A THEORY OF SELF, AMBIVALENCE, AND TOLERANCE


This Theory Is Expected To Help Us Better Understand The Conjugate Complexity Of Prejudice

1997 Thesis

“For every difference that makes us more unique there is a common thread which connects us all. We share the need for home and community, for love and respect. May these common threads form a beautiful world in which all people and all cultures are honored.” — unknown

ABSTRACT
PREJUDICE: EMPIRICAL DATA BECKONING TOWARD

A THEORY OF SELF, AMBIVALENCE,
AND TOLERANCE

This research proposes a Self-Awareness theory that theoretically connects prejudiced attitudes with the conceptual framework of self-focused attention, attention directed at personal domains of enduring feelings, opinions, and behavioral tendencies of self, and, with ambivalence, the psychological stress of not knowing how to proceed in a given situation. The claim that ambivalence is a frequent effect of private self-consciousness activity is explored in this thesis. The claim that prejudiced attitudes arise when the presence of ambivalence is excluded from salient private self-consciousness activity is also explored in this thesis.

Responses to a survey questionnaire were collected and the data has been analyzed in order to measure the linkage of prejudiced attitudes, ambivalence, and self-focused attention. Three scales, the 9-item Private Self-Consciousness Scale, the 20-item Multifactor Measure of Whites’ Attitudes Toward Blacks scale, and the 20-item Evaluation of Physically Disabled Persons Measure scale, and two ambivalence-inducing vignettes, were administered to college students.

Results were varied. Of the nine proposed hypotheses four resulted in statistically significant results consistent with the researcher’s expectations. It was concluded that more research is needed if the hypothesized connection between prejudiced attitudes, private self-consciousness activity and ambivalence is to be conclusively established.

INTRODUCTION

Statement Of The Problem

This thesis attempts to advance an understanding of prejudice whereupon the likelihood of a person to seize upon prejudiced attitudes toward African Americans and the likelihood of a person to seize upon prejudiced attitudes toward persons with physical disabilities will be conceptually linked to the proneness of a person to engage self-focused attention.

In this regard, a Self-Awareness theory is proposed that theoretically connects prejudiced attitudes with the conceptual framework of self-focused attention, attention directed at personal domains of enduring feelings, opinions, and behavioral tendencies of self, and, with ambivalence, the psychological stress of not knowing how to proceed in a given situation. The claim that ambivalence is a frequent effect of private self-consciousness activity is explored in this thesis. The claim that prejudiced attitudes arise when the presence of ambivalence is excluded from salient private self-consciousness activity is also explored in this thesis. Responses to a survey questionnaire were collected and the data has been analyzed in order to measure the linkage of prejudiced attitudes, ambivalence, and self-focused attention.

This thesis attempts to advance an understanding of prejudice/tolerance by measuring respondents’ attitudes towards private self-consciousness, prejudiced attitudes toward African Americans and prejudiced attitudes toward persons with physical disabilities. More specifically, this thesis research explores two different sets of data. Individuals were surveyed in order to test whether the self-perception of self-focused attention and prejudiced attitudes are related; and, individuals were surveyed to test whether individuals prejudiced toward African Americans were also prejudiced toward persons with physical disabilities.

Since prejudiced attitudes are manifested, for the most part, through injurious acts and judgments occurring on the global stage ad infinitum, this theory is not meant to suggest a definitive explanatory account of prejudice. Albeit, this theory, as a tool for illumination, is expected to help us better understand the conjugate complexity of prejudice.

The Inner Life Of The Individual Is Either Abandoned Or Not Taken Seriously

In America, Prejudice Against Such Groups As African Americans, Puerto Ricans, Mexican-Americans, American Indians, Homosexuals, Jews and Others Is All Too Prevalent

Significance Of The Problem

A study of prejudiced attitudes toward African Americans, prejudiced attitudes toward persons with physical disabilities, and attitudes towards the self-perception of private self-consciousness is also a study of human nature, group membership, and intergroup relationships. Human needs are best satisfied when individuals organize themselves into groups. Group membership may be voluntarily selected or ascribed. When individuals organize themselves into groups, they tend to classify and evaluate people according to intergroup norms. Group members tend also to evaluate other people according to whether they are a members of the group, or, members of an outgroup. Prejudiced attitudes towards members of other groups are the outcomes of this process. According to Gaertner (1986 : 322), “…at the intergroup level, people act in terms of their social identity, more faithfully conforming to the group’s norms and also treating others in terms of their corresponding group memberships rather than their personal identities. Outgroup members, in particular, become depersonalized, undifferentiated, substitutable entities.”

In social relationships intergroup dynamics of prejudiced attitudes towards outgroups are usually described in terms of confrontation, violence, and, depending on the scope of animosities, war. In American society, the evidence is all too convincing that prejudice persists at alarmingly high rates against such groups as African Americans, Puerto Ricans, Mexican-Americans, American Indians, homosexuals, Jews and others. In human costs, prejudiced attitudes and racial discrimination are measured in terms of poverty, drug addiction, physical and mental health, and crime. Deriving a better understanding of the relationship between prejudiced attitudes towards both racial minorities and persons with physical disabilities will help us to better understand both intergroup relationships and prejudice.

This research project has offered an opportunity to further our understanding of the process that results in prejudiced attitudes towards outgroups by furthering our understanding of the boundary-making (labeling) process. Cognitive boundaries do not stand alone, they are continuous with, and informed by, socioeconomic status, linguistic expression, and cultural values [and, in the absence of values, by feelings of detachment, displacement and groundlessness].

[Footnote. Sociology, in this era of postmodern sensibilities, is under attack. For postmodernists, the assumptions of Enlightenment rationality, traditional Western epistemology, and any supposedly “secure” representation of a reality that exits outside of discourse, are, according to A. J. Vidich and S. M. Lyman (N. K. Denzin and Y. S. Lincoln, 1994), a subgroup of assumptions that fall into “an all-encompassing critical skepticism about knowledge.” As a consequence of the postmodern critique of Sociology, the “inner life” of the individual is either abandoned or not taken seriously. Further, the desire to reach agreement on normative guidelines for scientific practice or argumentative consistency is also not taken seriously. A Self-Awareness theory, as it is proposed in this Thesis, speaks to these concerns while remaining within the discourse of postmodernism.]

This thesis contributes data and a theoretical foundation for why attention frequently focused on private self-consciousness activity facilitates the likelihood of cooperative, self-restrained behavior among individuals, and, by extension, cooperative interaction between groups. A major theoretical premise directing this research project maintains that the need to reconcile ambivalence-inducing thoughts, feelings, and desires has the potential to reshuffle and expand cognitive boundaries (intergroup identities).

The data generated in this research project is directed toward answering two questions: 1) Does a preoccupation with private self-consciousness activity, for example, the tendency to think about feelings, beliefs, values, generalizations, and, self-identity, lead a person to be tolerant of ambivalence and therefore less likely to exhibit prejudiced attitudes?; and, 2) Are people who demonstrate prejudiced attitudes toward African Americans also likely to demonstrate prejudiced attitudes toward persons with physical disabilities? If the answer to the first question is yes, then a new direction would open up for studies of prejudice and intergroup boundary manipulation. If the answer to the second question is yes, then this data, in addition to supporting the juxtaposition of prejudiced attitudes and authoritarian syndrome, [that is, the phenomena of authoritarianism as it is linked with anti-Semitic ideology in the classic work, The Authoritarian Personality (Adorno, et. al., 1950)], would also act to underscore, at the risk of stating the superfluous, that persons with physical disabilities face similar obstacles that confront other racial minorities, for example, discrimination in employment, education, income, and housing.

The sequel will address the interdependent link between prejudiced attitudes and ambivalence. I would like to suggest that on a different level, a more significant level perhaps, acquiring an understanding of ambivalence (as opposed to acquiring an understanding of the specific elements of prejudice), may have an impact on sustaining (or creating) a healthy, caring society; that is, if our common objective is to reduce unnecessary human suffering.

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