Social bias is a concept which should need no explanation, however, unfortunately, that is not the case. In this society, instances of social bias are insidious and all pervasive. They are represented by prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination. Also unfortunate, is the fact that social bias is not always obvious because it can manifest in either subtle or blatant form. Furthermore, though not always apparent, individual lives are continuously impacted by bias, be it stereotyping, prejudice, or outright discrimination. There are, however, strategies which may be employed to overcome social biases. It is only with a thorough understanding of what social bias is, how it affects individuals, and availing oneself of the tools to eradicate it, that it may eventually dissipate thereby removing the negative impact that it has on individuals, groups, and society as a whole.
Essentially, social bias is a general concept which refers to the fact that individuals often make irrational assumptions regarding individuals or groups based on unproven information and form attitudes toward those individuals based solely upon these preconceived notions, and apply those stereotypes and prejudices in discriminatory practices towards others (Fiske, 2010). The concept of social bias is best described by addressing prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination as they are all components of social bias. Prejudice is best described simply as prejudging. Prejudice occurs when an individual judges an individual or group of individuals based on the non-factual preconceived notions discussed above and has an emotional reaction to that individual or group based on the misinformation (Fiske, 2010). Though like prejudice in that it is a social bias, stereotyping does not necessarily have an emotional attachment to it. Though it is an oversimplification of some trait which is then attributed to an individual or group of individuals simply because they are white, female, Indian, etc. Discrimination takes social bias a step further in that it entails actions toward individuals based upon prejudicial ideas and stereotypes. For example, one may believe that all Scandinavians eat rotten shark because one heard that it is a common dish there. This would be a stereotype. However, if one found the practice to their dislike and therefore prejudged all Scandinavians based on that erroneous information as rotten shark eating people; that would be a prejudice. If one then denied an employment position to a Scandinavian applicant because of this misconception, then that would be discrimination. It is easy to see how even small misconceptions can be harmful to an individual. The hiring person may lose an excellent employee and the employee failed to gain employment.
Discriminatory practices, stereotyping, and prejudice arise in a variety of situations, some more subtle than others. It is for this reason that both subtle and blatant biases are examined. There are situations which clearly exemplify bias, such as a company refusing to promote women to managerial positions. However, there are also situations which are not so clear. For example, one may believe that he or she harbors no prejudicial feelings toward any group outside their own but when she or he learns that a sibling is marrying outside their group he or she is not comfortable with the situation. Blatant bias is apparent to everyone and it is undeniable. Subtle bias is, however, just that, subtle, and it is not apparent to everyone though it is just as destructive to individuals who encounter it.
Whether it is blatant or it is subtle, bias cannot help but impact individuals adversely. First, if one is the perpetrator of the bias, one is making decisions based on false information and if not just believing something false, then actually acting on misinformation. Obviously, decisions based on misinformation will inevitably lead to problems. Additionally, for those individuals who experience the results of those biases, the results can be hurtful if not disastrous. Being categorized simply for having a certain color skin is dehumanizing and can lead to issues of self- esteem, humiliation, and depression. Further, if the bias is taken to the extreme of actual discrimination, it may cause one to lose a job, be denied a home, or cause one to be rejected to an institution of higher learning. Clearly, social biases affect all individuals who experience them, and always in a negative manner.
What then can be done to eliminate the negativity that is a direct result of social bias? The answer, of course, is to eradicate social bias. This is a difficult prospect in that as noted above, not all social biases are blatant and are therefore more difficult to address. To eliminate erroneously held beliefs of individuals, one must first get the individual to acknowledge they hold the belief. Many individuals may not even be aware that some trait that they attribute to someone is false and a stereotype. Presently, many Americans falsely believe that all Muslims are terrorists. This belief is a direct result of extrapolating the actions and beliefs of some on the entire group. This is simply not true and one may easily see how this bias could lead to prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination towards people of the Muslim faith. In fact, in the extreme, it could and has lead to hate crimes and even murder. Convincing some individuals of the incorrectness of this stance will take time and patience as it will with other forms of bias. Eradication will indeed be a slow process but it must start somewhere.
Perhaps one of the most important methods of eradicating social bias is through education. If one has a notion that all tribes of the Amazon Rain Forest are headhunters then it would behoove that individual to do some research to become better familiarized with individual indigenous tribes. By studying their groups it is possible to eliminate this erroneous belief and therefore the bias associated with it. Obviously, believing that a group of people is likely to remove one's head is frightening and would no doubt affect how one viewed and treated people of South American Indigenous descent. Removing the fear caused by bias is paramount to creating a better society in which to live side by side with people from all corners of the world.
Better still, is the strategy of immersing oneself in the culture of others. In this way, one may gather first hand experiences which work to dispel myths previously held to be true regarding groups outside of one's own. By spending time with people who do not come from the same group as oneself, opportunities will arise to expose stereotypes, prejudices, and discrimination. Only by exposing these can they be addressed, proven wrong or harmful, and erased. For example, if one believes that all Texans are cowboys, one need merely visit Houston and stroll through the campus of Rice University to dispel that misconception. By dispelling the stereotype, one may then begin to avail oneself of the many contributions that Texans have to offer rather than completely ignoring a plethora of resources.
Part B -- Influences of Conformity and Obedience
Attempting to completely eradicate the Jewish population during the Holocaust is an extreme example of what individuals are capable of doing when influenced by a larger group. It is also an excellent way of illustrating the concepts of conformity and obedience in the Social Psychology context. Key scholars in this area define conformity as "the tendency to change our perceptions, opinions, or behavior in ways that are consistent with group norms" (Brehm, Kassin & Fein, 1999, p.213). They further define obedience as "behavior change produced by the commands of authority" (Brehm, Kassin & Fein, 1999, p.232). These scholars as well as many others have studied the effect of group influence on the self in order to understand what makes individuals change their behavior as a result of outside influences. Further study has been done to understand how individual and societal influences lead to deviance from the dominant group norms.
Perhaps the best way to compare and contrast conformity and obedience is to analyze the key factors associated with each. Bill Southerly of Frostburg State University compiled a list of factors of conformity that illustrate the concept well. These factors include ' informational influence, normative influence, size of group, awareness of norms, presence of an ally, age differences, gender differences, and cultural influences' (Southerly, Date Unknown). He also compiled a list of factors which have a direct bearing on the concept of obedience. These factors include 'authority figure, proximity of victim, personal responsibility, and escalation of harm' (Southerly, Date Unknown). These factors were all taken from studies conducted on conformity and obedience.
A description of each of these conformity factors is as follows: "Informational influence -- when you conform because you believe that others are correct in their judgments. Sherif's (1936) study illustrates this concept. Normative influence -- when you conform because you fear the possible negative social consequences of not going along. Asch's (1951) study illustrates this concept. Size of group -- conformity tends to increase as the size of the group increases, however, there is…