What are the motives behind discrimination?

Inequality, inequality

Daniel Geschke

To person

Dr. phil .; Research assistant in the Department of Communication Psychology, Friedrich Schiller University Jena, Ernst-Abbe-Platz 8, 07743 Jena. [email protected]

The article looks at prejudice, differentiation and discrimination from a socio-psychological perspective. After defining various basic concepts, theories to explain these phenomena are presented.


Women's suffrage has been enshrined in law in Germany since 1918. Today it would be seen as discriminatory if more than half of adult people were not allowed to vote because of their gender. Because meanwhile (at least on this topic) the equality achieved by the women's movement prevails. The thought that a differentiation according to gender is an exclusion criterion for participation in the polls seems absurd to us nowadays. Nevertheless, there are still many groups, such as people who are not of legal age or people living in Germany without German citizenship, who do not have the right to vote. This means that differentiations between different social groups (such as according to age or nationality) are used as legitimate reasons for different types of rights (here in relation to elections) and are more or less social consensus. Social psychology deals with the theoretical and empirical analysis of relationships between social groups. She tries to describe and explain what influence membership in social groups can have on individual experience and behavior. This raises the question of what contribution social psychology, which focuses on the investigation of individuals, can contribute to the understanding of prejudice, differentiation and discrimination.

A (social) group In the socio-psychological understanding, is a collection of individuals who perceive themselves as members of the same social category, have a certain degree of emotional attachment to this category and have a certain social consensus about their assessment and membership in this group. [1] The concept can be applied to small groups of two or more members (family, Skat round) up to nations or ethnic groups. It is relevant that the respective person feels like a member of the group and is believed to be a member of the group by others. Everyone is at the same time a member of different social groups (such as Thuringians, cyclists, Europeans, women, social scientists).

The process of assigning individual objects to object classes is called Categorize designated. Our environment is complex and diverse. In order to still be able to act within a very short time, we have to quickly classify the things and people around us. It is therefore both functional and inevitable to group similar objects into groups. People categorize both with objects (such as table and chair are furniture, Trabant and Mercedes are cars) and with "social objects" (such as Jena and Erfurt are Thuringians, joggers and table tennis players are athletes). This "stereotyped thinking" is inevitable due to the limited cognitive capacities: the brain cannot perceive every single environmental stimulus individually.

Stereotypes, prejudices, discrimination

are positive and negative traits and behaviors associated with certain social categories or groups. They can affect other social groups ("The French are particularly romantic") or your own group ("The Germans are particularly obedient"). They are automatic, even if they are often inapplicable. Usually there is a certain social consensus about which characteristics are associated with which groups. But knowing about it does not mean that the stereotypes are also true, as a study of 49 different cultures showed. [2]

are disparaging attitudes towards social groups or their members based on real or ascribed characteristics of members of those groups. They occur between (social) groups, include a (positive or negative) evaluation of a group, represent a distorted perception of a group and are based on real or imagined group characteristics. [3] Accordingly, prejudices are biased assessments of a social stimulus that contain cognitive (such as stereotypes), emotional (such as fear), and behavioral components (such as avoidance).

These aspects can also occur independently of one another. It is conceivable that people think and feel prejudiced about a certain group, but still do not act that way. Different types of prejudice can be observed in everyday life. The most common are found in relation to social groups that are defined on the basis of skin color, origin, age, gender, religion, sexual orientation, political orientation or social class. Examples of different types of widespread prejudice (and the corresponding target groups) are: racism (other ethnic groups), xenophobia (strangers in general), anti-Semitism (Jews), anti-Islamism or Islamophobia (Muslims), sexism (women) or homophobia (homosexuals) . But also blondes, "Hartz IV" recipients, psychologists, politicians and bankers are often subject to certain prejudices.

In and of themselves, stereotypes and prejudices are not a problem. Because everyone is allowed to think and feel what he or she wants, even if these evaluations or sensations often have nothing to do with the specific person facing one. It is problematic, however, that negative attitudes also form the basis for negative intergroupbehavior can form: They can lead to devaluation and discrimination against other people solely on the basis of their belonging to certain social groups. A study of the attitudes of teaching staff indicates [4] that names of students such as Chantal, Mandy or Kevin (who are assigned to socially disadvantaged parental homes) are more likely to be associated with poor performance and behavioral problems, regardless of the actual school performance of the respective children . There is a risk that these children will be rated worse, that is, they will be discriminated against.

is when individuals or groups are denied the equal treatment they desire. The (inevitable) social categorization is a prerequisite for discrimination; However, it only exists if the desire for equal treatment is violated: Without this desire for equal treatment, intergroup behavior (behavior based on group memberships) would be differentiating, but not discriminatory. [5] The fact that nowadays full-time employed women in Germany on average receive 23 percent less wages than men for the same work is a case of discrimination - provided that the women (and / or the men) do not want this kind of unequal treatment. On the other hand, as long as there is more or less social consensus that, for example, young people under the age of 18 (with a few exceptions) are not allowed to vote, this would apply to differentiating the right to political participation on the basis of age. But if the social consensus changes accordingly, the unequal treatment understood as differentiation could be seen as discrimination and the corresponding laws could be changed.