Eclectic Grounds

conflicts and conversation

Posts Tagged ‘power

The social psychology of discrimination

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Several experiments in social psychology have tried to find out about the effects that arbitrary stereotyping and discrimination or privilege and power has on individuals. The most famous of these were the Zimbardo experiments.

Another one of those experience was conducted in a primary school by teacher with herclass of third-graders. To make the kids understand racial discrimination, the teacher split them up according to blue and brown eye colour. One group was defined as superior, the other as inferior.

I recently saw a Frontline documentary about the case filmed 14 years later, in which the former pupils describe the profound effects that the experience had on them. Quite ordinary, white people from a provincial town in the US state Iowa describe the humiliation, anger, demoralisation and hatred they felt at their own personal discrimination – and the feeling of (unfounded) power they got when they were in the dominant group.. 

"A Class Divided"
“A Class Divided” – find the documentary here.

It’s quite intense to see the distress and violence that the participants describe, which resulted from entirely arbitrary faultlines. Experiments like those certainly help us understand the impact of ethnic, religious or any other out-group stereotyping. When talking about “blacks”, “Turks”, “Muslim” or “women” in a discrimatory manner, we usually internalise our role – discimated and disciminators alike. Documenations like the one here can shake us up a little about our everyday behaviour.

Thanks Nayano for digging it up!


Written by henrik

February 4, 2009 at 4:43 pm