What works to reduce prejudice and discrimination? - A review of the evidence

A review of international evidence on prejudice reduction interventions

Section Seven: Conclusion

This report has considered the evidence base for 'what works' to reduce prejudice, taken from theoretical debates and a selection of empirical studies internationally. It examined some of the principal arguments around how prejudice develops, how it functions differently in different contexts, and how it might be challenged through interventions. Section five reflected in detail on what we might learn from this information, and section six considered how some of these might usefully be applied to Scotland.

Most interventions are not properly evaluated, so this summary and these recommendations are limited in terms of transferability, however in terms of working towards best practice and increasing what we know, it is a useful first step. Interventions should be theory-driven, based on the best available knowledge from the social psychology literature. Prejudices may be deeply-held, and interventions that directly challenge and confront such worldviews may be less effective than contact, which can help to increase out-group empathy with less risk of causing defensiveness, re-entrenchment of prejudices. However the limitations of contact alone have been well documented, and as such interventions designed to reduce prejudice are commonplace.

A key message is that people have to be open to and willing to confront and challenge their prejudices. This is the biggest obstacle for anyone with an objective to reduce prejudice. Importantly, this will be a continuous process. Bargal (2008) sums up the importance of longer-term interventions, one of the key messages from this work:

"The change of negative intergroup attitudes, stereotypes and prejudices, and the provision of conflict management skills requires a long and incremental process. From our own significant experience in this process and based on the experience of others (Bar & Bargal, 1995; Paluck-Levy, 2006), we learned that intergroup interventions demand sacrifices from participants, facilitators, and organization officials and leaders. Social scientists who want to engage in it should abandon scientific models of a short-term, one-shot intervention and evaluation and adopt long-range, action-research designs" (p. 57).

The length of interventions is arguably the most influential factor. As noted, the shorter the intervention the more likelihood that it will appear 'piecemeal' and will have limited short-term effects, if any. This is not to suggest that short-term initiatives are never useful but they should take place in the broader context of promoting tolerance and challenging prejudice through facilitating positive contact and robust educational programmes.


Email: Ben Cavanagh

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