Prejudice and Discrimination: Does a Mindset Perpetuate Behavior?
Sponsored by Missouri Western State University Sponsored by a grant from the National Science Foundation DUE-97-51113
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The proper APA Style reference for this manuscript is:
GROTHAUS, M. R. (2003). Prejudice and Discrimination: Does a Mindset Perpetuate Behavior?. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 6. Available online at Retrieved April 25, 2017 .

Prejudice and Discrimination: Does a Mindset Perpetuate Behavior?
Missouri Western State University DEPARTMENT OF PSYCHOLOGY

Sponsored by: Brian Cronk (
This study looks at the correlation between prejudicial attitudes and discriminatory actions. The participants within this study were students given a paper and pencil test in which they responded whether or not they agreed with and/or would act on the situation given in each of the seven questions. The results of the study show that there was a significant correlation between prejudicial attitudes and negative behaviors, however within the questions there is no significant relationship. The purpose of this study was to determine whether prejudicial thoughts had an influence over discriminatory actions or behaviors.

When one thinks of prejudice it is not unlikely that the word discrimination or racism follows shortly after. In our society today it is obvious that these social ‘deviants’ are attempted to be pushed under the rug, however they are present in our every day thoughts and actions. It has been considered to be ‘deviant’ for so long and we are taught formally that racism is wrong, yet we learn the negative thoughts, emotions, and attitudes that comprise silent racism informally through the modeling of parents, teachers, peers, and the media (Trepagnier, 2001). In a study with controversial variables like prejudice and discrimination, the researcher felt it necessary to define them. Prejudice is defined as a negative attitude toward a group and to any member of that group (Barnes, 1997). Discrimination is defined as when a person or group is denied equal treatment because of an attribute. It has been found in previous studies that there is a circular relationship between prejudice and discrimination; they naturally lead to one another. There is a relationship between prejudice, discrimination, and racism; it is always dynamic, yet often subtle (Barnes, 1997). Society often tends to overlook what they feel will upset everyone if it is all right to pretend as though it does not exist and put it ‘out of sight, out of mind’. In reality, this type of attitude only makes social concerns worse in the final outcome because it tends to create more tension than would have to be normally associated with these. Racial inequality is either natural and normal, and no one is responsible, or racial inequality is a social evil caused and perpetuated by its identifiable beneficiaries (Hudson, Hines-Hudson, 1999). It is insidious to consider in all honesty that prejudice does not lead to nor play a factor in discriminatory behavior. Those who have thoughts toward someone that are negative, simply because they belong to a particular social group are more likely to act on those thoughts than someone who just randomly encounters someone. If the latter is the case, most likely it is not discriminatory behavior, it is simply a reaction that would occur no matter what social group the other person belongs to. The idea that racist thoughts do not necessarily lead to racist action ignores the strong relationship between an action and the definition that precedes it; focusing instead on people’s intentions-disregards the unintended effects of behavior, it projects that well-meaning caucasian people are not racist even in cases when their actions produce negative effects for African Americans and other people of color (Trepagnier, 2001). Data in previous studies have indicated a strong relationship between racist thoughts and racist behavior, regardless of good intentions. The facts of history and science are far less important than what people believe and how their racial beliefs inform and govern their perceptions and behavior. There is something about racism that makes it resilient and a problem to remove from the psyche of Americans and the structure of American culture and institutions (Hudson, Hines-Hudson, 1999). What people are brought up to believe influences their behaviors, beliefs/thoughts therefore are correlated to behaviors/actions. Despite what is portrayed in society as being the case, there are underlying teachings that waiver a persons’ ideas. There are anti-racist attitudes that basically hide the racial animosity and suspicion. It seems that when an opinion is anonymous, more students do not seem to have a problem, yet when it was known that it is their opinion, the students are more afraid/ashamed that they would see another race as equal (Biasco, Goodwin, Vitale, 2001). This is backwards in a sense because one would think that the students would want to appear as more egalitarian, rather than dominant over other groups when in a public setting than the action that was recorded. Those opinions that students were more comfortable expressing when anonymous were attitudes opposing racism, which is contrary to the norm again. In order for the issues that society has swept under the rug to begin to correct themselves, people of all backgrounds need to communicate with one another and not be afraid to make mistakes and be corrected. A previous study found that there is a need for communication between racial groups and that the varying viewpoints of different races create tension (Sydell, Nelson, 2000). It appears as though there is a divide and though some people seem to be across it, it will be a continuous battle for all of society. All races need to learn that open-mindedness and objectivity need to be learned and practiced in our multicultural society. Until people are willing to make mistakes and own up to their own beliefs and teachings, the issues under the rug will remain just that and there will continue to be a growth of tension among our society. It is apparent what the issues of prejudice and discrimination are, and from previous studies what the problems are that need to be fixed in order to reverse the prejudice thoughts that lead to the discriminatory behavior and doubts. The purpose of this study will be to show a correlation between discriminatory behaviors and the prejudice thoughts/attitudes that precede them in order to step closer to faces the facts and bringing things together.


The subjects for this study were 23 students in upper level psychology courses at a regional college in northwestern Missouri. The data were collected within one week because only one class participated in the study.

The materials used for this study were a paper and pencil test in which the participants answered whether or not they would have a prejudice attitude or act in a discriminatory or non-discriminatory manner. If a student chose a prejudice attitude with a discriminatory reaction, prejudice was scored as one and discrimination as negative one. If a student chose a non-prejudice attitude with a reaction, non-prejudice was scored as zero and the reaction as a positive one. If the student chose a prejudice attitude with no reaction they received a one and a zero. The last condition was when a student chose a non-prejudice attitude with no reaction, they received zero for both. See Appendix A.

At the beginning of the class the researcher announced that a paper and pencil test will be going around and that it is to be answered how they would respond in the situation described for each question. Then the paper and pencil test was administered to the students/participants by the researcher. When all the participants were finished with the test, the researcher collected them and thanked the students for their participation with the study.

A Pearson r correlation test was calculated comparing prejudicial attitudes and actions of participants for each question. The results of the analyses are in Table 1. Contrary to what was expected, there was not a strong correlation found.

In this study, the researcher hypothesized that the prejudicial attitudes of students would negatively influence the discriminatory behaviors of those students. It was expected to find that there would be a larger number of prejudicial attitudes. The results did not support the hypothesis. The students that participated in the study either were truly not prejudice or were following the political correctness of the outcomes. Many of the participants were more comfortable with speaking out against the prejudice thoughts/ actions of others in the scenarios than was expected. These results disagree with those from Biasco, Goodwin, and Vitale (1991) in which their results were practically the exact opposite. The results showed that even the students that had prejudicial attitudes responded that they would not be willing to act out on them. The size of the sample used in this study may have affected the outcome. Also, the choice of participants could have been more random or within the community outside the college. Future studies may want to take these factors into consideration. Though the results indicate that there was not a correlation within the questions and with the positive actions. There was a correlation between prejudicial attitudes and negative behavior. This gives meaning to future studies; perhaps the test was not a good measure, along with the size of the sample and the selection of participants, which make generalization difficult.

Barnes, Sandra L. (1997). Practicing What you Preach: An Analysis of Racial Attitudes of Two Christian Churches. Western Journal of Black Studies, 21, 1-12.

Biasco, F., Goodwin, E. A., Vitale, K. L. (2001). College Students’ Attitudes towards Racial Discrimination. College Student Journal, 35, 523-529.

Hudson, J. B., Hines-Hudson, B. M. (1999). A Study of the Contemporary Racial Attitudes of Whites and African Americans. Western Journal of Black Studies, 23, 22-34.

Sydell, E. J., Nelson, E. S. (2000). Modern Racism on Campus: A Survey of Attitudes and Perceptions. Social Science Journal, 37, 627-636.

Trepagnier, Barbara. (2001). Deconstructing Categories: The Exposure of Silent Racism. Symbolic Interaction, 24, 141-164.

Appendix A

Table 1

Submitted 4/22/2003 3:40:18 PM
Last Edited 4/22/2003 4:46:21 PM
Converted to New Site 03/09/2009

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