The surprising way to tackle prejudice in the real world

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The good news is there are many effective anti-prejudice interventions, but the most promising remains relatively unknown

The best intentions are not enough to avoid the risk of being prejudiced toward people from another social group – making harmful and unfair assumptions about them. Often, people can form prejudices because of a lack of personal experience with individuals from that other social group. Based on this, many experts and policymakers have proposed that a simple but effective way to reduce prejudice is to encourage and facilitate contact between people from different social groups (an approach known as ‘contact theory’ in the research literature). Indeed, contact theory has inspired a number of diversity and inclusion programs around the world – you may have participated in one yourself. However, emerging findings in social psychology suggest that contact is far from the only way to tackle prejudice – and, importantly, it might not be the most effective.

Prejudice can manifest in negative attitudes towards groups based on a range of dimensions including race, sex, gender identity, obesity, and disability, to name a few. It can appear in many different contexts, from workplaces to shops, to schools – wherever there are people. You may have heard friends and family express prejudice casually over dinner conversations based on what they might have seen or heard in the media, or been in situations yourself where you’ve had to pause and reflect that your views are prejudiced and unfounded.

When prejudice carries over into decisions on employment, education, access to health services, and other consequential situations, it can be severely detrimental. The breadth of prejudice in society, combined with its potential to cause serious negative effects, means that prejudice has substantial costs to individuals and broader society. I am based in Australia, where it has been estimated that racism alone costs AU $37.9 billion (US $25.5 billion) per year.


Flower market, East End of London. Photo by Andrew Testa/Panos



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