In the analysis of complex phenomena such as prejudice, stereotyping and discrimination, researchers often oscillate between two possible types of explanations. On the one side, attention is paid to the individual characteristics that facilitate the expression of negative evaluations of others: for instance, authoritarianism, social dominance orientation, close mindedness or conservatism are considered as stable predictors of prejudice. On the other side, contextual variations and group processes are thought to be the key factors: according to this view, the contextual salience of group membership, intergroup comparisons, social norms or perceived threat, may overcome the importance of individual differences and, thus, generally lead to prejudice and discrimination. Despite the fact that these two explanations are often treated as opposite, the prediction of prejudice could be more reliable and successful if their interplay is taken into account.
In this special issue, we present four papers that follow this intriguing direction. Hewstone, Clare, Newheiser, and Voci show that religious prejudice is associated to the combination between individual differences — religious affiliation, intergroup contact and social dominance orientation — and a specific type of situational threat — mortality salience. In a similar vein of research, Bosetti, Voci, and Pagotto analyze the relation between religious orientations — that is ways in which individuals live their religious affiliation — and different types of prejudice, which manifestation is regulated by social norms of proscription. The interplay between individual differences and social context is considered also in the research by Pica and Pierro, who demonstrate that prevention and promotion orientations are not steadily related to prejudice, as their influence is moderated by a specific feature of the social context: group status. Finally, Vezzali and Giovannini turn to the topic of prejudice reduction, showing that this phenomenon can be clarified when multiple features are simultaneously considered: to this aim, they elaborate a model that takes into account intergroup contact, social dominance orientation and generalization processes.
Overall, the four papers exemplify possible ways of combining individual differences and contextual variations, with the aim of explaining, in its full complexity, the phenomenon of prejudice. We believe that this promising avenue should be followed also in the future, in the attempt to find the “middle way” between two approaches that are clearly different, but not irreconcilable.Back