More threads by David Baxter PhD

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
The Double Edged Passion
By Alex Gunz

Humans are passionate creatures. Our passions drive us, gives us a sense of belonging, and unite us as few other things can. Still, there are only a couple of passions that have been constants down the ages, passions that people from every place and culture can agree on. Love is one, but another is that "those no-good bastards over there are trouble." Of course, we quibble endlessly over the exact definition of "those" -- every culture, pretty much, has had a different group in mind. But the singular fact of prejudice per se was as recognizable in Ancient Greece, Rome, and Samaria as it is now in modern Greece, Rome, and Arkansas.

Not only do we disagree over who Those Bastards Over There (TBOT) are, but also over why we hate them so much. Nose size has been cited in the past as a reason, as has intellectual capacity (too much or too little), and bad manners (eating without implements, eating with implements, etc). Hate may be a massively universal thing, but we are shockingly divided over why we do it. Personally, I blame TBOT.

Psychologists, though, (hate us or loathe us) aren?t as sanguine about not knowing, and have spent a great deal of time investigating prejudice in its many guises. They have come to two broad classes of answers: (a) Reasons we hate each other, and (b) Reasons we think we hate each other. There's not as much overlap between those two as you might hope.

Why We Hate - A First Stab at It.
Scientific psychology started getting seriously interested in prejudice just after the Second World War. There's nothing like a conspicuous mountain of corpses to really get you going on the question of hate.

The first really influential answer that psychology came to was not the ever popular theory that "some people are just jerks," but neither was it far off. A German intellectual called Theodor W. Adorno released a book in 1950 called The Authoritarian Personality, in which he detailed research on his "F-scale." This scale was designed to pick out people who were, among other things, conventional minded, uncritically accepting of authority, and accepting of the need for authorities to aggressively apply their power. He called it the F-scale, because he thought it would pick out people prone to fascism. Other people pointed out that it might not do a bad job picking out Soviet style communists either, but as a committed Marxist Adorno wasn't as taken with this application.

These ideas have been updated as the construct of ?Right Wing Authoritarianism,? about which the leading authority, Bob Altemeyer, has written a highly readable book which is available for free online HERE. New research (e.g. Jost, 2006) is adding to this showing that people who are very low in the commonly measured ?openness to experience? construct seem to be more likely to be both right wing, and prejudiced.

Psychologists have long noted people's over-fondness (at least in the western world) for explaining actions in terms of the personalities of the actors involved. We tend to neglect the possibility that a person who falls, for example, might have been tripped, and that they aren't just clumsy. This bias is so commonplace that psychologists have named it the fundamental attribution error. Perhaps it isn't surprising, then, that the first attempt to explain prejudice chalked it up to an authoritarian personality. If we want to get past this known bias we must ask, then, might hate also be caused by one?s circumstances, and not always just by an ornery disposition?

Why We Hate - Situations That Lead to Hate
In 1954, psychologist Muzafer Sherif spent a summer dressed as a janitor at a summer camp to which he had brought two dozen perfectly normal 12 year old boys. In this classic study the boys were divided into two separately housed groups, who spontaneously took on names for themselves - the Eagles and the Rattlers.

There, he tried out one of the oldest, gold plated, tried and true, best ways to get people to hate each other: finding something they both can't have. Historically speaking, jobs, land, money, churches, all have been favourites. Sports leagues have used this principle for years with silver cups. Psychologists call it the realistic threat hypothesis. A quick glance at those sports leagues will show that the prize doesn't have to be realistically valuable, though, just somehow real. Still, honor and prestige are both real to human minds, as is ?truth,? that most hard-fought-over piece of mental real estate. Get people excited about any of the above, and you?re well positioned for a launch down the well-trodden road to belligerent disrespect.

In his test of this theory, Sherif started his boys playing competitive games against each other after a few days. He offered prizes such as penknives, with the losing team receiving nothing. Within days, tauntings and food fights escalated to the point that the boys refused to eat meals in the same room. The campers began playing pranks on each other, stealing each others? flags, and behaving in a generally rotten and scurrilous manner.

This may sound like nothing more than child's play, but adults, too, respond to competition. As the anthropologist Thomas J. Schoeneman noted in 1975, witch hunts worldwide tend to follow closely after social turmoil. They peaked in Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries when churches fell under siege from science and monarchs, they peaked in Massachusetts when Puritan influence there came under intense fire, and they peaked in Washington when China and the USSR loomed as threats. Meanwhile, a paranoid Stalin was holding witch hunts of his own. This isn?t a uniquely Western phenomenon; similar, if less murderous, patterns have been observed in Africa.

Competition, then, can spur prejudice. But if you look carefully at what happened in the Sherif experiment, the boys actually started taunting each other before competitive games were introduced --though they were still happy to eat together at that point. This illustrates another psychological finding, albeit one that has only come to be fully understood only recently: ingroup biases really don't take much to get started.

Henri Tajfel's minimal ingroup experiment is famed for illustrating just how little is required. He asked boys to guess how many dots were shown on a speckled slide and subsequently announced they were over- or underestimators. Next the boys distributed points (that were exchangeable for money) amongst each other. They tended to give more to those who were the same 'type' as themselves. They had spent mere minutes as a member of this transparently meaningless ingroup, and yet were already showing favoritism! Before you wonder which type you are, and how you can spot members of the other kind so you can fleece them, know this: Tajfel decided which type they were based on a coin flip, rather than anything they actually did. The kinships of ?overestimators? with other ?overestimators? wasn?t just flimsy, it was completely fictitious.

Now short-changing a stranger for a few bucks is a long way from, say, burning them as a witch, or blowing them up in a market place. But then being told you're an "overestimator" is also a long way from discovering a wave of heretics threatening your way of life, or foreign soldiers patrolling the place you call home. It's amazing that such a small prod produced any response at all.

Why We Hate - What We've Learned
In 1998 a man in Laramie, Wyoming named Matthew Shepard was robbed, beaten, and left for dead. Mr. Shepard posed no threat to his attackers; he wasn?t competing with them for any resources, nor even carrying anything valuable. He was just gay. But if the antipathy motivating this violence cannot reasonably be ascribed to any very realistic threat, where did it come from?

Perhaps it was just learned. Cultures pass on many pieces of useful information to their members -- how to make fires, raise kids, win friends, and who to watch out for. People grow up hearing about the dangers of Black ?pimps? and White ?trash.? They read about thieving Jews (even in Dickens and Shakespeare), Arab terrorists, and a panoply of other ?thems,? who are variously sneaky, pushy, violent, dishonest, or just plain disgusting. The hallmark of such cultural knowledge is that when asked, people reply ?everyone knows.? For example, ?everyone knows? that eating with your hands is bad manners. Here and now it?s a cultural truism. Where and when Matthew Shepard went to school, homosexuality was inexplicably on this cultural hit list.

Cultures can work quite hard on the problem of hate. The Nazis spent a great deal of energy on propaganda to convince ordinary German to view Jews as less than human. Conversely, much of the western world has spent the last half century working in the opposite direction, expending a great deal of energy to remove prejudices. It can go both ways.

Do We Hate to Feel Good?
Prejudices can be used as mental shortcuts to warn us away from liars, cheats and other no-good bastards -- that?s likely a big part of why we have them. But prejudice can also salve our hurts and bring us closer together. No, that?s not a misprint. Let me explain.

In 1997 there was, at one large Midwestern university, a sizable population of Jewish women from Long Island and New York, who were strongly and openly stereotyped as "JAPs" - prissy, fussy, "Jewish American Princesses". Recognizing this, Steven Fein of Williams College and Steven Spencer of the University of Waterloo presented students there with the r?sum? and photo of a job candidate, whom they were able to intimate, via subtle alterations of her name, hair style, activities, and affiliations, was either Jewish ('Julie Goldberg', wore a star of David, volunteered for Jewish charities, etc.), or not ('Maria D'Agostino', wore a crucifix, etc.). They then had people rate how nice a person Julie/Maria was, and whether to recommend her for a job.

Before people completed this task, though, they were made to feel bad. The researchers gave everybody impossibly hard logic puzzles, telling them that it was an important and very widely used IQ test. The hapless test-takers, no doubt already rattled, were then told that they had scored very badly (obviously they were told the truth and apologized to before they left the lab). The researchers knew from previous studies that when people have been put through this type of wringer they are especially likely to lash out at unpopular groups, and that's exactly what happened this time too. JAP Julie was given much worse reviews than her (otherwise identical) alter ego Maria.

Interestingly enough, dumping on the Jewish girl seemed to cause people's self-esteem to recover from the humiliation of the impossible IQ test. The more negatively test-takers rated "Julie Goldberg", the closer they returned to their initial baseline of self-esteem. Expressing prejudice actually restored their temporarily dented feelings of self worth. These participants would doubtless have recovered anyway, but they used prejudice as a cruel shortcut back to equanimity. The philosophy seemed to be: "if life hands you lemons, pelt them at someone until you feel better". Recall Matthew Shepard, beaten to death by a pair of homophobic Wyomingites (State motto: "Equality")? His assailants, perhaps suffering the ill effects of a cultural squeamishness about gays, may have felt anxious. Apparently lacking the sense to see this as their own problem, they appear to have indulged in hateful action to make themselves feel better. Homophobia, then, might offer both feelings of threat and a nasty shortcut to alleviate it. The inbuilt cure is worse than the original disease.

On a more prosocial note, the boys at Sherif's camp might have used prejudice not to feel better, but to pull their groups closer together. It makes sense if you think about it. Humans have clumped together since prehistoric times for protection, and that impulse still runs strong in us, especially when we?re faced with a threat. When the United States was attacked on 9/11, there was an immediate and enormous pulling together, as people turned to each other for support. The same community bonding happened in World War II when London was blitzed, and seems to happen all too often in the Middle East as its crises come and go.

There's a twisted yet compelling logic which says that if people pull together in face of an enemy, and if pulling together is what you want, then what you really need is an enemy. When the Rattlers and Eagles first started disparaging each other, believe it or not, what they might have been trying to do was make their group more cohesive.

Why We Think We Hate
Imagine talking to one of Sherif's campers. He could probably tell you with great authority that Eagles are jerks, liars, and cheats. He would tell you that they are stupid and tricky, blithe to the contradiction between those two things. Furthermore, he would tell you (as 12 year-olds are wont), that Eagles are smelly. If some egg-head scientist interrupted that this was all really about realistic threat and attempts at group cohesion, the Rattler would probably add some choice words about the scientist too. Eagles are stupid, end of conversation.

"How do you KNOW they are stupid," the scientist might ask?

"Easy," the Rattler would say, "because they are." It's the Tupac hypothesis of prejudice; "That's just the way it is."

The egg-headed scientist would be left to claim that the Rattler just doesn?t have mental access into why he started thinking such nefarious things about Rattlers. She would be on strong ground with his claim, too. Perhaps the best illustration is with split brain patients, who have had the connection between the two halves of their brain literally chopped out (no, psychologists aren't total sadists; this was done as an early treatment for epilepsy). With these patients, you can tell one side of their brain to do something, such as stand up, and often they will do so. If you ask them why they leapt to their feet, the other side of their brain, not knowing why, will just make a reason up. "There was a draft," the person might report. "Why did I laugh? It's just a funny machine you?ve got me looking at here." Psychologists call this confabulation.

Now our Eagle-hating Rattler presumably has an intact brain, but he still might not have been aware of how the right motivational context could have rewarded his early fumblings in the direction of prejudice. But if asked, he will confabulate reasons about stupidity, jerk-ishness, and odious smells. And then he will believe them.

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. As part of her research, one of my colleagues asked students in Texas "what is the worst thing that could happen to you?" to which some girls wrote: "I would become pregnant by a Black man." Such a response would be considered unimaginably embarrassing at a liberal arts school in, say, Boston. This isn?t to suggest that all Texans are prejudiced or that all Bostonians aren?t, merely that the norms demanding outrage at prejudiced behavior are not equally strong everywhere.

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?
Sherif's attempts to rile prejudice worked better than he had imagined they would, but so too did the last phase in his camp experiment, which I haven't told you about yet.

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. The end of World War II saw Germany and Japan switch rapidly in the Allies psyche from terrible enemies, complete with derogatory nicknames, to stalwart friends, demonstrating that even those prejudices that had been chiselled, literally, into granite, aren?t. 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 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.

Ambivalent Racism is described as disliking a group, but coding these feelings into a more acceptable format. Example: ?I?m not saying that psychologists are evil, they?re just always poking their noses in, making like they understand everything,? might be said by someone who feels, deep down, that psychologists are evil.

Aversive Racism is described as disliking a group, but feeling extremely bad at the idea of behaving in a clearly prejudiced fashion (or at least, of been seen to behave this way). Prejudiced action will only emerge, then, in situations where it?s hidden, or at least plausibly deniable.

Authoritarian Personality refers to the idea that some people are conventional minded, valuing authority, structure, and obedience. People who fit this description seem far more willing to uncritically dislike others when they are told to do so.

Contact Hypothesis is the notion that contact between members two groups tends to reduce tensions between them, particularly when it occurs under certain types of circumstances

Our Ingroup refers to Us.

Minimal Ingroup Paradigm is the mere act of declaring that a group exists can be enough to make people start treating those in their new ingroup with slight favouritism.

Our Outgroup refers to Them.

Prejudice is an emotional dislike of someone based purely on their group membership. This can be conscious (i.e., ?South-Eastern North Dakotans just creep me out?) or unconscious (?I guess we never did hire any of the Black candidates. Funny that.?). They can be justified (?I have inexplicable urges to be mean to child molesters?) or unjustified (?Those Jews, always out to get us?).

Realistic Threat Hypothesis refers to the idea that we dislike people with whom we are competing for resources (food, jobs, silver cups, electoral districts).

Stereotypes are the beliefs about another group. E.g., Blacks are aggressive, doctors are smart, psychologists analyse you. Again, these vary in truth value, but are almost never true of all members of the target group.

Symbolic Racism refers to disliking a group, while simultaneously believing that egalitarianism is a virtue. Prejudiced behavior might be exacerbated for such people in situations that remind them of the others? perceived shortcomings, and attenuated in situations that remind them of their belief that we?re all part of the great siblinghood of homo sapien sapien.

Altemeyer, R. (2006). The Authoritarians.

Adorno, T. W., Frenkel-Brunswik, E., Levinson, D. J., & Sanford, R. N. (1950). The Authoritarian Personality. Oxford, England: Harpers.

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.

Fein, S., & Spencer, S. J. (1997). Prejudice as self-image maintenance: Affirming the self through derogating others. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 73, 31-44.

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.

Jost, J. T. (2006). The End of the End of Ideology. American Psychologist, 61, 651-670.

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. (1998). Intergroup contact theory. Annual Review of Psychology, 49, 65-85.

Pettigrew, T. F., & Tropp, L. R. (2006). A Meta-Analytic Test of Intergroup Contact Theory. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 90, 751-758.

Schoeneman, T. J. (1975). The witch hunt as a culture change phenomenon. Ethos, 3, 529-554.

Sherif, M. (1961). Intergroup Conflict and Cooperation: The Robbers Cave Experiment. Norman, Oklahoma: University Book Exchange.
Tajfel, H., & Turner, J. C. (1986). The Social Identity Theory of Intergroup Behavior. In S. Worchel & W. G. Austin (Eds.), Psychology of intergroup relations (pp. 7-24). Chicago: Nelson-Hall.
<3 food fights <3

---------- Post added at 01:49 PM ---------- Previous post was at 01:33 PM ----------

I would just also like to say in all seriousness that I love reading your posts.


As humans we have some very deep-seeded predispositions about other people. Every see a badly burned person and wonder if you could exchange with that person civilly and not "react" to their terrible disfigurement? And after you speak do you wonder if they saw external signs of your powerful internal reaction? Why is a burned steak not that horrific but a burned person so gruesome? We want terribly to think we are above the exterior and that we are sensitive to the human being beneath the scarred tissue. But are we? My cursory research into this subject speaks of instincts we have about people. Disfigurements may be genetically caused, so it could well be it's our reproductive extincts that drive our repulsion to certain deformities. Yes, men don't want to reproduce with other men - but we may not want a genetically compromised man mating with anyone from our "village" at all! We also find fecal matter and vomit very repulsive (gag reflex) - and again it could be our survival instinct that is at play. These bodily waste materials can carry very dangerous infectious organisms - ones that could threaten the survival of the individual or the entire tribe. Look at cats - domestic cats. Three cats can play together since birth and be "best buddies". Once I witnessed two cats leave the third - completely abandon it and avoid it - because the cat was dying from a serious illness. The 2 healthy cats had a survival instinct which clrealy over-rode the kitty friendship they had formed since birth. These are affectionate creatures - ones who cleaned and groomed eachother and slept in a pile for many years.

So I have to ask.... are these primal instincts where prejudice against uknown or different cultures comes from? Could this be a case of: "If it's different or unfamiliar, it might be dangerous!"? Are different cultures or races "guilty until proven innocent" due to more primal instincts? Is this why we hear "Oh, those people are all bad news... except for Bill over there. Yeah - Bill is okay...we know Bill!" Once we are familiar with an individual person we no longer seem to be as prejudiced. Even hard-core racist people have known to be tolerant of people in their home town because they've "worked at that corner store for generations now...".

So how is it that we have difficulty being prejudiced against one single person we DO know (Bill), yet we can paint 40,000,000 people we DON'T know with a single brush stroke?

You humans....I mean we humans of course (ha ha ha) fascinate me.!

"You're a strange animal, that's all I know. You're a strange animal, I've got to follow....." (Lawrence Gowan sings about the human animal)
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