Newswise – While we all want to overcome racial prejudice, we should be aware that it’s actually instinctual which is why it never completely goes away. It’s a form of DNA common sense, hard-wired into the human brain through evolution, as a way to identify our “pack” or tribe and to protect our prehistoric ancestors from danger.

When human survival was based on group living, “outsiders” were often very real threats. Psychologist Steven Neuberg says, “By nature, people are group-living animals?a strategy that?leads to what we might call a ‘tribal psychology.’ It was adaptive for our ancestors to be attuned to those outside the group who posed threats such as to physical security, health or economic resources, and to respond to these different kinds of threats in ways tailored to have a good chance of reducing them.” In other words, racial prejudice.

Neuberg interviewed 235 European American students about how they felt about nine different groups: activist feminists, African Americans, Asian Americans, European Americans, fundamentalist Christians, gay men, Mexican Americans, Native Americans and non-fundamentalist Christians. The researchers then had the participants rate these groups on the threats they pose to American society (physical safety, values, health, etc.) and report the emotions they felt toward these groups (fear, anger, disgust, pity, etc.).

Their findings revealed distinct prejudices exist toward different groups of people. Some groups were targets of prejudice because of fear, while others engendered anger and disgust. These different prejudices motivate inclinations toward different kinds of discrimination, in ways aimed at reducing the perceived threat, whether it is real or not.

“People sometimes assume that because we say prejudice has evolved roots we are saying that specific prejudices can’t be changed. That’s simply not the case,” Neuberg says. “What we think and feel and how we behave is typically the result of complex interactions between biological tendencies and learning experiences. Evolution may have prepared our minds to be prejudiced, but our environment influences the specific targets of those prejudices and how we act on them.” In other words, our brains are hard-wired for prejudice but the more complex and evolved parts of our brains can overcome this type of automatic reaction.

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