What prejudices do most people operate under?

Drawers in your headHow prejudices determine our thinking

"At first you called me a filthy foreigner and a shitty Kanake, what should I say? Survey: Do you have prejudices? Against whom or against what? No matter! No, I don't really think so. They say yes, Kevin is not a name, but a diagnosis . Naughty I imagine Kevin like that. Asi child! Well, if a person, clothes are enough, if someone with a suit and tie, then I think he's serious. "

Nobody wants them, but everyone has them. Prejudices! Open the drawer, put your opinion in, close the drawer. Because prejudices - make thinking easier.

"I like to call prejudices and stereotypes normal." Juliane Degner is Professor of Social Psychology at the University of Hamburg. Prejudice research is one of her academic priorities:

"We do have them and we need them because we as humans have a small brain that has to work effectively. In order to effectively process information that comes our way in social interaction, we have to simplify. We do this by Put people into certain groups and call up what we know about the groups. "

Stereotype vs. prejudice

In the beginning there is the stereotype! Women can not park! Professors are pissed off! But also: AfD voters are racists! People are grouped together. A completely normal, almost automatic process! Because that way you don't have to rethink things every time that might apply to the vast majority of a group. Rather, the quickly retrievable stereotypes can make dealing with others extremely easy. Hans Peter Erb, Professor of Social Psychology at the Helmut Schmidt University in Hamburg:

"What we think about this group, the people who belong to the group, we call a stereotype. We have stereotypical ideas. For example, the stereotypical idea that all Germans are on time, the French enjoy life, that's a stereotypical idea . "

If you then relate such a stereotype to a single person, put them - without even knowing them better - in the drawer "this is an Italian, so he is unreliable", then the stereotype becomes a prejudice. And unlike the stereotype, prejudice is accompanied by - often negative - feelings. Hans-Peter Erb:

"Prejudices relate to the individual person, someone comes along, has a certain skin color, a certain nationality, comes with an ethnic background, a categorization feature that the other person can recognize immediately. And then the prejudice is called up. And that Prejudice relates to the individual person. And I have to say, yes, he will definitely not be on time because he is not German. "

"Learning which group you belong to is important in order to develop an identity. How we differentiate is socially relevant, and there are certain characteristics that are used in all societies. For example the perceived gender. There is no society that would not differentiate between man and woman. Very often it is externally visible characteristics such as skin color, religion ... "

In kindergarten, children learn to distinguish their environment - as Juliane Degner has just explained - according to characteristics. They sort their playmates by hair color, skin color or gender. From around the age of three, according to Prof. Andreas Beelmann from the University of Jena, structures form in the brain that make it possible to organize the environment according to categories:

"Only then do they have an idea of ​​what these social categories such as foreigners or refugees actually mean. That is the essence of prejudices that people classify on the basis of their social group membership. which groups there are at all. Mostly it starts with gender, so the division of boys and girls is the first thing the children manage to do. "

Kindergarten children: "Girls are not allowed to jump. And they don't even want to jump."

Girls are excluded. Boys keep to themselves. Because your own group is most familiar to you. And - most sympathetic. Andreas Beelmann:

"Then we can see that the social ingroup, I am German, I am a boy, is judged a bit better than the social outgroup to which I do not belong."

Confirmations from brain research

Brain research also confirms that people trust their own group more than someone else's group: in the brain scanner, people were shown members of their own group and people from other ethnic groups. In strangers, the system in the brain that is associated with fear and flight is particularly strongly activated: the amygdala. If you see people of your own ethnic group, this reaction is dampened. And as you get older, the grids become more and more sophisticated. Even with the smallest information about a person, we look for the right drawer for him. Computer scientist? Pale nerd with an impossible sweater! Porsche driver? Show off with potency problems! Woman with a headscarf? Oppressed and unfree!

"I am German, I am German inside, I like to be German. Except that I am a Muslim. But you are still seen that way. That is bad. (*)"

Because she is a Muslim, Gülsen wears a headscarf. Because of this headscarf, she is marginalized, says the pretty young woman. The prejudices of the Germans are the reason why she has professional problems:

"It's hard for me now to find a job. I'm an office clerk, and I have no chance at all. Maybe I'll get another cleaning job if I'm lucky."

Perhaps Gülsen himself has a prejudice, namely - no German would give a woman with a headscarf a professional opportunity. Maybe she'll get a job after all! And maybe then your boss will find that she is a nice, cosmopolitan woman after all. However, that does not mean that the boss has given up his prejudices against Muslims.

"There is a phenomenon that we call subtyping. So you can maintain your prejudices, even if you meet individual people who do not correspond to the prejudice. So I am now an employee of VW in Wolfsburg, and there are Germans and Turkish and some are Funny. But my buddy Ali, with whom I install the clutch every day, is a great guy. And then the phenomenon occurs that we take individual specimens that do not correspond to the prejudice from the group and open an extra category. "

In addition, a prejudice acts like a filter that influences one's own perception. You pay more attention to information that fits your own scheme. And all the more so when they are negative. Ah, another criminal foreigner! This is the result of studies by the Oxford experimental psychologist Robin Murphy. He found that the brain preferentially collects negative information about a group, while it tends to neglect positive statements. Or they are assessed as a suspicious anomaly: This foreigner added the wallet I left in the bakery - ah, an exception!

Parental home, environment, personal experiences, society

So everyone has prejudices. But what prejudices you have and how strong they are depends on your parental home, your social environment, your own experiences and the society in which you live.

Hans-Peter Erb: "We have a high degree of correspondence between the prejudices that parents have and those who have the children. That speaks for the fact that this is learned. When the papa with the beer bottle scolds the Hartz IV recipients or the women scold or the refugees, then the children will notice. Then you can learn that too. "

But the excluded group is also shaped by the prejudice. Because if the prejudice is strong enough, it will identify with the stigma attached to it.

"Which doll is the black doll?… And which on is the white one? That one!"

In the 1940s, US psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark tested the age at which children attribute certain characteristics to skin colors. CNN broadcast the early tests in 2010. The film shows and hears an interviewer asking preschoolers to distinguish: what is the black doll, what is the white doll? And then have them say: which one is the nice, the pretty, the bad one?

"Which doll is the nice doll? Which doll is the pretty doll? Which doll is the bad doll?"

It is true that many black children - unlike the white ones - identify with the black dolls. But no matter what skin color the children were, they preferred to choose the white doll to play with. Because the children had learned which attributions are more common in their environment than others. But children don't just take up prejudices from their environment. You can even teach them, as Hans Peter Erb explains:

"There are actually studies where you tell children any trait, eye color, actually the good guys are the blue-eyed and the bad guys are the brown-eyed (*) and that's the way it is now. And then the teacher introduces privileges in the class, they don't have to wipe the board, for example. Then the children do it too. "

Norms of tolerance and anti-racism

In the last few decades, strong norms of tolerance and anti-racism have spread across Europe. Oppressed social groups such as women, homosexuals, the disabled and blacks demanded their rights. Sexist or racist statements were frowned upon more and more. But since the rise of populism, prejudice and resentment have been on the rise again. Right-wing populism is turning against liberal civil society with its idea of ​​political correctness. And besides, one has to admit, this civil society itself harbors prejudices against Pegida and AfD: They are all idiots and racists! The question arises more and more: How can one break down prejudices? By arguments? References e.g. B. on crime statistics to counter the prejudice that foreigners are more criminal than Germans?

"We know that prejudices and stereotypes are very resistant and that, for example, the experience that a stereotype does not apply is completely insufficient in an individual case to change the stereotype. Because we know how conservative our attitudes are."

Prof. Juliane Degner, social psychologist at the University of Hamburg. She also knows that prejudices are extremely stable:

"When we have attitudes, we don't change them so quickly, we need a lot of new evidence and we are also quite good at interpreting counter-evidence or behavior that has nothing to do with our stereotypes as if they support it. We are very bad at perceiving objectively. In fact, we cannot do that at all and that is why we see a lot of confirmation for our prejudices in everyday life, because we ignore non-confirmation and interpret behavior in this way, so it would confirm it. "

The American psychologist Gordon Allport was a pioneer in prejudice research. With his book "The Nature of Prejudice" published in 1954, he created the basis for further research:

"He suggested reducing prejudices through contacts. And since this publication, hundreds of studies have been carried out to examine the effects of interethnic but also other (*) intergroup contacts. And there is actually a very clear result that about contacts and if there are certain types of contact, prejudices (...) can be reduced. "

But research also agrees on this: A fleeting encounter between members of the majority and the stereotyped minority group is not enough:

"Certain conditions are important here. Research is careful here and we are not that incredibly optimistic either. We are going to have a street party or a football tournament that can easily have no effect (*)."

According to Gordon Allport, prejudices could be reduced through equal contact between majority and minority groups if they pursue common goals. And effectiveness will be increased if this contact is promoted through institutional support.

"There is a problem between Arabs and Jews here. But we have to work on it. We have to love each other more, not kill and believe in coexistence."

Arabs and Jews, Israelis and Palestinians

Such a young Israeli Arab about his view of the enmity between Arabs and Jews, whose peaceful coexistence and coexistence are becoming ever more distant. Nevertheless, there are still initiatives and projects in which young Palestinians and Israelis are brought together in order to develop mutual understanding.

"A Palestinian NGO was doing a joint research project with an Israeli institute and a Jordanian and Portuguese university."

So Alla, 26, an Arab Israeli who studied environmental sciences at a Jerusalem university. As part of her studies, she took part in projects in which Israeli and Palestinian students worked together on environmental problems:

"When we talk about water management for the Jordan, Jordanians, Israelis and Palestinians have information they don't share. Each is doing something for himself to solve the problem. So one of the problems is sewage pollution, there is one Sewage stream flowing from the Palestinian to the Israeli side and from the Israeli to the Palestinian. And if we want to work on it, we have to do it together. "

The project met exactly the conditions that psychologists consider necessary in order to break down or at least reduce prejudices. Juliane Degner:

"That means the contact has to be wanted, it has to take place under conditions of equality of status, there should be nobody subordinate or superordinate, ideally there should be mutual dependency, that one has common goals which one can only achieve together, it should support give from outside for it. "

Politics was initially a big taboo, says Alla. But finally it became possible in a further project to make the different living conditions a topic.

"We talked about what the Palestinian history is and what the Israeli history is. It was really tough because I was growing up and learning my story from what I went through as a girl from East Jerusalem. And at the same time I had to listen to them that she was tough too Had times in the army, lost someone in the war. I understood them that they also have a family, dreams that they want to live. "

Alla remains quite realistic, because she sees that the hatred between Israelis and Arabs could only really be contained by a political solution that is satisfactory for all sides. And yet the contact and the work on a joint project increased understanding for one another. Doing something with each other and thus learning something about each other seems to be a way of at least reducing prejudice. This is also confirmed by Prof. Andreas Beelmann. Together with colleagues, he has developed a training and prevention program that aims to teach young people tolerance and respect in dealing with others. In Thuringia, he carried out an intervention program to prevent prejudice with children in the 3rd grade of a primary school for 16 weeks. Incidentally, at a time when there were hardly any foreigners in Thuringia! Beelmann:

"At least not when we started the project in 2007. What we did was read stories with the children where one child with a German and one with a migrant background experience adventures together. And the psychological idea behind it is that the children identify with the child of their own group, i.e. a German child, this child has a friend in the social outgroup and this results in a better evaluation of the social outgroup, so prejudices decrease. "

The tendency towards prejudice varies among children

In addition, Andreas Beelmann and his team imparted knowledge about cultural differences to the children and trained their ability to categorize other children according to certain groups. The results of this study make the Jena psychologists optimistic:

"The last study was five years later after the end of this program and there was actually efficacy everywhere, of course not consistently (*). But the results amazed me with regard to the long-term effects."

Andreas Beelmann also points out, however, that the tendency towards prejudice varies among children. Children who have little empathy are more susceptible to resentment. The family and social circumstances under which children grow up are equally decisive. And someone who has found his political home in the AfD, by the way, will hardly be willing to initiate contacts with refugees, let's say, for example, to plant a vegetable garden.Once the drawers are there, they can hardly be removed again! At the very least, you need a willingness to make yourself aware of it. Such as E.g. in the case of Hans Peter Erb, who, as he himself admits, is not immune to prejudice even as a prejudice researcher:

"You can only take countermeasures consciously, say stop. Now comes a student who is tattooed from little toe to the top, I have a prejudice, but I can't accept that, I have to evaluate his examination performance fairly and not on the basis of it because he's in a certain group that I don't like. "

Juliane Degner, social psychologist in Hamburg, sees it similarly. But she also knows:

"It's difficult, it's time-consuming. But if we want to be fair, then we have to do it."

(*) Editor's note: O-tones were corrected at these points, which did not correspond exactly to the broadcast version.