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Power, Privilege, and the Primitive Mind: Exploring the Psychology of Prejudice


In this episode of the “Pursuit of Self-Actualization” podcast, we delve into the underlying psychology of power, prejudice, and their impact on society. While recent events, such as the events at the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021, serve as a backdrop, this discussion aims to explore the psychological aspects rather than delve into politics. We examine how the human mind is constructed in response to power and prejudice, drawing on research and historical examples to shed light on the dangerous implications of these dynamics.

The Nature of Prejudice

Prejudice, a preconceived opinion about a person based on their perceived group membership, is an unfortunate natural inclination in humans. To illustrate this, we delve into the famous Robbers Cave experiment of 1954. Psychologists brought two groups of boys to a summer camp, creating a scenario where competition and conflict emerged between them. This experiment highlights how easily divisions can be created within groups and the inherent human inclination towards prejudice.

Historical Context: Slavery and Power Constructs

The discussion then shifts to the historical context of slavery in the United States. The property owners, who initially faced opposition from both indentured servants and slaves, devised a strategy to maintain control by dividing the groups. They gave a sense of authority to the indentured servants, creating a hierarchy where they were positioned above the slaves. Astonishingly, the indentured servants quickly adopted the role of oppressors, mistreating the slaves despite their shared experiences of oppression. This manipulation of power marked the birth of racial constructs in the United States.

The Role of False Science and Justification

To further reinforce these divisions, false scientific theories, such as eugenics, were employed to justify the mistreatment of specific groups. Tragically, this same false science was later used by Adolf Hitler to justify the Holocaust. The Rwandan genocide serves as another example of how prejudice can extend beyond skin color, with divisions based on other factors like religion or political affiliation. Humans have a peculiar tendency to seek superiority within groups and rationalize their beliefs using confirmation bias, often without any factual basis.

Jane Elliott’s Experiment

Jane Elliott’s eye color experiment provides a powerful illustration of prejudice’s impact. By dividing her class of white children based on eye color and assigning superiority to one group, she witnessed how prejudice quickly took hold. The children began exhibiting bullying behaviors, and the designated superior group even outperformed the other academically. Elliott then reversed the roles, and the same pattern emerged. This experiment highlights how easy it is to divide people and create self-fulfilling prophecies based on perceived group superiority.

The Pitfalls of Perceived Authority

Humans possess a complex relationship with perceived authority, whether as authority figures themselves or as obedient followers. The infamous Milgram shock experiment sheds light on the disturbingly high level of obedience individuals can display when instructed by an authority figure. The study examined the justifications offered by SS officers during the Nuremberg trials and aimed to understand how individuals can be persuaded to harm others without justification.


Understanding the psychology of power and prejudice is crucial in building a more inclusive and equitable society. By recognizing our innate biases and the potential for division, we can work towards dismantling harmful power constructs and fostering a sense of empathy and understanding. Overcoming these primitive inclinations is essential to becoming the best version of ourselves and fostering a more harmonious world.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this podcast episode are intended solely for educational purposes and do not reflect any political affiliation. The focus is on understanding the psychological aspects of power and prejudice, rather than promoting any specific ideology or agenda.

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