Three main theoretical approaches to the study of the causation of prejudice can be distinguished within psychological research. The cognitive approach suggests that prejudice is a function of cognitive processes where stereotypic information about social groups, stored in memory, is automatically activated and affects people’s judgements and behavior toward members of the target group. The personality approach suggests that prejudice is a function of people’s personality characteristics. Finally, the social psychological approach emphasizes people’s group membership and group identification as the as major source of causation.
Previous research has almost entirely focused on only one approach of causation at a time. The focus has also shifted periodically – with attention paid to one approach at each period of time. The present thesis is an attempt to integrate these approaches and suggests an integrative model where the relative contribution of each approach could be assessed. The underlying assumption is that all three approaches are meaningful and that prejudice is a complex phenomenon that is best explained by taking into account all approaches jointly.
Examining the cognitive approach, Paper I revealed that people are knowledgeable of the cultural stereotypes and that stereotypic information is automatically activated and affects people’s judgments. Paper II (and Paper III) supported the personality approach and revealed that prejudice is highly related to primary personality characteristics and, in line with a central idea in this approach, different types of prejudice (ethnic prejudice, sexism, homophobia, and prejudice toward disabled people) are highly correlated. The results of Paper III revealed the importance of group membership and group identification, supporting the social psychology approach.
The findings are discussed in relation to previous research and the necessity to integrate various approaches and disciplines to explain psychological phenomena in general and prejudice in particular. Also, implications of the findings for prejudice prevention are discussed.