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Beyond prejudice: Are negative evaluations the problem and is getting us to like one another more the solution?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 November 2012

John Dixon
Department of Psychology, Open University, Milton Keynes MK7 6AA, United Kingdom.
Mark Levine
Department of Psychology, Exeter University, Exeter, Devon EX4 4SB, United Kingdom.
Steve Reicher
School of Psychology, St Andrews University, St Andrews KY16 9JP, United Kingdom.
Kevin Durrheim
School of Psychology, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, 3209, South Africa


For most of the history of prejudice research, negativity has been treated as its emotional and cognitive signature, a conception that continues to dominate work on the topic. By this definition, prejudice occurs when we dislike or derogate members of other groups. Recent research, however, has highlighted the need for a more nuanced and “inclusive” (Eagly 2004) perspective on the role of intergroup emotions and beliefs in sustaining discrimination. On the one hand, several independent lines of research have shown that unequal intergroup relations are often marked by attitudinal complexity, with positive responses such as affection and admiration mingling with negative responses such as contempt and resentment. Simple antipathy is the exception rather than the rule. On the other hand, there is mounting evidence that nurturing bonds of affection between the advantaged and the disadvantaged sometimes entrenches rather than disrupts wider patterns of discrimination. Notably, prejudice reduction interventions may have ironic effects on the political attitudes of the historically disadvantaged, decreasing their perceptions of injustice and willingness to engage in collective action to transform social inequalities.

These developments raise a number of important questions. Has the time come to challenge the assumption that negative evaluations are inevitably the cognitive and affective hallmarks of discrimination? Is the orthodox concept of prejudice in danger of side-tracking, if not obstructing, progress towards social justice in a fuller sense? What are the prospects for reconciling a prejudice reduction model of change, designed to get people to like one another more, with a collective action model of change, designed to ignite struggles to achieve intergroup equality?

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