Varying definitions of prejudice exist, but typically prejudice is described as a negative attitude towards a group of people, which can lead to stereotyping and active or passive discrimination. Groups victimised by prejudice can include ethnic minorities, individuals suffering from poor mental health, and social groupings within school systems, for example. Prejudice can have both short and long-term effects.
Difficulty Performing Tasks
Victims of prejudice, or those who perceive they are, may have difficulty focusing on tasks and making clear decisions, an effect which can linger after the incident. Researchers at the University of Toronto Scarborough studied individuals' reactions to negative stereotyping, and found that after being placed in a situation where they were victims of prejudice, many people found it hard to concentrate or were even aggressive. Since an individual's ability to turn his full attention to a task is impaired, a victim of prejudice is placed at a disadvantage in academic environments, for example.
Prejudice excludes people in many ways. For example, an employer might be prejudiced against a certain ethnic group, and would therefore be less likely to accept job applications from members of that group and would look more favourably on candidates from another ethnicity. An individual who suffers from a mental health problem might find that she is excluded from certain social activities, since others may perceive her as dangerous, and may not receive support from medical services.
Over a period of time, a victim of constant prejudice might begin to believe that he deserves the abuse or problems he has encountered, and that prejudiced individuals are right to treat him in such a way. An individual who believes negative comments about his own group is suffering from self-stigma, as described by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health website. This belief can, in turn, lead to further problems, as the individual is likely to suffer from poor self-esteem and may even fall into depression.
Withdrawal into Group
Prejudiced behaviour against a particular group can cause members of that group to retreat further into the security provided by a group mindset. Individuals may cease trying to interact with members of other groups; for example, they might begin to view the only people who will be their friends as others of their own group, and withdraw all other social contact. This sense of belonging can be comforting, but ultimately it creates an "us vs. them" distinction, which is not healthy for anyone.
Difficulties in Group
As victims of prejudice retreat into their own groups, their own individual personalities begin to collapse, and they are left with attitudes which coincide with others in their group out of fear of ostracism. Also, if an individual begins to believe his own behaviour or beliefs are wrong as a result of prejudice, this can cause conflict with others in his own group. For example, a Christian who encounters negative attitudes towards her religion may begin to question the Christian way of life within her Church and immediate family.
- "The Nature and Effects of Prejudice"; Dave Nunez
- Science Daily; Stereotyping Has a Lasting Negative Impact, New Research Finds; Aug 11, 2010
- Centre for Addiction and Mental Health Stigma: Understanding the impact of prejudice and discrimination on people with mental Health and Substance Use Problems; Apr 01, 2010
- Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images