Prejudice: Are We in Control?

Growing up I always heard “Don’t judge a book by the cover!” After the countless times hearing that I started to understand what it meant. It means do not make assumptions about others until you have had the chance to get to know them, seems simple, right? However, can you think back on a time where you had a preconceived opinion either towards another individual or activity? Has anyone ever had a preconceive opinion about you or the things you enjoy? We do not always have full control of our thoughts. We are easily influenced by other factors.

Hard to Think Straight: Processing Prejudice an article written by Wray Herbert looks into the role that heuristics and bias play into everyday life. In class we talked about how we are more attracted to anything that is easy for us to process easily. This is supported in his article where he talks about the simplest things such as food labels and rollercoasters with long, hard to pronounce names are unappealing to us. This is the same for more important things such as stocks, long-term investments, etc. Herbert describes this as the familiarity heuristic and fluency bias. The familiarity heuristic is where an individual is faced with a situation they have once experienced and so they feel the need to act in the same way they did before. Fluency bias is where an individual is bias towards information that is easily processed.

As the article continues it dips into a study done by two UCLA scientists, David Lick and Kerri Johnson. Lick and Johnson were interested in researching how heuristics and bias affect our personal judgments. Humans are naturally organized people. We feel the need to categorize everything. It just seems to make life easier and most of the time, we do not even realize that we are doing it. The example used in the article is how we as individuals categorize other individuals. “We all categorize people who we encounter — put them in boxes like gay or intelligent or masculine or white. It’s simplistic to pigeonhole complex human beings, but it’s one of the tools we have for making quick sense of the world.” During their experiment Lick and Johnson found that gays were less favorable than those who identified as straight. This is because naturally the human mind sees individuals who identify as straight to be the norm. People that identify as gay are seen as violating the norm, which is complicated for the human mind and takes longer to be processed. They found the same to be true for those of different races. I saw this also as group attribution bias. I think this because they are essentially saying that everyone in those categorizes we create are the same and posses the same traits. I also see availabilty heuristics apply as well. This is because in media and other sources you see minorities and social norms singled out and categorized more frequently than others. After we see media posts and broadcasts, or even hear others talking about these different categorizes of people. We are more likely to categorize them in that way as well.



(This video does not pertain directly to race and sexuality however the idea is similar.)

Found while doing the study was, English speakers who had some type of accent were less likely to be believed by others than those who did not have an accent, and people with easy to say names were more favored than those who had harder to say names.

I thought the article was very interesting especially after class discussions. I find it very interesting that we judge and favor individuals and other things based off how easy their traits or the idea of them is to process. After reading a question came to my mind. If we favor things that violate the social norms, eventually if we are introduced and accustomed to the social norms that are instilled now, will this fluency bias go away? Will prejudice fade as well?


Herbert, Wray. “Hard to Think Straight: Processing Prejudice.” The Huffington Post., n.d. Web. 16 Apr.2015.

1 thought on “Prejudice: Are We in Control?

  1. arichmon

    Thank you for this article! I thought it was really interesting how heuristics- a seemingly benign cognitive shortcut- and prejudice, can be so linked. In social psychology we learned about how people tend to sort the world into “in-groups” and “out-groups” and how that can create a lot of conflict and tension. This helps explain the cognitive reasoning behind that behavior, and why we would be naturally do that. Hopefully if more people can understand the psychological cause of their more prejudicial behaviors they can take precautions to preventing them!

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