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S-6. - Ethnicity, Social Prejudice and Aggression


Feshbach, Seymour
Department of Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, USA.

Symposium Abstract  

The three presentations in this symposium are addressed to the theoretical issues and social problems posed by ethnic differences (including racial) and the stereotypes, social prejudice and conflicts that are commonly associated with these differences. The first paper is concerned  with the role of ethnic differences, and stereotypes related to these differences, in the perception and treatment of members of another ethnic group. The latter may be perceived as more hostile and aggressive than they actually are, thereby fostering aggressive responses to and from them.  The second paper addresses the importance of school-based intervention  programs designed to reduce aggression and social prejudice, and discusses the problems encountered and issues raised in implementing such a program. The third paper focuses on  the particular role of ethnic differences in aggressive behavior and the need to incorporate ethnic differences and attitudes toward ethnic groups in our theories of aggression..

S-6.1.-Racial Stereotypes and the Treatment of Ethnic Minority Adolescent Offenders

Graham, S.
Department of Education, University of California, Los Angeles, USA.

Racial disparity in the American adult and juvenile justice systems is well documented. Ethnic minority offenders are more likely to be arrested, prosecuted, convicted, and incarcerated than are White offenders suspected of comparable crimes. Among minority group offenders, African American males in particular are disproportionately represented at all levels of the justice system. Some researchers have suggested that the stereotypes that justice system officials hold about ethnic minority offenders may partly account for treatment disparity. To date, however, there is little systematic research on either the nature of such stereotypes or the process by which they might influence biased legal decision making. In this presentation I will describe a model of how racial stereotypes might guide decision making in the juvenile justice system. I will make the case that a prevalent racial stereotype is that African American male adolescent offenders are dangerous, violent, adult-like, and not amenable to treatment. I will further argue that stereotyping in this context is largely an automatic process - that is, it is involuntary, unintentional, effortless, and it occurs outside of the perceiver's conscious awareness. Once evoked, stereotypes lead to inferences about the causes of adolescent crime that then have implications for how the offender is treated. Preliminary findings will be reported from a field study of police officers' unconscious stereotypes about African American adolescent offenders.

S-6.2.-Modifying Aggression and Social Prejudice: Findings and Challenges

Feshbach, N.D.
Department of Education , University of California, Los Angeles, USA.

An extensive literature on the development of ethnic prejudice in children exists. Evidence of ethnic bias is found in children of primary age and even younger. However, there is a lack of longitudinal or other data that would guide us regarding the optimal age to intervene for the purpose of reducing ethnic prejudice and promoting positive interethnic social relations. The degree to which ethnic conflicts among children and adolescents are expressed in school violence may be one factor in selecting a target age group, at least initially, for intervention. The incidence of adolescent aggression and violence in schools has become an important matter of public concern and media interest. The problems of school violence and of ethnic conflict and prejudice among school children and adolescents are interwoven (Bodinger-Deliriarte & Sanchez, 1992; Soriano & Soriano, 1994). This was one of the guiding factors in extending our earlier rationale, research, and intervention efforts addressed to empathy and aggression in middle elementary school age children to empathy, aggression and social prejudice in adolescents. In an earlier intervention project, Feshbach and Feshbach (1984) found that training 9-11 year old aggressive and non-aggressive boys and girls in exercises designed to enhance empathy, significantly influenced pro-social behaviors, modified aggressive behaviors, and promoted more positive self-concepts. In this newer project (Konrad, Feshbach & Feshbach, 1999), modifications in standard curriculum and instruction were introduced to classrooms attended by 13-15 year olds. These modifications entail the use of transformational principles derived from N. Feshbach’s theoretical model of empathy. A systematic evaluation yielded significant changes in aggression, prosocial behavior and empathy. At the same time, what also emerged from this study are the varied problems entailed in trying to modify social prejudice; e.g., our findings reflect the special role of the teacher in facilitating or hindering intervention programs carried out within the contexts of classrooms and schools. These problems are of both theoretical and pragmatic interest, and are delineated and discussed.

S-6.3.-Ethnic Diversity and the Interaction of Social Prejudice and Aggression

Feshbach, S.
Department of Psychology , University of California, Los Angeles, USA.

While the relations between different ethnic groups can be amicable, these relations have also been characterized by conflict and violence. Indeed, it can be argued that violence between ethnic groups constitutes the major social problem confronting contemporary society. For the purpose of this presentation, we will exclude the situation in which ethnic differences are associated with territorial struggles but focus on ethnic differences within a nation-state where territorial autonomy and independence are not at issue.  Problems associated with ethnic diversity are by no means peculiar to multi-ethnic nations such as the United States but with the movement of populations since World War II are common to most nations. The principal issues we wish to address here are the structure of social prejudice, the antecedents of social prejudice, and the relationship between aggression and the different facets of social prejudice. Correlational data from the curriculum transformation intervention project that has been reviewed in the previous presentation are pertinent to this last issue. Social prejudice is a complex construct. One distinction that needs to be made is between negative attitudes towards members of another ethnic group and preference for associations with members of one’s own ethnic group. And further, with regard to negative attitudes, stereotypes should be distinguished from support for discriminatory actions. One issue regarding the antecedents of these different components of social prejudice is the contribution of socio-biological, evolutionary factors. Socio-biological interpretations of social prejudice between ethnic groups are also germane to interpretations of aggressive conflicts between ethnic groups. The relative role of biological and social, experiential factors in prejudice and aggression between ethnic groups will be discussed. One major complicating factor is the degree of identity with one’s ethnic (including racial) group.  Aggression and prejudice toward members of another ethnic group are mutually reinforcing. However, data indicate that prejudice and aggression are imperfectly correlated, and are related to each other only under particular circumstances. The challenge for researchers is to elucidate these circumstances.