Friday, August 12, 2011

The Power of Prejudice: A Class Divided

Do you remember your first brush with prejudice as a child? These students certainly do. A classic in intro social psychology classes, the video I've linked to below details the experiences of a group of students in Riceville, Iowa in 1970 after MLK Jr was shot. The video tells the tale of their teacher pushing them to understand the experience of prejudice, possibly for the first time. I won't give too many details because the video tells the whole story. This video will certainly stick with you, and not just because of their awesome '70s attire.

This important topic deserves to be the focus of several posts, as it constitutes an entire area of social psychological research and has important implications for how we interact with others. But since its Friday, and I am by no means an expert on the topic, I'm simply going to leave you with a few definitions to help distinguish between the different aspects of stereotyping and prejudice:

Stereotype. A generalization about a group of people in which certain traits are assigned to virtually all members of the group, regardless of actual variation among the members.
Prejudice. A hostile or negative attitude toward a distinguishable group of people, based solely on their membership of that group.
Discrimination. Unjustified negative or harmful action toward a member of a group simply because his or her membership in that group.

The whole video is 55 minutes, but it includes the original story about the children, their reunion 14 years later, as well as demonstrations of this same activity with adults. If you only have a little time, just watch the first 15-20 minutes and save the rest for another day.

Have you seen a video like this before? Would you want your children to participate in this kind of an activity?

Further Reading:

WOLFE, C., & SPENCER, S. (1996). Stereotypes and Prejudice: Their Overt and Subtle Influence in the Classroom American Behavioral Scientist, 40 (2), 176-185 DOI: 10.1177/0002764296040002008

A blog on the Psychology Today website written by a leading researcher on stereotyping and prejudice, Rudolfo Mendoza-Denton (who just happens to be a professor here at UC Berkeley!)


  1. That was wonderful. I hadn't seen that before and it made me squirm watching how both the original students, and then later the adults at the "workshop" responded to the lesson. Also, it brought to mind the importance of Rosenthal & Jacobson (1966). Teachers’ expectancies: Determinates of pupils’ IQ gains. Psychological Reports, 19, 115-118.

    Thanks for keeping this blog excellent!

  2. The Rosenthal and Jacobson research on self-fulfilling prophecies is a classic and definitely an eye-opener!I think its worthy of a post all its own, so stay tuned for that!

    Thanks for reading,

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