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Personality may predict prejudice


Originally published in the Union College Magazine, Spring 2014

George Bizer, professor of psychology
(With Joshua Hart, assistant professor of psychology, and Allison M. Jekogian ’11)

People of certain character might be more inclined to prejudice.

A recent study by George Bizer, published in Personality and Individual Differences, found that people with two particular personality traits are more likely to have negative attitudes about those with mental illness.

“Those who believe in a just world (BJW) think that people get what they deserve – bad things generally happen to bad people, good things generally happen to good people,” Bizer said. “People high in social dominance orientation (SDO) think that it’s okay for some people or groups to have power over others.”                                      

Indeed, BJW and SDO not only appear related to prejudice, in tandem, they might cause it.

“Previous studies have suggested a correlation between these variables and negative attitudes,” Bizer said. “But our work is the first to demonstrate that these variables predict prejudice against individuals with mental illness, and that BJW predicts SDO, which in turns predicts negative attitudes.”

In other words, people who think others get what they deserve are more likely to be concerned with their own social standing. As such, these individuals tend toward social dominance orientation, which has been shown to predict prejudice against out-groups. And since those with mental illness can be considered an out-group, high-SDO people are more likely to discriminate against them.

“It’s important to understand this chain,” Bizer said, “because if we can learn how to predict discrimination, we can learn how to reduce it.”