‘Thinking ill of others without sufficient warrant?’ Transcending the accuracy-inaccuracy dualism in prejudice and stereotyping research

Dixon, John (2017). ‘Thinking ill of others without sufficient warrant?’ Transcending the accuracy-inaccuracy dualism in prejudice and stereotyping research. British Journal of Social Psychology, 56(1) pp. 4–27.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/bjso.12181

Abstract

Research on prejudice seeks to understand and transform inaccurate beliefs about others. Indeed, historically such research has offered a cautionary tale of the biased nature of human cognition. Recently, however, this view has been challenged by work defending the essential rationality of intergroup perception, a theme captured controversially in Jussim and colleagues’ (2009) research on the ‘unbearable accuracy of stereotyping’. The present paper argues that in its own terms the ‘rationalist turn’ in socio-cognitive research on stereotyping presents an important challenge to the prejudice tradition, raising troubling questions about its conceptual and empirical foundations. However, it also argues for the necessity of transcending those terms. By focusing on the correspondence between individual beliefs and the supposedly ‘objective’ characteristics of others, we neglect the historical and discursive practices through which the social realities that we ‘perceive’ are actively constructed and institutionalized. We mask their social origins, contested and perspectival nature, relativity, and relationship to wider structures of power. By implication, moving beyond the Allportian perspective that has dominated both the prejudice tradition and the emerging stereotype accuracy paradigm, we may now need to prioritize other kinds of questions. Reversing Allport's famous definition of prejudice, it may now be time to ask: How, and with what consequences, does ‘thinking ill of others’ become sufficiently warranted? How does such thinking become part of institutionalized relations of power and an accepted way of perceiving, evaluating and treating others? What should social psychologists be doing to challenge this state of affairs?

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