Psychological interventions to reduce prejudice

 

  1. Why do we need social psychology to fight antigypsyism?
  2. Psychological interventions to reduce prejudice
  3. The unique characteristics of antigypsyism
  4. Best practice examples
  5. Recommendations

 

Prejudice reduction methods can be distinguished by their scope, as they aim to achieve change at different levels, by targeting individual, intergroup, or societal level change.

Individual level interventions aim to change people’s attitudes, biased perceptions and emotions toward members of other groups. Individual interventions do not usually require direct contact with members of the other group. They work with the assumption that prejudice is a result of how we process information (motivated information processing) and it is a normal part of human cognition that serves our basic motivation to understand and control our environment, and to connect with others. However, given our limited cognitive capacities and tendency to simplify and categorise social information, we often generalise our experiences and create shortcuts dividing the world into “us” and “them”. We develop biased perceptions that put “us” (ourselves and others similar to us) in a more positive light and categorize “them” as more negative. Other cognitive shortcuts lead to reinforce these generalizations (stereotypes): for example, we have a tendency to select and process information that confirms our existing knowledge, making our biased perceptions highly resistant to change. Therefore, interventions that target negative stereotypes about outgroups (“them”) will be more difficult to implement, compared to interventions that focus on our more varied and immediate emotional responses or potential behaviours in the presence of “them”.

Intergroup-level interventions concentrate directly on groups and group-level processes, and most often involve contact between members of different groups. These interventions build on the assumption that prejudice is not a mere consequence of individual-level bias, the cognitive ways of processing information and relating to the world. Instead, people’s prejudices are assumed to be connected to the psychological consequences of group membership, specifically, to the comparison between groups that we belong to (so called in-groups) and those that we do not (so called out-groups). In other words, we live in a world defined by multiple groups that we all belong to, and we navigate our society by making group-based comparisons. We aim to see ourselves in a more positive light (gain self-esteem from these intergroup comparisons), and thus are motivated to value our own group at the cost of derogating other groups (as described in the Social Identity Theory [5]).
Another important assumption of the intergroup-level interventions is that we are active in evaluating and constructing our world and our relationship with it, as opposed to being on the “automatic pilot” of stereotypes. This means that the biased, negative and often homogenising perception of out-groups can change when people obtain new and positive experiences with members of other groups. Therefore, in interaction (having contact, making friends, working together with people from different groups) we come to re-evaluate our own groups, or become aware of the fact that we all belong to many distinct but overlapping social categories. This blurs the distinction between the previous “us versus them” and allows for recategorizations in the new “us”.

Societal-level interventions take broader social processes, structural inequalities and social norms into consideration. They do not focus directly on prejudice reduction, but on status differences between groups, injustice in society, values like cultural diversity and potential for structural and social change. In everyday encounters people rarely take a broader perspective and reflect on structural inequalities, therefore societal-level interventions work by raising awareness of the connection between individual attitudes and societal processes or use a more indirect approach and create conditions for developing more favourable attitudes.

 

Different Intergroup Contexts

Most social psychological interventions are applied both to intergroup contexts in which the groups are or had been in conflict and to contexts in which the groups occupy different societal positions and therefore, one of the groups can be considered a higher-status advantaged group, whereas the other, a lower-status disadvantaged group. The main reason that most interventions do not distinguish between the two contexts is that these intergroup situations tend to overlap in real life. The case of hate-crimes against historically disadvantaged groups clearly attests to the connection between the two. Although Roma people are affected by structural inequalities in society, the level of antigypsyism in society suggests that effective interventions need to include elements both of conflict reduction and antidiscrimination. Roma people are treated as a “dissident” outgroup and not as a “derogated” group according to a study conducted in Hungary, which suggests that they are viewed as challenging the status quo, referring to the possibility of open conflict, not just structural inequalities (see Hadarics & Kende [6]). Therefore, the following summary includes intervention techniques that either focus predominantly on solving intergroup conflicts or problems arising from structural inequalities. Both foci may be applicable to the situation of Roma people in Europe.

The effectiveness of interventions is highly influenced by the social-political normative context that can both facilitate and hinder the desired outcome. While the theoretical insights from decades of prejudice reduction interventions are extremely important, their application to the situation of Roma people in Europe needs to be carefully considered as well, and preferably tested empirically. Therefore, in the following table, we present interventions that address individual, intergroup and societal levels. We further explain why they are effective, how they work for members of the majority or advantaged group in terms of reducing prejudice and increasing solidarity, how they work for members of minority or disadvantaged groups in terms of social integration and positive identity, and discuss their applicability in the context of Roma and non-Roma relations. In this analysis, we take into account the specific characteristics of antigypsyism and the social-political context.

Read more about the 3 types of interventions here:

  1. Individual level interventions
  2. Group and intergroup level interventions
  3. Societal level interventions

Or go to the next chapter The unique characteristics of antigypsyism


[5] Tajfel, H. (1978). The achievement of inter-group differentiation. In H. Tajfel (Ed.), Differentiation Between Social Groups (pp. 77-100). London: Academic Press.
[6] Hadarics, M., & Kende, A. (2018). The dimensions of generalized prejudice within the dual-process model: The mediating role of moral foundations. Current Psychology, 37(4), 731-739. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12144-016-9544-x

Partners

The project “Identifying evidence-based methods to effectively combat discrimination of the Roma in the changing political climate of Europe” (Grant. No. 808062 — PolRom — REC-AG-2017/REC-RDIS-DISC-AG-2017) is funded by the Justice programme of the European Union (2014-2020).

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