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The association between personality, cognitive ability and proneness to prejudice towards different social groups


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Matić, Jelena. (2018). The association between personality, cognitive ability and proneness to prejudice towards different social groups. PhD Thesis. Filozofski fakultet u Zagrebu, Department of Psychology.
(Poslijediplomski doktorski studij psihologije) [mentor Bratko, Denis].

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Introduction. Prejudice most often denotes negative attitude towards a social group or its members. Previous studies revealed a positive correlation between prejudices towards different social groups, as well as certain time stability and rank-order stability of prejudice. This suggests that individual's dispositions, along with contextual factors, may play a significant role as antecedents of prejudice. This thesis focuses on personality and cognitive ability as possible precursors of prejudice. Three theories seem to be especially relevant when examining the relationship between dispositions and prejudice: McCrae and Costa’s (2008) meta-theoretical framework of the FiveFactor Theory (FFT) of personality, Duckitt’s (2001) Dual-process motivational model of ideology and prejudice (DPM) and Dhont and Hodson’s (2014) Cognitive Ability and Style to Evaluation (CASE) model. According to the FFT, dispositions (as basic tendencies) should relate to the ideological attitudes (as characteristic adaptations), which should further relate to prejudice, ethnocentrism or discrimination (as objective biography). This is in line with the postulates of the other two relevant theoretical frameworks. As stated in the DPM, the exposure to threatening and competitive social surroundings results in the development of social conformity (i.e. low openness and high conscientiousness) and toughmindedness (i.e. low agreeableness). A person characterized by high social conformity reacts sensitively to signs of threat within society and is eager to protect the established norms at any cost. Individuals characterized by high toughmindedness perceive the world as a competitive jungle and tend to be unattached and interpersonally aversive. These characteristics bring forward the motivational goals for security and power (embodied in the right-wing authoritarianism and social dominance orientation), which ultimately lead to prejudice. Finally, according to the CASE model, lower cognitive ability and higher need for structure, order and predictability enhance the perception of changing social environment as threatening. This leads to the activation of the prevention focus, aimed at keeping the status quo. Perceived threat and prevention focus can further lead to the right-wing, socially conservative attitudes that are related to the resistance to change, and consequently, stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination. The causal order of these models’ components was supported both experimentally and longitudinally. Although this thesis did not comprehensively test any of the above-mentioned theoretical models, it largely aligned with the FFT, the DPM and the CASE model predictions when building its hypotheses. The aim of the study. The aim of the study is to deepen the understanding of the dispositional basis of proneness to prejudice. Empirical study was conducted examining the relationship of personality traits and cognitive ability with generalized prejudice. It also explored the mechanisms underlying the effects of dispositions on generalized prejudice and analyzed the interdependence of dispositional predictors of generalized prejudice. Methodology and data analysis. The study was conducted on a representative sample of secondary school students from the City of Zagreb, Croatia and the Zagreb County. Participants were 17-20 years old and were attending their final year of secondary education (N = 1034). The measures encompassed dispositional variables - Big Five personality traits and cognitive ability, ideological variables - right-wing authoritarianism and social dominance orientation, as well as different measures of prejudice - prejudice towards elderly people, prejudice towards overweight people, prejudice towards individuals with mental illnesses, prejudice towards atheists, prejudice towards gay men and prejudice towards immigrants. The data was analyzed using exploratory factor analysis and series of regression analyses. In addition, structural equation modelling with latent variables was performed. Results and discussion. Results revealed that positive correlation between the measures of prejudice towards overweight people, individuals with mental illnesses, atheists, gay men and immigrants can be explained by the latent g factor of prejudice. Prejudice towards elderly people shared less variance with other measures of prejudice and appeared to be somewhat suboptimal indicator of the g factor of prejudice. Therefore, this indicator was not included in the definition of the generalized prejudice construct. The lower correlation of this specific prejudice measure with the g factor was discussed with respect to the following: the peculiarity of this group as an untypical out-group; the prevailing norm of nurturance of traditional values in contemporary Croatian society; and the opposite direction of its relations to the ideological variables of right-wing authoritarianism [-] and social dominance orientation [+]. Generalized prejudice was strongly positively correlated to right-wing authoritarianism and social dominance orientation and moderately negatively correlated to openness to experience and cognitive ability. There was a low negative correlation of generalized prejudice with neuroticism and low positive correlation of generalized prejudice with extraversion and conscientiousness. The correlation of generalized prejudice with agreeableness was low and statistically insignificant. The ideological variables, followed by openness to experience and cognitive ability, appeared to be the most pertinent correlates of generalized prejudice. The latter is in accordance with the theoretical background and previous empirical evidence about these relationships. In the thesis, only tentative interpretations of the relationships of extraversion, conscientiousness and neuroticism with generalized prejudice were given, since the correlations were low and the earlier findings were incongruent or inconsistent. The unexpected finding revealing the non-significant relationship of agreeableness and generalized prejudice was discussed in regard to the opposing direction of the correlations of agreeableness with right-wing authoritarianism [+] and social dominance orientation [-], as well as regarding the fact that the Big Five Inventory was used as a measure of personality traits. A set of dispositional and ideological variables explained about three quarters of the variance of the generalized prejudice latent variable. The dispositional predictors appeared to be as useful in explaining the variance of generalized prejudice as the ideological variables (with contribution shared with dispositional variables accounted for). The results indicated a statistically significant contribution to the prediction of generalized prejudice by all the individual predictors. The most important predictors were social dominance orientation, rightwing authoritarianism and openness to experience. Importantly, cognitive ability and openness to experience had non-redundant contributions to the explanation of the variance of the generalized prejudice. The present study also investigated the mechanisms underlying the effects of dispositional variables on generalized prejudice. The analysis of direct and indirect effects resulted in several notable conclusions. Firstly, the effect of the openness to experience and cognitive ability on generalized prejudice was threefold: (1.) direct negative effects of these variables suggested that higher openness to experience and higher cognitive ability were associated with lower generalized prejudice; (2.) indirect negative effects via right-wing authoritarianism suggested that individuals with higher openness to experience and higher cognitive ability were more inclined to reject right-wing attitudes and thus had lower generalized prejudice; and (3.) indirect negative effects via social dominance orientation indicated that individuals who were more open to new experiences and had higher cognitive ability were less focused on establishing hierarchy in social relations and thus less inclined to generalized prejudice. Secondly, agreeableness had a dual contrasting effect on generalized prejudice via right-wing authoritarianism and social dominance orientation: (1.) an indirect positive effect via right-wing authoritarianism suggested that more agreeable individuals were more inclined to adhere to right-wing ideology and thus more inclined to generalized prejudice, while (2.) an indirect negative effect via social dominance orientation suggested that the more agreeable individuals were less supportive of social domination and thus, indirectly, less prone to generalized prejudice. Thirdly, the effect of neuroticism on generalized prejudice was twofold: (1.) a direct negative effect suggested that higher neuroticism (trait more characteristic of female compared to male participants) was associated with lower generalized prejudice, while (2.) an indirect negative effect via social dominance orientation suggested that the individuals with higher neuroticism preferred egalitarian social relations and thus demonstrated lower generalized prejudice. Finally, extraversion and conscientiousness had positive effects on generalized prejudice, mediated by the right-wing authoritarianism - more extroverted and conscientious individuals were more inclined to favor right-wing authoritarian tendencies and thus, indirectly, were more inclined to generalized prejudice. Comparing the magnitude of indirect effects of dispositions for which both ideological variables served as mediators of the effect on generalized prejudice, right-wing authoritarianism was found to be more important mediator in the case of openness to experience, and social dominance orientation was found to be more important mediator in the case of agreeableness and cognitive ability. In sum, both right-wing authoritarianism and social dominance orientation appeared to be of vital importance in ensuring the mechanism through which the dispositions exerted its effects to prejudice, since the former mediated the effects of five, and the latter mediated the effects of four (out of six examined) dispositional variables to generalized prejudice. In addition, none of the dispositional variables had exclusively direct effect on generalized prejudice. Rather, indirect effects always followed the identified direct effects. However, it should be borne in mind that the robustness of some (unforeseen) mechanisms might be brought into question by the upcoming research, since the significance of some of the effects may well be influenced by the fact that the analysis was performed on a large sample. Conclusion. The present research contributes to better understanding of the role of personality traits and cognitive ability as precursors of (generalized) prejudice, especially with respect to their interdependence. A deeper understanding of the dispositional basis of proneness to prejudice serves as one of the preconditions for the integration of these constructs into the models that include a wider spectrum of prejudice antecedents. Indirectly, the research fuels further advancement in the study of nature and determinants of prejudice and provides a basis for the development of more effective interventions for prejudice reduction.

Item Type: PhD Thesis
Uncontrolled Keywords: generalized prejudice, personality, cognitive ability, right-wing authoritarianism, social dominance orientation
Subjects: Psychology > Opća psihologija
Psychology > Kognitivna psihologija
Psychology > Psihologija ličnosti
Departments: Department of Psychology
Supervisor: Bratko, Denis
Additional Information: Poslijediplomski doktorski studij psihologije
Date Deposited: 20 Mar 2018 11:46
Last Modified: 24 Jan 2020 00:15

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