Why Do People Discriminate Against Others?


Discrimination, in any form, is a grave issue that continues to persist in societies around the world. It involves treating individuals or groups unfairly based on certain characteristics such as race, gender, religion, nationality, or disability. This article aims to delve into the various reasons why people discriminate against others, exploring the psychological, sociological, and historical aspects that contribute to this unfortunate behavior.

1. Lack of Understanding and Empathy

One of the primary reasons behind discrimination is the lack of understanding and empathy towards individuals who are different from oneself. People tend to fear what they do not comprehend, and this fear can manifest in discriminatory behavior. By failing to put themselves in the shoes of others, individuals may fail to recognize the shared humanity and rights that all individuals possess.

1.1 Cultural Stereotypes

Cultural stereotypes play a significant role in perpetuating discrimination. Stereotypes are generalized beliefs about certain groups of people based on their cultural, racial, or ethnic background. These preconceived notions can lead to biases and assumptions, ultimately resulting in discriminatory actions.

1.2 Lack of Exposure and Diversity

Another factor contributing to the lack of understanding and empathy is the absence of exposure to diverse cultures, experiences, and perspectives. When individuals are only surrounded by people who are similar to them, they may struggle to empathize with those who are different. Exposure to diversity can help broaden one’s understanding and reduce discriminatory attitudes.

2. Fear and Insecurity

Fear and insecurity are powerful motivators for discrimination. When individuals feel threatened by others who are different from them, they may resort to discriminatory behavior as a means of asserting power or protecting their own interests.

2.1 Fear of the Unknown

The fear of the unknown can drive discriminatory behavior. When individuals encounter something unfamiliar or different, they may feel anxious and insecure. This fear can lead to a desire to maintain the status quo and resist change, often resulting in discrimination against those who challenge societal norms.

2.2 Economic Insecurity

Economic insecurity, such as competition for resources or job opportunities, can also fuel discrimination. When individuals perceive that their economic well-being is threatened by specific groups, they may resort to discriminatory practices as a way to protect their own interests.

3. Socialization and Upbringing

The way individuals are socialized and brought up greatly influences their attitudes and behaviors towards others. Discrimination can be learned through socialization processes, perpetuated by family, peers, and societal norms.

3.1 Family Influence

Family plays a crucial role in shaping an individual’s beliefs and values. If individuals are raised in households where discriminatory attitudes and behaviors are prevalent, they are more likely to adopt similar viewpoints.

3.2 Peer Pressure

Peers and friends also have a significant influence on shaping one’s attitudes and behaviors. If individuals are surrounded by peers who engage in discriminatory practices, they may feel pressure to conform and participate in such behavior in order to fit in.

4. Power Dynamics and Structural Discrimination

Discrimination is not solely a result of individual attitudes; it can also be rooted in power dynamics and structural inequalities within society.

4.1 Historical Context

Historical events and systemic inequalities can shape the power dynamics between different groups, leading to discrimination. Past injustices and inequalities, such as colonialism, slavery, or apartheid, can create lasting divisions and perpetuate discriminatory practices.

4.2 Institutional Discrimination

Institutional discrimination refers to discriminatory practices and policies embedded within societal institutions such as education, employment, and criminal justice systems. These structures can perpetuate discrimination by favoring certain groups while marginalizing others.

5. Cognitive Biases

Cognitive biases, which are inherent in human thinking processes, can also contribute to discriminatory behavior.

5.1 Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias refers to the tendency to seek out information that confirms one’s existing beliefs while ignoring or dismissing contradictory evidence. This bias can lead individuals to reinforce their discriminatory attitudes and dismiss alternative perspectives.

5.2 Ingroup Bias

Ingroup bias is the tendency to favor individuals who belong to the same group as oneself. This bias can lead to discrimination against individuals who are perceived as outsiders or different, further perpetuating divisions within society.

6. The Role of Media and Propaganda

The media and propaganda can significantly influence public opinion and perpetuate discriminatory attitudes.

6.1 Stereotyping and Portrayals

Media often perpetuates stereotypes through its portrayal of certain groups, reinforcing biases and contributing to discriminatory attitudes. Biased representations can create negative perceptions and perpetuate discrimination against these groups.

6.2 Political and Ideological Manipulation

Propaganda can be used as a tool to manipulate public opinion and foster discriminatory attitudes. By spreading misinformation and promoting divisive ideologies, political leaders and entities can fuel discrimination and social divisions.


Discrimination is a complex issue with deep-rooted causes. Understanding these causes is crucial for developing strategies to combat discrimination and promote inclusivity and equality. By addressing the lack of understanding, fear and insecurity, socialization processes, power dynamics, cognitive biases, and media influence, societies can work towards creating a more tolerant and inclusive future for all.


1. Why do people discriminate based on race?

Discrimination based on race is often rooted in historical contexts where certain racial groups were oppressed or considered inferior. This historical legacy, combined with biases and stereotypes, contributes to racial discrimination.

2. Can discrimination be unlearned?

Yes, discrimination can be unlearned through education, exposure to diversity, and promoting empathy and understanding. It requires efforts at both individual and societal levels to challenge discriminatory beliefs and practices.

3. Are all forms of discrimination equally harmful?

All forms of discrimination have harmful effects on individuals and society. However, the severity of the harm may vary depending on the context and the specific characteristics targeted by discrimination.

4. How can we promote inclusivity and reduce discrimination?

Promoting inclusivity requires creating environments that celebrate diversity, educating people about different cultures and perspectives, implementing anti-discrimination policies, and fostering empathy and understanding among individuals.

5. Is discrimination a natural behavior?

While humans may have a natural tendency to categorize and differentiate, discrimination as a form of unfair treatment is not inherent or unavoidable. It is a learned behavior influenced by various factors discussed in this article.

6. What is the difference between discrimination and prejudice?

Prejudice refers to preconceived opinions or attitudes towards a person or group, often based on stereotypes. Discrimination, on the other hand, involves unfair treatment or actions based on those prejudices.

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