Berliner Institut für empirische Integrations- und Migrationsforschung

3. Subtle Prejudice

Global migration and the present-day movement of forcefully displaced persons into Europe and Germany mean that prejudices a “majority culture” holds toward immigrant groups and refugees pose a real threat for integration and inclusion.

But how do these prejudices reveal themselves? According to social psychology and social science research, social norms have changed over the past decades, leading to a significant decrease in public acceptance of racist prejudices. This should not, however, prompt the conclusion that prejudices against people with different cultural backgrounds have disappeared. Rather, prejudices now reveal themselves in altered, more subtle ways. Subtler manifestations of prejudices can have especially negative effects for targeted persons, precisely because they are disguised, and thus accepted by society. Since the 1980s, numerous academic studies have focused on these new forms of racist prejudices. Research on the topic stems from the USA as well as from Europe, and from social psychologists in particular (Gaertner & Dovidio, 1986; Henry & Sears, 2002; Katz & Hass, 1988; McConahay, 1986; McConahay et al., 1981; Pettigrew & Meertens, 1995). The research has led to the development of a number of scales designed to measure ‘subtle prejudice’. So far, however, these scales have only been able to offer unsatisfactory answers to the questions of what constitutes the subtlety of prejudice, and how this can be measured.

It is precisely these questions the present project seeks to answer. Two enquiries form its core. The first examines the extent to which ‘subtle prejudices’ toward different cultural groups can be operationalized. Here, the definition of prejudice contains two dimensions: to agree with specific prejudices (the more common definition); and to be aware of prejudices. The second point of enquiry will ascertain which properties distinguish subtle prejudices, and to what extent the form and content of a semantic frame determines the subtlety of a prejudice.

Research method

A randomly selected group of approximately 1000 people will be questioned via telephone using a 20-minute questionnaire. A central part of this quantitative research will be to examine inter-individual correlations and connections between agreeing with a given prejudice-item, and classifying that prejudice as xenophobic (awareness). A second focus will be on how agreement and awareness are influenced by specific factors, which have been varied in the prejudice-items. One such factor would be the section of society or cultural group the prejudices are being directed toward. Another factor would be how the prejudices are worded, and the extent to which this wording affects the rating. Beyond this, the questionnaire will gather data on a number of personality traits known to be associated with prejudice (e.g. egalitarianism, social dominance orientation), and participants’ socio-demographics.

The project should thus provide a theoretical as well as a methodological contribution to social science and social psychology, while also producing empirical data on the nature and prevalence of subtle prejudices in Germany, as well as recommendations for ways to dismantle these.