Everyone is prejudiced, too

In this blog post, I will discuss new research in political psychology that is changing our understanding of what prejudice is, and who is prejudiced.

When you think of victims of prejudice and discrimination, what groups come to mind? In all likelihood, a social group that is disadvantaged in one way or another came to your mind: an ethnic minority group, women, gays and lesbians, immigrants, or others. If this is the case, you’re not alone: for over five decades, these are the types of groups that social psychologists have had in mind when they have examined the nature of prejudice (Allport, 1954). In literally thousands of studies, in countries around the world, social psychologists have studied the origins of such prejudice. What these studies have typically found is that political conservatism is an especially strong predictor of prejudice against disadvantaged groups, including but not limited to ethnic minorities (Sears & Henry, 2003), women (Sibley, Wilson, & Duckitt, 2007), immigrants (Hodson & Busseri, 2012), and gays and lesbians (Herek, 2000). Other related evidence from Lindner and Nosek (2009) finds that political conservatism also predicts people’s willingness to deny groups their democratically-protected rights (i.e., political intolerance).

That said, recent evidence from three independent research labs in the U.S. has called into question the conclusion that conservatism uniquely predicts prejudice, discrimination, and intolerance. These researchers point to two important flaws in research on the relationship between political ideology and prejudice. First, members of disadvantaged groups tend to be liberal themselves. Thus, for example, the relationship between conservatism and prejudice against racial minority groups may not necessarily originate in racial animus per se, but instead may result in part from ideological dissimilarity with the target (i.e., believing that African-Americans are liberal). Second, previous research has largely failed to examine prejudice against high status and conventional (and presumably right-wing) target groups. Thus, previous research may be able to tell us that liberals are unprejudiced against disadvantaged (and presumably liberal) groups, but it cannot tell us whether there are some groups against whom liberals are in fact prejudiced.

To answer these questions, these three research groups asked participants not only to evaluate left-wing groups (e.g., atheists, poor people), but also right-wing groups (e.g., Evangelical Christians, wealthy people). Across different types of samples (community, student, and nationally representative), thousands of participants, and evaluations of over 40 different target groups, the results were clear, consistent, and reliable: conservatism does not necessarily lead to prejudice. Instead, conservatism only predicted prejudice against left-wing groups. Liberalism, once thought to be the foundation of tolerance, also predicted prejudice, but only against right-wing groups. Importantly, liberals were as prejudiced against right-wing groups as conservatives were prejudiced against left-wing groups (these findings are reported in Chambers, Schlenker, & Collisson, 2013; Crawford & Pilanski, in press; and Wetherell, Brandt, & Reyna, 2013).

Summarizing these results, Brandt, Reyna, Chambers, Crawford, and Wetherell (2014) developed the Ideological Conflict Hypothesis (ICH), which argues that liberals and conservatives are equally prejudiced against and intolerant of ideologically dissimilar groups. According to the ICH, political prejudice stems from the threat posed to our deeply held values and beliefs by people who disagree with us on fundamentally important issues.  To support this claim, two of the above-mentioned papers (Crawford & Pilanski, in press; Wetherell et al., 2013) found that prejudice against both left-wing and right-wing groups was largely driven (i.e., mediated) by beliefs that the group threatens one’s values.

This research on the ideological conflict hypothesis shows us that the relationship between ideology and prejudice is much more complicated than was previously assumed, and promises to lead to new and exciting developments in social and political psychologists’ understanding of prejudice. The primary reason to understand prejudice is to discover how to reduce it; given the current state of partisan gridlock and mistrust in the United States and elsewhere, understanding how to reduce political prejudice on all sides is now more important than ever.


Allport, G. (1954). The nature of prejudice. Cambridge, MA: Addison Wesley.

Brandt, M. J., Reyna, C., Chambers, J. R., Crawford, J. T., & Wetherell, G. (2014). The ideological-conflict hypothesis: Intolerance among both liberals and conservatives. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 23(1), 27-34.

Chambers, J. R., Schlenker, B. R., Collisson, B. (2013). Ideology and prejudice: The role of value conflicts. Psychological Science, 24, 140-149.

Crawford, J. T., & Pilanski, J. M. (in press). Political intolerance, right and left. Political Psychology. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9221.2012.00926.x

Herek, G. M. (2000). The psychology of sexual prejudice. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 9(1), 19-22.

Hodson, G., & Busseri, M. A. (2012). Bright minds and dark attitudes: Lower cognitive ability predicts greater prejudice through right-wing ideology and low intergroup contact. Psychological Science, 23(2), 187–195.

Sears, D. O., & Henry, P. J. (2003). The origins of symbolic racism. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85(2), 259-275.

Sibley, C. G., Wilson, M. S., & Duckitt, J. (2007). Antecedents of men’s hostile and benevolent sexism: The dual roles of social dominance orientation and right-wing authoritarianism. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 33(2), 160-172.

Wetherell, G. A., Brandt, M. J., & Reyna, C. (2013). Discrimination across the ideological divide: The role of value violations and abstract values in discrimination by liberals and conservatives. Social Psychology and Personality Science, 4(6), 658-667.