How we look at the world may be strongly influenced by the way we were raised or the company we keep, but according to a new study published in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science, our prejudice can sometimes stem from a deeper psychological urge to avoid ambiguity.

Arne Roets and Alain Van Hiel of Ghent University in Belgium have reason to believe that we are quick to generalize people because a part of us dislikes uncertainty. Unfortunately, our need for quick answers can lead to sweeping declarations that aren’t necessarily true. "The easiest and fastest way to judge is to say, for example, OK, this person is a black man. If you just use your ideas about what black men are generally like, that's an easy way to have an opinion of that person," Roets said.

Society itself is built on the foundation of prejudice, which has often been used to "reduce complexity." Furthermore, according to Roets, it's common for people to feel the need to categorize the world. Whether or not we are conscious of it, this is something we tend to apply in our everyday lives—from choosing which restaurants to eat at to the movies we watch and even the people we hang out with.

Besides this, while prejudice is generally discounted as a bad thing, the researchers think that some good can still come out of it. If we meet a foreigner who happens to have very good manners, it is likely that we’ll have the same opinion of other people from the same country. "This is very much about salient positive information taking away the aversion, anxiety, and fear of the unknown," Roets explained.

For more on prejudice and stereotypes, try these:

(Photo by *saipal via Flickr Creative Commons)

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