75 15.2: Thoughts Become Behaviors

What we know becomes what we feel. And what we feel affects our behavior. Let’s look at how stereotypes can lead to discrimination.

Table 15.1: Definitions [228]





Cognitive; thoughts about people

Overgeneralized beliefs about people may lead to prejudice


Affective; feelings about people, both positive and negative

Feelings may influence treatment of others


Behavior; the treatment of others

Holding stereotypes and harboring prejudice may lead to excluding, avoiding, and biased treatment of group members


Stereotypes are distorted pictures of reality that broadly label one group as being a certain way. Stereotypes influence our perception, evaluation, judgment, and memory about individuals and events. People tend to learn stereotypes from the people around them—such as peers and family—or from the media and entertainment. Overcoming stereotypes and working to eliminate bias are continuous processes.

It is essential to learn accurate information about different groups of people (e.g., race, religion, gender) through various ways (e.g., attending cultural events). However, this could reinforce stereotypes. Getting to know others who are different from us is very helpful in counteracting stereotypes, when we care about another person who has different experiences, we want to learn more about who they are which helps to dispel the stereotypes we have grown up with. It is important to remember that different does not mean abnormal or deficient.

To counter negative stereotypes, you can acknowledge you have a bias or stereotype, analyze what manifested it, and then seek out positive examples that cancel out or disprove the negative label. Doing this requires time, openness, and sensitivity. In stereotyping, assumptions are made about a person on the basis of his or her group membership without learning whether the individual fits those assumptions. To avoid stereotyping, we should reflect on our own beliefs about all aspects of child rearing and early childhood education. We must acknowledge our own beliefs and biases about specific groups of people that may be unintentionally communicated to children and families. [229]


Humans are very diverse and although we share many similarities, we also have many differences. The social groups we belong to help form our identities (Tajfel, 1974). These differences may be difficult for some people to reconcile, which may lead to prejudice toward people who are different. Prejudice is a negative attitude and feeling toward an individual based solely on one’s membership in a particular social group (Allport, 1954; Brown, 2010). Prejudice is common against people who are members of an unfamiliar cultural group. Thus, certain types of education, contact, interactions, and building relationships with members of different cultural groups can reduce the tendency toward prejudice. In fact, simply imagining interacting with members of different cultural groups might affect prejudice. Prejudice often begins in the form of a stereotype. [230]


When people act on their prejudiced attitudes toward and stereotypes about a group of people, this behavior is known as discrimination. Discrimination is negative action toward an individual as a result of one’s membership in a particular group (Allport, 1954; Dovidio & Gaertner, 2004). As a result of holding negative beliefs (stereotypes) and negative attitudes (prejudice) about a particular group, people often treat the target of prejudice poorly.

Different Forms for Discrimination: The –isms

Unfortunately there are many forms of discrimination. These are often referred to with the suffix –ism.


Racism is prejudice and discrimination against an individual based solely on one’s membership in a specific racial group. Racism exists for many racial and ethnic groups. Black, Latinx, Jewish, Arab, Asian, and Native Americans all experience systemic discrimination in the United States. Most people do not show extreme racial bias or other prejudices on measures of their explicit attitudes (as these are conscious and controllable). However, measures of implicit attitudes (which are unconscious and uncontrollable) often show evidence of mild to strong racial bias or other prejudices.


Sexism is prejudice and discrimination toward individuals based on their sex. Typically, sexism takes the form of men holding biases against women, but either sex can show sexism toward their own or their opposite sex. Like racism, sexism may be subtle and difficult to detect. Common forms of sexism in modern society include gender role expectations, such as expecting women to be the caretakers of the household. Sexism also includes people’s expectations for how members of a gender group should behave. For example, women are expected to be friendly, passive, and nurturing, and when women behave in an unfriendly, assertive, or neglectful manner they often are disliked for violating their gender role (Rudman, 1998). [231]

Table 15.2 – Other –isms




Discrimination against persons with disabilities or in favor of those without [232]


Prejudice and discrimination toward individuals based solely on their age [233]


Discrimination or prejudice that is based on social class. [234]


Bias or prejudice favoring cisgender people, people whose gender corresponds with their sex at birth (discrimination against transgender people) [235]


Discrimination against homosexuals, bisexuals and asexuals in favor of heterosexuals. [236]


Prejudice based on religious affiliation. [237]


Prejudice or discrimination based on body weight [238]


Another form of prejudice is homophobia: prejudice and discrimination of individuals based solely on their sexual orientation. Like ageism, homophobia is a widespread prejudice in U.S. society that is tolerated by many people (Herek & McLemore, 2013; Nosek, 2005). Negative feelings often result in discrimination, such as the exclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people from social groups and the avoidance of LGBT neighbors and co-workers. [239]


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