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Read time13 mins

Theory: What makes people prejudiced?

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What makes some people more intolerant and prejudiced?

How do you recruit the right people to ensure a diverse friendly workforce?

The degree to which a person will be prejudice comes down to matters of nature and nurture. Genetic characteristics that influence a person’s level of tolerance include cognitive ability, integrity & personality. Nurturing factors that impact whether a person is likely to be intolerant are skills, experience, and values.

A big determinant of inclusiveness is simply a person’s exposure to diversity.

Let’s explore this further.

Key factors that determine someone's tolerance and inclusivity

Watch the video to understand the different factors that contribute to someone's levels of intolerance and prejudices, so you can recruit the right people and create an inclusive and welcoming workplace.

Watch the next video in this series here:

Part 2 – Research Findings: What Makes People Intolerant

And if you know of anyone who would benefit from this video, please share it with them.

Video Transcript

Hi, Andrew from SACS, and welcome to video number one, in our six video series about creating the inclusive workforce.

In this video, we are going to be talking about a theory of what makes people prejudice, and this will underpin the following five videos.

And the following five videos will give you some really interesting research findings about what makes people tolerant and intolerant, research findings about tolerance and intolerance within organisations, key drivers of tolerance and intolerance, and then talking about what you can do about tolerance and intolerance, once you’ve got the workforce that you’ve got, will be in video number five, talking about leadership for tolerance and inclusion.

And number six will be giving you some really practical tips about how to manage tolerance and intolerance to create a more tolerant and inclusive workforce.

Two levers – Recruitment and leadership

So the first reality that you need to embrace about creating a tolerant workforce is that you really have two levers to create the kind of workforce that you want to have.

Lever number one is your recruitment practises, the people that you let in through the front door every day.

Lever number two is how you lead them once they’re in.

That’s all you got, how we recruit and how we lead them.

So in the first few videos in this sequence we’ll be talking much more about how to recruit the right people.

In the final couple of videos, we’re talking very specifically about leadership and about techniques to maximise the receptiveness of people to inclusion and their enthusiasm for making a more inclusive workforce.


Now, the degree to which people are discriminatory or inclusive really comes down to a matter of nature and nurture.

So the degree to which people welcome diversity and are tolerant to it is partially a genetic characteristic.

And so for instance, we’ll talk about cognitive ability, and we’ll be showing you some research findings, otherwise known as IQ or intelligence or aptitudes, how smart people are does have an effect on the degree to which they are welcoming of diversity.

And we’ll show you that research in subsequent videos within this series.

But ultimately, the smarter you’re the less likely it is that you are going to be discriminatory.


The second component is this thing called integrity, and I don’t particularly like that term.

But integrity is a form of assessment that’s used in psychometrics integrity tests, and people who do better on integrity tests which are really measures of how likely people are to do bad things.

If people have positive characteristics in that respect, they are more likely to be inclusive.

If they have negative characteristics which also corresponds with things like doing bad things to the organisation like theft and ignoring your policies and also doing bad things to colleagues which is called interpersonal counterproductive work behaviours, counterproductive work behaviours being bad things to do.

If people are likely to undertake interpersonal counterproductive work behaviours.

Well, not surprisingly, they’re not concerned that much about being discriminatory towards people who are in that workplace with them.


And then there’s a thing called personality.

And personality has a big impact on whether people are likely to be inclusive or not.

So certain characteristics make people more likely to be discriminatory than others.

And so for instance, personality characteristics which are about being generous and open minded and warm tend to cause people to be more likely to be inclusive than if people don’t score high on those things.

Which means that they’re more likely to be discriminatory, exclusive, maybe a little bit in group biased.

So, not welcoming of people who are not like them.

Now, the reason that this is all on the nature side is that turns out that cognitive ability intelligence or IQ, probably about 70% genetically determined, some say 80, some say a little less.

But twin studies show that there’s a strong genetic component.

Integrity which is the probability of doing good or bad stuff.

Probably about 50% genetically determined, and personality, let’s say, it’s between 60 and 75% genetically determined.

I would probably say about 70.

You do get estimates as low as 50 but virtually also psychologists agree that the majority of personality doesn’t actually change much during the course of a person’s life. And tends to correlate very heavily in twin studies.

Identical twin separated birth tend to have quite high correlations from a personality point of view, even though they’ve never met each other.

Of course, then there are the things that are acquired in the course of life.

Skills, experience and attitudes

This is the nurture side of the equation.

So your skills are acquired in the course of life.

Your experience is acquired in the course of life and your attitudes, your style, attitudes, and values.

So it’s not surprising that for instance, if you grow up in an environment where it’s extremely normal to be discriminatory, well, that’s just the thing to be.

And it’s the most natural thing in the world.

On the other hand, if you grow up in an environment where people are naturally more inclusive, and that is the cultural norm, then of course if you are discriminatory, it’s going to be seen as a bad thing by people around you.

Exposure to diversity

I think at this point, it’s really important to say though that one of the big determinants of inclusiveness is purely and simply people’s exposure to diversity.

So for instance, if you grow up in a country where there is a very monocultural ethnic background, what you’ll tend to find is that people will be more discriminatory from a racism point of view than if people grow up in a multicultural environment.

So for instance, I’m creating this video in Australia, and Australia in fact is one of the most multicultural places on earth.

It’s had a very free immigration policy for decades now. And so what that means is that we import human beings in Australia to the tune of 100 to 200,000 per annual, we historically have.

We’re just coming out of the COVID shutdown. And certainly, we didn’t do that for the last couple of years. And what you find is that under those circumstances, people who grow up in very ethnically diverse environments tend to be more ethnically tolerant.

Because I mean, how can you just discriminate against somebody that you’ve grown up with and you’ve formed a friendship with and so forth?


Now, the data also shows that as people are older they tend to be more discriminatory.

And it doesn’t mean that people become more discriminatory as they age.

What it means is that the people who are older grew up in a less ethnically diverse culture, and so they tend to be much less tolerant than people who are growing up now because of the fact that the culture is much more ethnically diverse and they have more exposure.

So then nurture characteristics.

Later on in this series of videos, we’ll show you some data about the nature of people’s skills from an interpersonal point of view that make them better at being inclusive.

So we’ll talk about the fact that some people feel that they have the capacity to know how to modify their behaviours around people come from different backgrounds be they ethnic, or lifestyle, or sexual preference. So there are some skills involved in this as well.

And of course, also there are a bunch of attitudinal things as I mentioned earlier.

Social dominance

I’m going to show you now a graphic which comes from a colleague of mine Jeremy Anglim from Deakin University (refer to video). And Jeremy and myself have been involved in a research partnership for years now, and a very fertile research partnership, many publications, but also we’ve created Intellectual Property which has led to products for our clients.

And he came up after doing a literature review with a theory that says that there are really four pathways to intolerance.

Pathway number one is what’s called a social-dominance pathway. And the idea of social-dominance is, “Well, I’m better than other people. So I should look down on them.”

So if I’m better than people who don’t come from the same ethnic background, or let’s say I have a certain sexual preference, I’m superior to people who don’t have that sexual preference.

You can understand how social dominance, the idea that I want to be on top of some social pile. can cause me to be less tolerant. And in fact, there are measures that can be used for this. One of them, you’ll see low honesty-humility.

In subsequent videos, we’ll show you some research from a thing called the HEXACO model of personality. And the HEXACO model of personality has this characteristic called honesty-humility, which means I am honest, and truthful, and not arrogant.

Well, if I’m arrogant, it means that I’m more likely to want to see myself as socially dominant.

So if there are high scores in that amongst people who are less tolerant then that’s support for this social dominance pathway.

Also values, self-enhancement as opposed to self-transcendent.

Well, self-enhancement is values from the Schwartz portrait values questionnaire, and we’ll show you that result also in subsequent videos.

But what that shows you is that people who have values which are all about getting on top of the world, being ambitious, getting ahead financially, they are more likely to be intolerant than people who are more about trying to make the world a better place, or be generous to other people.


Then there’s a thing called the ego-threat pathway.

Have you ever felt that sometimes people are intolerant for reasons of fear, for reasons of being uncomfortable, for reasons of lacking that sort of confidence to be themselves, to be in their own skin? Well, this theory says that that’s one of the reasons why people are intolerant.

And one of the indicators of that is the personality characteristic of low social self-esteem.

Social self-esteem is all about, “I feel comfortable. I believe I’m a likeable person. I believe I’m a good person.”

So the theory here is that maybe people who are not like that, people who are real self doubters, might be more discriminatory against other people, kind of almost to shore up their own self image.


Then there’s the conservatism pathway.

Well, when I was growing up, we didn’t have all of this diversity, we didn’t have people who came from this country, or we didn’t have people dressing in a certain way, or we didn’t have people openly having certain sexual preferences.

And so conservatism can be a cause for intolerance. And there are markers here.

One is the personality characteristic called openness.

And so openness is really a largely genetic liking for new things. T

he idea here is that if somebody has a liking for new things, maybe they’re likely to be more tolerant of new lifestyles or new ethnicities or new sexual preferences or whatever.

And also values related to conservatism. Values are a measure of the degree to which a person has certain goals in life.

And if a person’s goals in life, values being in fact not so much genetically determined, but largely learned in the course of life, but still they’re pretty enduring.

So if my values are, I’ve been educated to believe that it’s better the way things were in the past, and we should stick with what we’ve got, and we should not be so open to new things, then of course, that’s more likely to make me intolerant.

Low cognitive complexity

And then finally, a pathway for low cognitive complexity, so low IQ and low openness.

In very large studies, the personality characteristic of openness to experience, which is all about being broad minded and about being welcoming of new things, does correlate with a person’s cognitive ability.

So smarter people also at the same time tend to be more broad minded and tend to like new things more.

Now, so how about this? It’s possible that people who aren’t very smart tend to be more discriminatory largely because of the fact that they just can’t cope with the complexity.

They don’t don’t feel comfortable with complex ideas.

I mean, a complex idea might be, well, I really don’t like this social group, but this person is fantastic.

There’s a sort of an inherent contradiction there, isn’t there? And a person with low IQ may struggle with that. So those are four pathways to intolerance.

And if you follow the subsequent videos in this series, particularly two, three, and four, you’ll see that we examined these four pathways.

And here’s my own spoiler alert. Well, actually we demonstrate that these four pathways are in fact keys in why people are intolerant.

The next video in the sequence will be showing you some research findings about what makes people tolerant and intolerant at the individual level. What is it that drives it as an individual?

The subsequent video will be talking much more about tolerance and intolerance within organisations, including a thing called diversity climate, the degree to which people believe that the organisation is inclusive and welcoming of diversity.

And then we’ll be talking to you about some key drivers of tolerance and intolerance, then subsequently moving on to what you should do about it.

Join us for video number two, to find out some really interesting data and some conclusions about what causes people to be tolerant and intolerant.

Watch the next video in this series to find out more about creating a diversity friendly workforce:

Part 2 – Research Findings: What Makes People Intolerant

And if you’d like some help to ensure your next hire is tolerant, contact us about our Psychometric Assessments.

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