In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Discrimination

  • Introduction
  • Classics
  • Biographies of Classic Contributors
  • Personality and Individual Differences
  • Social Psychological Factors that Promote Discrimination
  • Subtle Discrimination
  • Institutional- and Cultural-Level Discrimination
  • Consequences of Discrimination
  • Reducing Discrimination

Psychology Discrimination
John F. Dovidio, Elif G. Ikizer
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0233


Discrimination refers to an act, policy, practice, or social structure that creates, maintains, or reinforces an advantage for some groups and their members over other groups and their members. Discrimination, which can occur at the individual, institutional, and cultural levels, represents unfair treatment and can be distinguished from two other forms of bias: (i) prejudice, which is an attitude reflecting an overall evaluation of a group, and (ii) stereotypes, which are associations and attributions of specific characteristics to a group. Although prejudice, stereotypes, and discrimination at the individual level are generally positively associated empirically, prejudice and stereotypes do not necessarily lead to discrimination, and discrimination can occur in the absence of conscious prejudice and stereotypes. Classic contributions on this topic characterized discrimination mainly in terms of negative actions by individuals—ranging from verbal comments to physical injury—directed to harm of another group and its members. However, in addition to blatant and direct forms of discrimination, discrimination may be displayed as unjustified positive treatment of members of one’s own group relative to members of another group, or it may represent actions toward members of another group that initially appear favorable but ultimately disadvantage the other group in the longer term (e.g., patronizing behavior, such as chivalry). Discrimination is often represented in terms of the behavior of individuals directed toward members, but these acts are not necessarily consciously motivated. Moreover, individual bias expressed by individuals is not necessary for discrimination to be experienced by members of some groups. Instead, discrimination may be enacted broadly through institutional structures and policies or embedded in cultural beliefs and representations that value various groups differently. Thus, individual-, institutional-, and cultural-level processes may operate in concert to provide some groups systematic advantages and/or to impose disadvantages on other groups. Often these influences are cloaked in justifications or ideologies that obscure the unfairness of the influences and thus allow the discriminatory nature of the treatment to go undetected and unaddressed. The remainder of this examination of discrimination considers (i) personality and individual differences related to behaving in a discriminatory way, (ii) social psychological influences that promote discrimination, (iii) subtle manifestations of discrimination, (iv) institutional and cultural forms of bias; (v) the impact of discrimination psychologically and physically, and (vi) ways of combating discrimination.

General Overviews

The sources in this section review both classic conceptions of discrimination, which have a strong emphasis on racial and ethnic discrimination, and more contemporary approaches that take a broader perspective, considering discrimination toward a range of groups and addressing subtle and often ostensibly positive forms of discrimination, different motives, and institutional, societal, and cultural forms of discrimination. The first section presents book-length reviews that discuss the causes and consequences of discrimination. A number of these reviews are Textbooks that are suitable for undergraduates and are generally accessible for a general audience. The second section includes Article-Length Reviews that typically have a narrower focus and speak more directly to a scholarly audience. The third section presents Edited Volumes that include a range on contributions about discrimination directed at members of different social groups and how members of these groups may respond to discrimination. The fourth section identifies Journals in which work on discrimination often appears.

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