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      ‘What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love and Understanding?’ Further Reflections on the Limits of Prejudice Reduction as a Model of Social Change


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          This paper aims to encourage greater reflexivity about the limits of prejudice reduction as a model of social change, particularly when applied to societies characterised by historically entrenched patterns of inequality. We begin by outlining some underlying values and assumptions of this model. We then elaborate how our research on political attitudes in post-apartheid South Africa has led us to question, qualify and sometimes reject those assumptions and move towards a ‘contextualist’ perspective on the efficacy of different models of social change. We agree that the project of getting us to like one another may be crucial for producing change in some contexts. In other contexts, however, it is an epiphenomenon that distracts psychologists from the main causes of, and solutions to, problems such as race, class, or gender discrimination. In still others, with an irony that is evidenced increasingly by research, prejudice reduction may actually contribute to the very problem it is designed to resolve. That is, it may diminish the extent to which social injustice is acknowledged, rejected and challenged.

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          Most cited references37

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          An ambivalent alliance: Hostile and benevolent sexism as complementary justifications for gender inequality.

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            Dehumanizing the lowest of the low: neuroimaging responses to extreme out-groups.

            Traditionally, prejudice has been conceptualized as simple animosity. The stereotype content model (SCM) shows that some prejudice is worse. The SCM previously demonstrated separate stereotype dimensions of warmth (low-high) and competence (low-high), identifying four distinct out-group clusters. The SCM predicts that only extreme out-groups, groups that are both stereotypically hostile and stereotypically incompetent (low warmth, low competence), such as addicts and the homeless, will be dehumanized. Prior studies show that the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) is necessary for social cognition. Functional magnetic resonance imaging provided data for examining brain activations in 10 participants viewing 48 photographs of social groups and 12 participants viewing objects; each picture dependably represented one SCM quadrant. Analyses revealed mPFC activation to all social groups except extreme (low-low) out-groups, who especially activated insula and amygdala, a pattern consistent with disgust, the emotion predicted by the SCM. No objects, though rated with the same emotions, activated the mPFC. This neural evidence supports the prediction that extreme out-groups may be perceived as less than human, or dehumanized.
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              The irony of harmony: intergroup contact can produce false expectations for equality.

              Positive intergroup contact has been a guiding framework for research on reducing intergroup tension and for interventions aimed at that goal. We propose that beyond improving attitudes toward the out-group, positive contact affects disadvantaged-group members' perceptions of intergroup inequality in ways that can undermine their support for social change toward equality. In Study 1, participants were assigned to either high- or low-power experimental groups and then brought together to discuss either commonalities between the groups or intergroup differences. Commonality-focused contact, relative to difference-focused contact, produced heightened expectations for fair (i.e., egalitarian) out-group behavior among members of disadvantaged groups. These expectations, however, proved unrealistic when compared against the actions of members of the advantaged groups. Participants in Study 2 were Israeli Arabs (a disadvantaged minority) who reported the amount of positive contact they experienced with Jews. More positive intergroup contact was associated with increased perceptions of Jews as fair, which in turn predicted decreased support for social change. Implications for social change are considered.

                Author and article information

                J Soc Polit Psych
                Journal of Social and Political Psychology
                J. Soc. Polit. Psych.
                16 December 2013
                : 1
                : 1
                : 239-252
                [a ]Department of Psychology, Open University, Milton Keynes, United Kingdom
                [b ]School of Psychology, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa
                [3]University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT, USA
                Author notes
                [* ]Department of Psychology, Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes, MK7 6AA, United Kingdom. john.dixon@ 123456open.ac.uk

                This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

                : 07 June 2013
                : 11 August 2013
                Self URI (journal-page): https://journals.psychopen.eu/
                Special Thematic Section on "Societal Change"

                social change,prejudice,intergroup relations,prejudice reduction
                social change, prejudice, intergroup relations, prejudice reduction


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