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Automatic Antecedents of Discrimination


In increasingly diverse societies, discrimination against social groups and their members continues to be a public and political concern. Research has addressed three basic cognitive processes that precede discrimination: categorization, stereotype/prejudice activation, and stereotype/prejudice application, suggesting that these processes occur in an automatic fashion. However, there are multiple components of automaticity, including unawareness, efficiency, unintentionality, and uncontrollability. Most of the previous research implies that these components of automaticity converge with respect to cognitive antecedents of discrimination. Here, we review evidence on the distinct components of automaticity in order to assess whether (a) categorization, (b) stereotype/prejudice activation, and (c) stereotype/prejudice application occur (1) without awareness, (2) efficiently, and (3) goal-independently. We highlight evidence indicating convergence or divergence of the automaticity components during each of the processing stages. This analysis provides readers with an up-to-date review that helps to evaluate whether a multi-component approach to automaticity is of additional benefit in aggregating knowledge about the cognitive antecedents of discrimination. We discuss open issues and avenues for future research.

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