Formation of Prejudice

Personality theory, social structure theory and social identity theory are three major theories used to explain, “How prejudices are developed?” They all take different research approaches and perspectives. They all have valid points in deciphering why prejudice is so pervasive in our times.


Personality Theory

 Dr. Banks defines it “as a result of both constitutional and learned needs, some people develop personalities that thrive on prejudices and irrational responses.” (292-293) They believed that through a child’s life structure into adulthood their experiences, and whether they had an authoritarian or authoritative parents would directly affect a person’s beliefs.


Theory states that child’s personality would develop either intolerance or tolerance to another ethnic group. Frenkel-Brown and associates found in their research that children were more likely to be prejudiced in an authoritarian home. (Banks, 293) As they were raised in a cruel environment, they then inflicted the same behavior of hate, resentment and cruelty to other ethnic or gender groups they saw as weak. (Schaeffer, 53)


The “oppressed becomes the oppressor instead of freeing himself”. (Paulo Freire) They showed resentment to not only other ethnic groups but also the opposite sex and admired strong role models. They rejected ethnic groups they saw as weak and inferior.


Prejudiced children were also found to be more likely to “submit to authority, more compulsive about cleanliness and more realistic”. (Banks, 293) The non prejudiced children were more loving, less oriented towards power. The theory also claims that prejudice is affected by the power structure of the society the children live in.


Critics of the theory found that there was not “adequate attention” to “sampling techniques” that limit any “generalization of the findings”. (Banks, 294)


According to Dr. Schaeffer another criticism was the focus of the study on “extreme racial prejudice instead of expressions of hostility”. (53)


Social Structure Theory

Blumer on the other hand “almost completely dismisses the role of attitudes in influencing” prejudice. (Banks, 294) Blumer believes instead in analyzing social settings as the “prime determinant” rather than “racial attitudes” as influencing behavior. (Banks, 294)


He conducted a meta-analysis in where often it was found that what the participants believed in and voiced was not always acted on. In Blalock’s findings, “discrimination is not always a correlate of racial prejudice”. (Banks, 294) The belief is that the norms of society may be a greater influence on a prejudiced individual than their personal attitudes toward an ethnic group or gender group. Prejudiced individuals are so, depending on the situation.


Merton’s typology has been used to explain “the relationship between prejudice and discrimination as follows: 1. The unprejudiced nondiscriminatory, 2. The unprejudiced discriminator, 3. The prejudiced nondiscriminatory, and 4. The prejudiced discriminator.” (Banks, 294) The biggest criticism to this theory is that “social setting” by itself does not explain “racial discrimination” or diminish “racial attitudes”. (Banks, 295)


Social Identity Theory

Social identity theory also sometimes called the “minimal group paradigm” is considered a “social psychological” theory on “prejudice and discrimination”. (Banks, 296) This theory is based on the in-group and out-group developing stereotypes that cause prejudice and discrimination to develop in individuals or groups. (Banks, 296)


Researchers found that participants were more likely to favor the in-group by acting in a way that showed preference in their own ethnic group and therefore detrimental towards the out-group. Banks gave language use as an example of how certain ethnic groups tend to talk in their native language in front of others they know do not speak or understand their language.



I agree with Banks in that personalities, social structure, cultures in which people were socialized in are all equally relevant in determining the causes of prejudice. (297) Not just one of the theories by itself can explain why or how prejudice occurs. I believe that it is best to take a holistic approach in better understanding the “Why?” and “How?” of the formation of prejudice.



Banks, James A. Cultural Diversity And Education. Pearson, Inc. 2006


Friere, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Opressed. Harmondsworth. 1972

 Schaefer, Richard T. Race And Ethnicity In The United States. Pearson, Inc. 2007

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