Essentialism Promotes Racial Prejudice by Increasing Endorsement of Social Hierarchies

Tara M. Mandalaywala, David M. Amodio, Marjorie Rhodes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Why do essentialist beliefs promote prejudice? We proposed that essentialist beliefs increase prejudice toward Black people because they imply that existing social hierarchies reflect a naturally occurring structure. We tested this hypothesis in three studies (N = 621). Study 1 revealed that racial essentialism was associated with increased prejudice toward Blacks among both White and Black adult participants, suggesting that essentialism relates to prejudice according to social hierarchy rather than only to group membership. Studies 2 and 3 experimentally demonstrated that increasing essentialist beliefs induced stronger endorsement of social hierarchies in both Black and White participants, which in turn mediated the effect of essentialism on negative attitudes toward Black people. Together, these findings suggest that essentialism increases prejudice toward low-status groups by increasing endorsement of social hierarchies and existing inequality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)461-469
Number of pages9
JournalSocial Psychological and Personality Science
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 1 2018


  • essentialism
  • intergroup bias
  • prejudice
  • race
  • social hierarchy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology


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