides of the same thing, ”as Max Horkheimer puts it in his essay On Prejudice. Today, prejudices are mostly perceived as negative per se: When debates about prejudice are argued, it is almost exclusively about negative prejudices. How crucial prejudices are for our daily survival is being forgotten. Modern everyday life cannot be mastered without prejudice. Horkheimer explains: “In the jungle of civilization, innate instincts are even less sufficient than in the jungle. Without the machinery of prejudice, one would not be able to walk across the street, let alone serve a customer. ”Conversely, all characteristics that lead to negative prejudices being viewed critically have positive consequences. Albert Einstein's sentence, “A prejudice is more difficult to split than an atom”, provides crucial help with regard to social orientation. Every individual has the desire to judge the world, to express his liking or disapproval of what has happened - this is an impossible undertaking without prejudice. Often collective prejudices are the result of historically grown patterns of interpretation, a “normal” simplification in order to somehow bundle the diversity of social reality.

Positive prejudices play a decisive role in economic life, because positive prejudices about e.g. B. a brand or a product are crucial for any company that exists or wants to exist on the market successfully in the long term and economically: a VW Golf is particularly reliable, an Alfa Romeo vehicle is sporty, at ALDI you can buy cheaply or at Deutsche Lufthansa is a punctual and safe airline. The development and management of brands require careful and sensitive handling of existing prejudices so that the trust in such a brand prejudice is not shaken in the customer base. Often such “positive prejudices” were built up over many decades; That is, the company has continuously delivered product performance and thus managed to build a good reputation or a positive prejudice. The social mechanisms that lead to negative prejudices also work the other way round - with, economically speaking, extremely positive consequences. From a brand- sociological perspective, a brand is primarily a positive prejudice shared by many people about a product's performance. This service is linked to a name.

Upgrading prejudices

Prejudice is not necessarily derogatory. The appreciative prejudices may include the view of lovers on loved ones , the view of their own children or their own nation, or the trust of a small child in the unlimited abilities and strength of their parents. Also myths that have grown up around certain objects, situations or people can prejudices be considered that the basis for worship or for a positive (negative sometimes) fan rituals form.

Disparaging prejudices

Prejudices, however, are often negative or negative attitudes towards a person, a group of people, a city or municipality, a nation or a situation in general. The formation of prejudices is interpreted as “over-generalization”, in which inadmissible conclusions are drawn from individual characteristics of an individual to characteristics of all individuals in a group. Prejudices have an emotional content and appear as clear, stereotypical beliefs. They often imply negative feelings and behavioral tendencies and can lead to intolerance and discrimination .

Disparaging prejudices based on ethnic characteristics are called ethnophaulisms . Above all, they hit people who are disadvantaged and often serve to legitimize injustices.


  • Soldiers are only responsible for wars (and thus for killing enemy people). See soldiers are murderers .
  • Bankers only target customers' money.
  • Unemployed people are parasites and lazy.
  • The state senselessly wastes citizens' tax money.
  • Overweight people have too much weight because they overeat and are lazy.


The prejudice is characterized by the following features:

  1. It is a hasty judgment, i.e. a judgment that is not at all or only very inadequately supported by reality , reflections or experiences, or it is even made before any experience or reflection.
  2. It is usually a generalizing judgment, i. In other words, it does not just refer to a single case, but to many subjects of judgment.
  3. It often has the stereotypical character of a cliché and is presented as if it were self-evident or at least irrefutable.
  4. In addition to descriptive or theoretically explanatory statements, it also contains direct or indirect judging assessments of people, groups or facts.
  5. It differs from a judgment through the faulty and above all rigid generalization. The flawedness is less about whether the content of the prejudice corresponds empirically with reality or not. Rather, the over-generalization is important: I reject a person (or several) only because of their group membership. The group may have certain properties “on average”, but this hardly affects all members of this group (“ ecological fallacy ”).

The following overview is also helpful for a clearer breakdown of the nature of a prejudice into characteristics and tools:

  1. Conviction (also opinion)
  2. inadequate justification (including opinion)
  3. Certain properties are known but are not taken into account.
    1. because of the inadequacy of thinking
    2. tactically or demagogically conditioned
    3. Too weighty for us, grown together in us.

The causes

Social causes

Social inequality: The economic relationship between two groups can be used to predict their stereotypes against each other. Often, prejudices are used to rationalize existing inequalities ; That is, they are derived from apparently natural differences.

An experiment by Hoffmann and Hurst demonstrates this: test subjects were asked to imagine an alien planet. There were two types of living beings on it, "Ackmanians" and "Orinthians". There were two possible occupations that were practiced, manual workers or child educators. The subjects were then presented with short descriptions of 15 Ackmanians and 15 Orinthians each, in which each living being was described as having an individual positive and a charitable characteristic. It was also noted who was a worker and who was an educator. For one group of subjects, the majority of the Ackmanians were workers and the majority of the Orinthians were educators, while for the other group the reverse was true. Then the test subjects were asked to describe both types of living being. The group, in which the majority of Ackmanians were workers and the minority educators, described Ackmanians as "more competent, strong, technically gifted" and Orinthians as "warmer, more domestic, more emotional". The other group judged exactly the opposite. Conclusion: Although the characterization of the two species was the same for all living beings, the existing inequalities in the roles were used to incorrectly infer personality traits.

Self-fulfilling prophecy: A self-fulfilling prophecy is a process in which the expectations of other people that have become apparent lead to a person acting in accordance with the expectations.

In an experiment by Word et al. a. Interviews with white applicants were observed by the investigators. If the applicants were colored, they sat further away from the application leader during the interviews, and the latter made more promises and ended the interviews approx. 25% earlier than with white applicants. In a second phase of the experiment, the real white application manager was replaced by an actor. He was instructed to behave towards white applicants in exactly the same way as the real leader had previously behaved towards colored people. The result was that the white applicants showed increased uncertainty and anxiety in their behavior. This proves that prejudices against people can also lead to them unwittingly behaving in accordance with the prejudice.

Peer pressure: Prejudices are accepted on the basis of perceived peer pressure, so they are also more easily adopted (see also: conformity ).

Raising one's own status: People with a low social status show stronger prejudices in surveys, but this can also be due to the fact that they answer such questions more honestly.

Emotional causes

Scapegoat Search : The scapegoat theory states that our prejudices are directed against substitute objects or persons when the real causes of our frustration are either unknown or unreachable. In Canada, for example, prejudices against immigrants have been observed to rise and fall with the unemployment rate.

Theory of social identity : This theory by Tajfel and Turner is based on the identification of an actor with a (his) group. This then makes up an important part of our self-concept. Our self-esteem is then not only fed by personal performance (" satisfaction "), but is alsoenrichedby group performance and ingroup bias . So you develop a prejudice about yourself.

Ingroup bias: This ingroup-distortion ( "in-group error") refers to the tendency to favor one's own group and penalizing non-members. In an experimental paradigm are subjects randomly divided into two groups decision, so arbitrary an ingroup ( ingroup ) and an outgroup ( outgroup generated). If the test subjects are later to allocate money to the ingroup or outgroup in a sham experiment, significantly more money is allocated to the ingroup. However, the distribution strategy does not aim at maximum profit for the ingroup, but at maximum difference to the outgroup.

Economic threat: People from the working class are often portrayed as having increased prejudice against immigrants and ethnic minorities. However, this is a function of the perceived economic threat. Highly educated people also express prejudice against these groups as soon as they are described as highly educated and are therefore perceived as an economic threat.

Cognitive causes

Categorization : Man involuntarily sorts the manifold things of perception into categories. There are various explanations for this, e.g. B. that this behavior helps us to recognize connections, to order the world, to reduce our cognitive load and to simplify our action planning ( complexity reduction). The concept of implicit personality theory offers a systematic analysis of such categorizations, which are individually different.

Focus: We tend to judge people for their most salient , i.e. H. to perceive most noticeable features. If z. B. someone is a well-known CDU politician or extreme athlete, we take him v. a. as “CDU'ler”, “parachutist” etc. and would name these characteristics as the most important in a description of the person. See also anchor heuristics and halo effect .

In one study, test subjects observed a man in a video recording. If they were given the information beforehand that they were dealing with a “cancer patient” or a “homosexual”, then the people observed him more closely for this attribution and believed that they recognized certain behaviors that reflected the alleged characteristic.

Just World Phenomenon : When a person becomes a victim in front of our eyes, in most cases we feel uncomfortable. This aversive emotion can be reduced in two ways: Either we help the victim, or we belittle it (“He put himself in this position and therefore deserves it!”). If the possibility of help is excluded, people tend to devalue the victim: test subjects observed how shocks were administered to a helpless person (in truth an actor). In a test procedure, the test subjects were then allowed to reward the victim (with praise, sweets, money). In the course of the experiment, the majority of them found the victim likable. In the second test run, the test subjects could in no way compensate the victim for the shocks and had to watch helplessly as the person was shocked. In this group, the majority of the test persons stated that they found the victim unsympathetic. So it was devalued.

Consequences of prejudice

The people who are the target of prejudice suffer numerous disadvantages, especially when they belong to a minority. In addition to the consequences already mentioned, such as hostility, exclusion, discrimination, etc., they can suffer from the fear of actually conforming to the prejudice against their group (see threats from stereotypes ).

The negative self-esteem consequences of prejudice victims can also be more subtle. African-American children, for example, prefer to play with white rather than black dolls. Female students rate an academic article better if they believe the author is a man.

Change of Prejudice


Prejudices are difficult to change. Getting to know members of outgroups as individuals always means considerable additional effort. The affective component cannot be addressed through arguments and can only be changed through conditioning . The cognitive component resists with the help of a schema-guided , one-sided information processing aimed at preserving the prejudice, i.e. through selective attention, memory storage and retrieval. For example, only news sources that confirm your own opinion attract attention. New information that contradicts an attitude creates cognitive dissonance . One would have to admit that one was wrong all along. To ward off this discomfort, the new information is devalued, for example by viewing it as an exception (“Exceptions confirm the rule”). Advertising and political propaganda are often aimed at creating, maintaining and increasing prejudice. They also make use of linguistic aids. Example from the former National Socialist Germany: “German” entrepreneurs represented the “creating” capital, “Jewish”, however, the “raving”. A stubborn dissemination of prejudice, not only open outspoken, but also hidden, sublime nature, especially the faces trade exposed. The "tradition of prejudices" ( Schenk ) in relation to the (misunderstood) services and functions of commercial operations ranges from ancient Greek thinkers to Roman church teaching (patristicism) and so-called scientific socialism to the modern suspicion of enrichment and manipulation.


The most important prerequisite for breaking down prejudices is contact with the outgroup, which, as Şerif's summer camp experiment showed, only works if other conditions are met:

  1. mutual dependence of those involved
  2. common goal
  3. same status; Unequal power relationships easily lead to stereotypical behavior
  4. a friendly environment that facilitates interactions between groups; Contact without interaction can exacerbate prejudice
  5. Contact with several members of the outgroup; too few contacts could be downplayed as "exceptions"
  6. Equality as a social norm accelerates the process.

Also Allport recommends to overcome prejudices against people through joint activities, an approach that by Elliot Aronson's jigsaw was picked up process. In Allport's view, it is not enough to just gather information about the person concerned, as prejudice is stronger than “ bias ”. Sociologically it can be confirmed that the more frequent the interaction, the stronger the emotion (George Caspar Homans), and this can mean that affection becomes more intense - but also aversion.

Education can counteract negative stereotypes based on incorrect information.

There are now anti-bias training courses for individuals and various groups who specifically aim to break down prejudices.

Modern prejudices

As a result of efforts to achieve political correctness , there are far fewer prejudices publicly expressed today . However, if one examines the behavior or involuntary reactions (for example with the Bogus pipeline technique ), it turns out that many of the prejudices believed to have been overcome persist and the wearers are either unconscious or are only expressed in familiar circles.

See also



For the introduction

“It does not occur to anyone to bring prejudices into the world that can be refuted immediately. Nobody would claim that all Germans are dwarfs. And it never occurred to the Nazis to attribute cold eyes to the Jews. No sensible person would have believed such an assertion, because he would have met Jews with friendly faces on the next street corner. Nazi propaganda worked more subtle, claiming that the Jews were stingy, greedy and devious. In this way they could produce the pure resentment. Plain or fearful souls assumed that a Jew who was friendly to one was particularly cunning and could pretend well. The defendants had no chance against the perfidious prejudices of the Nazis. "

- Sir Peter Ustinov

Scientific literature

  • Andreas Dorschel: Thinking about prejudice. Felix Meiner, Hamburg 2001, ISBN 3-7873-1572-1 .
  • Janet K. Swim, Charles Stangor (Eds.): Prejudice. The target's perspective. Academic Press, San Diego / London 1998, ISBN 0-12-679130-9 .
  • Susan T. Fiske, Monica H. Lin, Steven L. Neuberg: The Continuum Model. Ten years later. In: Sally Chaiken, Yaacov Trope (Ed.): Dual process theories in social psychology. Guildford, New York 1999, ISBN 1-57230-421-9 , pp. 231-254.
  • Curt Hoffman, Nancy Hurst: Gender stereotypes: Perception or rationalization? In: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 58 (1990), ISSN  0022-3514 , pp. 197-208.
  • Julia Angela Iser: Prejudices. On the role of personality, values, general attitudes and threats. The theory of basic human values, authoritarianism and the theory of social dominance as explanations for prejudice. An integrative comparison of theories. Dissertation . University of Giessen, 2007 (full text)
  • Astrid Kaiser (2015): First names: Nomen est omen? Preliminary expectations and prejudices in primary school. In: School administration Hessen / Rhineland-Palatinate. 20th vol., H. 3, pp. 93-94.
  • Anitra Karsten: Prejudice. Results of psychological and social psychological research. Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 1978, ISBN 3-534-06224-8 .
  • Ziva Kunda, Kathryn C. Oleson: Maintaining stereotypes in the face of disconfirmation. Constructing grounds for subtyping. In: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 68 (1995), ISSN  0022-3514 , pp. 565-579.
  • Lorella Lepore, Rupert Brown: Category and stereotype activation: Is prejudice inevitable? In: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 72 (1997), ISSN  0022-3514 , pp. 275-287.
  • Badi Panahi: prejudices. Racism, anti-Semitism, nationalism in the Federal Republic today. An empirical study. Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 1980, ISBN 3-10-058602-6 .
  • Anton Pelinka (Ed.): Prejudices. Origins, forms, meaning. De Gruyter, Berlin a. a. 2012, ISBN 978-3-11-026839-3 .
  • Lars-Eric Petersen, Bernd Six: Stereotypes, Prejudice and Social Discrimination: Theories, Findings and Interventions. Beltz, Weinheim 2008, ISBN 978-3-621-27645-0 .
  • Scott Plous: Understanding Prejudice and Discrimination. McGraw-Hill, Boston et al. a. 2002, ISBN 0-07-255443-6 .
  • Charles Stangor (Ed.): Stereotypes and Prejudice. Essential readings. Psychology Press, Philadelphia et al. a. 2000, ISBN 0-86377-589-6 .
  • Elisabeth Young-Bruehl : The Anatomy of Prejudices. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass. 1996, ISBN 0-674-03190-3 .
  • Max Horkheimer: About prejudice. Westdeutscher Verlag, Cologne et al. 1963.
  • Gordon W. Allport: The Nature of Prejudice. Kiepenheuer & Witsch, Cologne 1971, ISBN 3-462-00826-9 .
  • Arnd Zschiesche : A positive prejudice towards Germany. Mercedes-Benz as a design system - a sociological brand contribution to prejudice research. Lit, Münster 2007, ISBN 978-3-8258-0904-1 .
  • Hans-Otto Schenk: The trade and the tradition of prejudice. In: Gesa Crockford, Falk Ritschel, Ulf-Marten Schmieder (eds.): Commerce in theory and practice. Festschrift for Dirk Möhlenbruch. Springer Gabler, Wiesbaden 2013, ISBN 978-3-658-01985-3 , pp. 1-25.

Web links

Wiktionary: Prejudice  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Werner Bergmann: What are prejudices? In: prejudices - stereotypes - enemy images. (= Information on political education. Issue 271, 2001).
  2. What are prejudices? . Website of the Federal Agency for Civic Education. Retrieved April 28, 2015.
  3. Stereotype and Prejudice - Definitions and Concepts . Website of the IKUD seminars. Retrieved April 28, 2015.
  4. Manfred Markefka: prejudices - minorities - discrimination. 1995, p. 37.
  5. ^ C. Hoffman, N. Hurst: Gender stereotypes: Perception or rationalization? In: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 58 (2), 1990, pp. 197-208.
  6. Antony SR Manstead: The psychology of social class: how socioeconomic status impacts thought, feelings, and behavior . In: British Journal of Social Psychology . tape 57 , no. 2 , 2018, p. 267–291 , doi : 10.1111 / bjso.12251 , PMID 29492984 , PMC 5901394 (free full text) - ( [accessed September 20, 2019]).
  7. Joshua Aronson, Diane M. Quinn, Steven J. Spencer: Stereotype threat and the academic under-performance of minorities and women. In: Janet K. Swim, Charles Stangor (Eds.): Prejudice. The target's perspective. 1998, pp. 83-103.
  8. K. Clark, M. Clark: Racial identification and preference in Negro children. In: Theodore M Newcombe, Eugene L Hartley (Eds.): Readings in social psychology. Holt, New York 1947.
  9. ^ P. Goldberg: Are women prejudiced against women? In: Trans-Action. April 1968, pp. 28-30.
  10. M. Şerif: In common predicament: Social psychology of intergroup conflict and cooperation. Houghton Mifflin, Boston 1966.
  11. ^ I. Amir: The role of intergroup contact in change of prejudice and ethnic relations. In: PA Katz (Ed.): Towards the elimination of racism. Pergamon Press, New York 1976, pp. 245-308.
  12. TF Pettigrew: Racially separate or together? In: Journal of Social Issues. 25: 43-69 (1969).
  13. SW Cook: Cooperative interaction in multiethnic contexts. In: Norman Miller, Marilynn B. Brewer (Eds.): Groups in contact: The psychology of desegregation. Academic Press, New York 1984, ISBN 0-12-497780-4 .
  14. ^ DA Wilder: Intergroup contact: The typical member and the exception to the rule. In: Journal of Experimental Psychology. 20, (1984), pp. 177-194.
  15. ^ CA Riordan: Equal-status interracial contact: A review and revision of a concept. In: International Journal of Intercultural Relations. 2, (1978), pp. 161-185.
  16. ^ Louise Derman-Sparks: Anti-Bias-Work1 with small children in the USA. (PDF; 108 kB)
  17. John F. Dovidio, Samuel L. Gaertner: Affirmative action, unintentional racial biases, and intergroup relations. In: Journal of Social Issues. 52, (1996), pp. 51-75.
  18. ^ Phil Fontaine: Modern Racism in Canada. ( Memento of the original from March 26, 2009 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was automatically inserted and not yet checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. April 24, 1998. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /