Prejudice Is A Basic Human Need
    By News Staff | December 29th 2011 10:31 PM | 9 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments

    Prejudice is just bigotry that arises from flawed ideology, right?  Not so, say the authors of a new paper.

    They contend prejudice stems from a deeper psychological need and it is associated with a particular way of thinking. People who aren't comfortable with ambiguity and want to make quick and firm decisions are also prone to making generalizations about others. People who are prejudiced feel a much stronger need to make quick and firm judgments and decisions in order to reduce ambiguity.

    And, they argue, it's virtually impossible to change this basic way that people think.

    "Of course, everyone has to make decisions, but some people really hate uncertainty and therefore quickly rely on the most obvious information, often the first information they come across, to reduce it" says co-author Arne Roets of Ghent University in Belgium. That's also why they favor authorities and social norms which make it easier to make decisions. Then, once they've made up their mind, they stick to it. "If you provide information that contradicts their decision, they just ignore it."

    So people who prefer big government and centralized decision-making are more likely to be prejudiced?  Not necessarily, though people who are concerned about ambiguity are drawn to more rules, often unconsciously. "When we meet someone, we immediately see that person as being male or female, young or old, black or white, without really being aware of this categorization," Roets says. "Social categories are useful to reduce complexity, but the problem is that we also assign some properties to these categories. This can lead to prejudice and stereotyping."

    People who need to make quick judgments will judge a new person based on what they already believe about their category. "The easiest and fastest way to judge is to say, for example, ok, this person is a black man. If you just use your ideas about what black men are generally like, that's an easy way to have an opinion of that person," Roets says. "You say, 'he's part of this group, so he's probably like this.'"

    But there is some good news, they say; it's possible to use this way of thinking to reduce people's prejudice. If people who need quick answers meet people from other groups and like them personally, they are likely to use this positive experience to form their views of the whole group. "This is very much about salient positive information taking away the aversion, anxiety, and fear of the unknown," Roets says.

    Their conclusions suggest that the fundamental source of prejudice is not ideology, but rather a basic human need and way of thinking. "It really makes us think differently about how people become prejudiced or why people are prejudiced," Roets says. "To reduce prejudice, we first have to acknowledge that it often satisfies some basic need to have quick answers and stable knowledge people rely on to make sense of the world."

    So give bigots a chance?  We wouldn't go that far.

    Citation: Arne Roets and Alain Van Hiel, 'Allport’s Prejudiced Personality Today: Need for Closure as the Motivated Cognitive Basis of Prejudice', Current Directions in Psychological Science, December 2011; vol. 20, 6: pp. 349-354 doi: 10.1177/0963721411424894


    your title implies that all people experience prejudice and that it is a need inherited from our ancestors. Basic human needs are food, water, shelter, and maybe sex, reproduction, and comfort. By the explanation given in the second paragraph, you clarify that it is actually a deeply-rooted psychological need of only *some* individuals who have this flawed thinking.

    Sorry, to bother you about what may seem trivial, but the headline is one of the most important parts of a public-oriented article. It may not necessarily tell the whole story, but it must not belie what is in the article. Your researcher says that it's a "basic need." (not not "human need." which implies all people. "Basic need" could mean just certain individuals.) But he is the only source you use, and therefore cannot be completely objective. If you would like to use it, write 'Prejudice is a "Basic Need"'.

    i'd have used "Black-and-White Thinking Leads to Prejudice." (get it ;) ?)

    I hope you'll take this comment seriously. I am an editor, experienced in writing headlines for science articles.

    As an editor, it's no surprise you've noted the big conundrum in science journalism; their study is about the cognitive basis of prejudice and their contention is that social categories that reduce uncertainty are a part of the human condition; a basic need, but a human one.  Stating it your way might have been more clever (I like the black and white ≈ prejudice) and more clear but the researchers would have objected. Black-and-white is as colloquially charged as prejudice.
    Basic human needs are food, water, shelter, and maybe sex, reproduction, and comfort.
    Oops forgot to mention thinking, laughing, dreaming, sleeping, caring for children and parents, science, gardening, beauty,.....and flying, floating, biking, hiking, hockey and baseball :)
    Gerhard Adam
    I'm surprised about how a legitimate human trait is being conflated with bigotry and political correctness.  Prejudice is simply pre-judging.  This is clearly a necessary condition and isn't harmful of detrimental in the least, unless  we allow such prejudice to prevent the collection of further information and/or make decisions that reinforce bias and discrimination, then we have created a problem. 

    It would be foolish in the extreme to not pre-judge strangers with whom we have no history.   While it is certainly legitimate to argue whether this "pre-judging" or prejudice is based on erroneous stereotypes, in which case, there is a good argument as to why these should be modified. 

    Let's keep in mind that prejudice is often used colloquially to be synonymous with discrimination and/or bias, which is a different matter.  Similarly, it is also a different argument to discuss institutionalized forms of prejudice or bias.

    We are all familiar with the idea of "first impressions", which clearly indicates that such "judgments" can and will be made based on how we behave and present ourselves. 

    I also find the comment about "people who need to make quick judgments" a bit disingenuous since it implies that this is some arbitrary condition in certain people.  If I'm hiring someone for a position, I don't have the time to get to know this person over some weeks or months before I have to choose.  Similarly in many areas of where I have to make quick decisions about how much I'm willing to trust someone or engage in business with them.  I will be "prejudiced" about their appearance and behavior, because this is the means by which that individual is also conveying the message regarding how they wish to be perceived. 

    Mundus vult decipi
    As long as you are aware of a prejudice's existance it is a handy tool.
    When you go to a new area armed with a map you are prejudiced about what this area will look like. It helps you to find your way quicker even if it is not perfect. When a difference between your prejudice and reality becomes clear, you make an anotation to your map.
    Or you have a prejudice about the size of an object: "It's about 10cm big". When you'll look closer it'll be 11cm or 9,2345672cm. Is it a problem that your prejudice was not exact?

    Real problems occur when you are blinded by your prejudices and are unable or unwilling to see reality.
    The secret to succes in life is to be able to make annotations like greased lightning.

    Steve Davis
    "It would be foolish in the extreme to not pre-judge strangers with whom we have no history." And wariness of strangers has obviously been a useful survival mechanism. Yet we see in many cultures that this exists side by side with the expectation of hospitality to strangers, which just goes to show that when discussing life, the answers are rarely simple. 
    We learn judgment.  Few cultures that are based on paranoia survive - the USSR showed us that.  If I open my garage door tomorrow and a tiger is sitting there, I close the door.  Yes, I did not take the time to get to know this particular tiger, so I was prejudiced but by being cautious I insure I have plenty of time in the future to be more enlightened.
    I think the assumption that the article title should have focused on "black vs. white" is limiting and fails to grasp all the other colors and dimensions of diversity in the rainbow....More importantly "prejudice" isn't limited to simply that kind of discrimination....To "pre judge" is broad and limitless....

    The natural world is prejudiced in favor of truth over falsehood. Like 2+2=4 and human nature is fundamentally flawed.