Could Prejudice be as Simple as an Aversion to Broken Patterns

I’m having an ocular migraine, and will probably have to take a break soon.  Ocular migraines may or may not be followed by a headache – mine aren’t – but they are still a problem.

Mine are fairly typical.  I get what I describe as a neon caterpillar that moves from the lower left of my vision in both eyes migrating across the center and exiting off of the upper right field of vision.  For about 30-45 minutes I will be unable to do anything requiring vision like reading, writing or – in the past – driving.  They aren’t considered a worrisome condition; just a nuisance.  In the past, most of my auras were triggered by sudden bright light; the sun reflecting off of white sand, switching my microscope from oil immersion to low power or looking into the flash of a camera.  Before lost most of my sight I had 2-3 a week at times.  Now I may go months without one, and I am sure that the images arise in the brain rather than in the eye because the neon caterpillar appears in areas that are now blind.

This morning’s migraine was caused by Halle Berry.

I clicked on the MS Edge browser which displays the weather and top news headlines and read, “Berry answers questions about sexual harassment.”  I wondered, “Halle or Marion” and opened the link.  Halle Berry’s face is enough to cause visual disturbances by itself, but I think the screen was just really bright for some reason.


I’m back and the aura, like Elvis, has left the room.  What I really wanted to talk about is an article I started reading yesterday about the root cause of prejudice.  I say, started, because I put my tablet down and when I reopened the article it was gone, replaced by some other stories.

Briefly, a group of psychologists looking at prejudice wondered whether it might just be the result of an innate dislike for “broken patterns.”  People, in general, don’t like things that break a pattern.  On seeing a row of pencils all lined up in a row with one pencil slightly askew, many people will move the odd pencil to fit. 

I’ve been known, in a stranger’s living room, once that person had left the room for a minute, get up and straighten a picture that was not plumb.

Some people have this compulsion much more than others.  The question was, “Are prejudiced people bothered by the broken pattern of a black person in their otherwise white neighborhood, and why do they create a story about what is fundamentally wrong with the person who breaks the pattern?  Could charges that all Muslims are terrorists, or all black people steal, or homosexuals are a threat to family values be simply a justification for the social equivalent of straightening a picture?

It wasn’t hard to find the story on the web.  It was summarized in the Daily Mail, and on CNN

A part of the study involved creating an imaginary group of people called Flurps.  From the beginning of time Flurps had lived in blue houses.  And then one day a Flurp painted his house green.  Conservatives – those who needed order – reacted as strongly toward the imaginary Flurp deviant as they did to what they viewed as social deviants and crooked pictures.  They described being made anxious and disturbed, and used the same words like “weird” for social deviants and pencils out of line.

The question raised by these studies is whether socially deviant groups are described as dangerous because they break a pattern and that loss of pattern causes distress in conservatives rather than a fear of the group causing prejudice?  Conservatives tend to deny it, but in various tests they express fear about various things three times a often as non-conservatives.

This study found that it could be that simple.  Negative reactions occurred in those needing an orderly picture to not only social groups that were seen as breaking the pattern like LGBTQ individuals, Muslims and racial minorities, but also to highly competent individuals who were seen as cold and aloof.  How many people voted for George W. Bush because he seemed like someone they could have a beer with, while Al Gore was seen as wooden and egg headed?

A separate study reported in 2016 from Queensland, Australia found similar results.

And that brings me around to Halle Berry and Barack Obama.  Halle Berry’s features are a mix of white and black characteristics, her skin is in between, and she is physically attractive to men who are not more attracted to other men.

Barack Obama, likewise, is an in-between in features. 

Obama’s success both as a candidate and as a president is not simply a matter of looks.  He is a powerful speaker and his message of “hope and change” resonated.  Yet, Barack stirred up hatred among white men in a way that Halle never did. And Michelle Obama was vilified by conservatives as well. That difference is not just a matter of pattern deviancy. 

I wonder about how the choices that mixed race individuals have to make as children influence the way they are accepted by majority and minority groups.  Halle Berry seems to move easily into white or black society.  Alicia Keyes, on the other hand, made a decision, encouraged by her white mother, to choose, "which group will treat you better", and chose black.  She is arguably as pretty and as in-between in features as Halle.

An image taken on a subway between Astoria and Manhattan was posted on Instagram and went viral.  It was part of the article in the Daily Mail.

It was seen by liberals as a symbol of what could be, and it was seen by conservatives as deeply disturbing.

Views: 1021

Comment by Maui Surfer on February 4, 2018 at 10:36am

I've been trying for 9 years now, that seems impossible, to explain to you all that despite the KKK USA formed by it's genocide herstory and the Southern Strategy in politics that Obama is HAWAIIAN. He is Hapa-Popolo. We raised him, he's ours, though he is the world's now, and we never had a problem with any of it. Over and over again, when posed correctly a psychologist can get a KKK member to admit their real fear is revenge. The Question just has to be asked in a way that that there lower IQs don't process as a trick, though that is exactly what it is, tricking them into telling the truth. They KNOW what happened, and they are so stupid they think today's mixed society, as illustrated by the photo on the train, will want to come after them. Why? Because that is what they would do in the same situation if given the chance, as illustrated by American Politics still being the South's Revenge for getting their white asses kicked. Pathetic, losers, ignoramuses, credulous fools, prejudiced saps ... ah, today's Conservative- just what is they want to conserve anyway, "Leave it to Beaver?"

Comment by Anna Herrington on February 4, 2018 at 11:12am

This one I will be thinking about for awhile, but off the top of my head, it is a truly offensive seeming question that seems to disconnect any humanity at all from the 'study' of diversity acceptance among humans.

To me, to re-shape the discussion of prejudice and racism into the 'stress of pattern deviance' is just a tricky little twist to expecting and demanding conformity in thought, word, deed - and landscape, and color of your house - not to mention color of your skin or the church you attend or not.

Expectations of conformity - which is the ultimate large and looming experience I've had living in the south as a white person - an area with huge 'stress of pattern deviance' no matter the topic/subject/expectation/person. 


Our way or the highway.

"We don't like strangers in our parts."

"My kind."

Using 'pattern deviancy' to me smacks of 'chain migration' and 'entitlements' and on and on -- a skewing of words to attempt to hide the cruel and callous truth of suppression and division and prejudice hidden behind those same words and all the others like them.

Off the top of my head...

but will keep pondering and considering.

Comment by Maui Surfer on February 4, 2018 at 12:02pm

The "South" says it all, quite interesting when members like Anna open up to their true experiences. Faced it, Cavaliers, who already thought they were better than others, couldn't make it in sugar in Barbados, so they moved to South Carolina, killed off the natives, began a 400 year run of enslaving blacks and indenturing Irish, and, if you ask them today, will stay say, with disgusting dripping pride, "We ARE the Sons of Cavaliers ..."

I know the South is slowly getting better in small ways, I know the Millennials are not for the most part like this, though some still are, but, until all the Wallace and Nixon voters simply die this is what we've got.

Comment by Ron Powell on February 4, 2018 at 12:40pm

"The question raised by these studies is whether socially deviant groups are described as dangerous because they break a pattern and that loss of pattern causes distress in conservatives rather than a fear of the group causing prejudice?"

Are you out of your mind?

Socially deviant groups!?

Start with prejudice and what do you expect to end up with?

What  "studies"? Citations and links please!

I am sick and tired of half baked academic wannabes pushing pseudo intellectual bullshit as though it had some meaning, value, or merit...

How do your "studies" explain the racial prejudice of people who have absolutely  no contact with people unlike themselves?

There are places in this country where black and brown people just don't exist except for what's seen or heard on Faux News....  

It may be Obama’s very air of elegance and erudition that raises hackles in some. Some people are prejudiced anyway, and when they look at his education and mannerisms they get more angry at him and Michelle because they don't fit the stereotype.

That is the issue with many "mixed-race" people. They don't fit the stereotype...

"Halle Berry’s face is enough to cause visual disturbances by itself..."

I can't believe that you would articulate such a blatantly racist remark in the context of trying to explain racism away or trivialize the nature of racism....

Your white privilege jumps off the page and is indeed crawling around this post like a bunch of neon caterpillars....

Posts like this give me ocular migraines and I  can assure you that there's absolutely nothing wrong with my eyesight or my vision....

That's because I don't fit the stereotype either....

Comment by Rodney Roe on February 4, 2018 at 2:09pm

Ron, here is a link to the referenced study.  I don't have one to the Australian study.  It came from the Business School in Queensland. The "broken pattern" study came from Yale.

Comment by Anna Herrington on February 4, 2018 at 2:10pm

Still pondering while running errands... and now home.

I will only add for now that I chose the south in comment above while it isn't focused on in post because that is where I lived and experienced the expectations and overpowering crush of conformity - and any real and severe consequences of not toeing the conformity line. and I'm white.

I've lived among prejudiced people in every state I've lived in, so have all of us. But the south is where, in my own life's noticing, prejudice and conformity had ultimate power. How society was geared. (I say 'had' and 'was' as I haven't lived in the south for a long time now and I speak only to what I saw/experienced/felt, there and then..) and now we have that same flawed, conforming, bullying, us and them-ing, viewing of the world - in our president.

(Sometimes I've wondered whether other races think a room full of white people means cohesion and togetherness and pats on the back - and equality or something - not my experience, especially in the south. Among those certain types who demand conformity, those people just keep dividing and judging and 'us and them' -ing down to..... everything. For those types, no need for other races, there's plenty more pattern deviancy to stress out about.... It's the 'us vs them'/"our kind" mentality that seems to be the origin of thought among these certain ones, and if it's all white people in the house then divide, divide, force/expect conformity or you're out along other lines... my experience, anyway.

And this issue may be true among certain humans who think first about 'us vs the other,' not just certain whites... 

Other thoughts that came up for me (so far) on this topic:

To use 'patterns of deviancy,' imho, turns the actual, forceful, powerful, top down "living" push of conformity expectations that transforms into prejudice and racism so easily into some passive twitch of straightening up inanimate objects, as if it can't be helped, as if there is no top down power push/shove.

I don't buy it.

And this is where I grow weary of the deifying of 'science'  and intellectualism (dare I type that??) - as so many scientists and other talking head types - do seem cut off at the neck with only their heads talking and zero connection to their own and others' humanity. 

Don't get me wrong, we need the sciences - crucial, vital, and fascinating - and I appreciate so much a good intellect! I grew up with brainy, thoughtful, well-educated people, I enjoy that aspect so much among my friends - but really, the parsing and specializing, the purely mechanistic views, and far-too-entire lack of systems integrations in field after field, industry after industry, have wreaked havoc.

Symbiotic reasoning and priority is missing too often, it seems to me.

We humans need also to own our connectedness: our messy, complex, flawed, incredible, connected humanity. and I just don't see the usefulness of this sort of cardboard (why 'cardboard,' I don't know, but it fits to me, somehow) positing, I just don't.

Comment by Anna Herrington on February 4, 2018 at 2:16pm

None of my comment directed at you, Rodney, but at the originators of this theory...

just to clarify.

Comment by Rodney Roe on February 4, 2018 at 2:26pm

Your reactions are what I expected. If, as they claim, the tendency to stigmatize is inborn in a large portion of the population then we have to admit that prejudice is not the fault of the person who has it.  That is a huge pill to swallow, because it means you really can't change the basic set-point of people,and the hater's get off the hook.  Some of my life experience, however, suggest that it is true.

What the prejudiced person chooses to exclude from "normal" however is open to change as "normal" changes. 

Maui Surfer, your comment about Obama being a hapa-popolo brings up two points.  Obama's experience from Hawaii to Kansas to Indonesia gave him 1) a world perspective and 2) no experience as a discriminated victim.  I have a Nigerian friend who came to the U.S. on a soccer scholarship, stayed, married a Cherokee-Black woman and raised two kids who never seemed to see themselves as "other".  Aniedi caused all sorts of problems when he came to town filling some position in County government and then had the audacity to act as though he was equal to everyone else.  Lost his job, sued, won and bought a house near ours where he raised his kids.

You would have to tell me, but It seems that discrimination in Hawaii is not based on color or ethnicity since you can see every shade and size - within the same family - so either everyone is other or no one is.  I get the feeling that the only people who run into trouble in Hawaii are white mainlanders who arrive assuming that they will be privileged just for being white.

Comment by Ron Powell on February 4, 2018 at 2:38pm

"My research leads me inescapably to the opinion that the major cause of the American Negro's intellectual and social deficits is hereditary and racially genetic in origin and, thus, not remediable to a major degree by practical improvements in the environment..."

----William Shockley, Noble Prize winner and pioneer of modern electronics...

Your link to the "Yale study" is meaningless...

Crap like that is routinely debunked like the work of Shockley was trashed before it could gain the slightest bit of traction...The fact that a "study was comissioned and completed doesn't make any of the "findings" legitimate. 

Get a grip on yourself before you get lost in the "sauce" of racism and the myriad attempts to justify, rationalize, trivialize or excuse it...

You didn't answer my questions: Are you out of your mind?

How do your "studies" explain the racial prejudice of people who have absolutely no contact with people unlike themselves?

Comment by Rodney Roe on February 4, 2018 at 2:39pm

Ron, my point about Halle Berry is that her in-between-ness makes her seem more acceptable to whites.  White priveledge?  I'm sure it's there and it is unconsciously expressed.  However, I thought this kind of report needed to be talked about because I don't think it tells the whole story or is completely wrong and because, as I stated above, it can be used as an excuse for racist actions.

My hope at the beginning of desegregation was that kids going to school together would begin to see those different from themselves as more like themselves and racism would disappear.  Obviously, it hasn't worked out that way, yet.  it takes more than school.  it takes sharing social activities, going to the same church etc. and that will be a long time happening as society stands now in the lower 48.

If we can't have discussions like this here where can we? 


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