Social psychologist Amy Cuddy and her colleagues have developed a "theory of prejudice" that goes deeper than a simplistic us-versus-them mindset. According to her research, when the world feels volatile or the economy is tanking, groups that are stereotyped as both "cold" ("unfriendly" and "untrustworthy") and "competent" ("ambitious, intelligent and skillful") are more likely to be targeted for, um, extermination. According to Cuddy's op-ed in the the New York Times, "a widespread stereotype of Jewish people, like that of other socioeconomically successful minorities such as Asian-Americans, falls in the competent-but-cold quadrant."
People assume that socioeconomically successful groups must be competent and that disadvantaged groups must be incompetent. Likewise, groups that are viewed as competitors — for status, for resources — get stereotyped as cold, whereas groups that are viewed as allies get stereotyped as warm...
In-groups and “cultural reference” groups (the middle class and Christians are common examples in the United States) are stereotyped as warm and competent — a wholly positive category. In stark contrast, groups on society’s margins who are blamed for their plight and viewed as a drain on resources (common examples include homeless people and drug addicts) are stereotyped as cold and incompetent — a wholly negative category. Discrimination against groups stereotyped in this way is typically expressed through disregard, stigmatizing and ostracizing...
But when times get tough, envious prejudices can ignite. Societal breakdown, harsh economies or political turmoil can activate resentment toward high-status minorities, who are seen as competitors for limited resources or even dangerous enemies. The stereotyped competence of such groups, when they are suspected or accused of “cold” ill will, suddenly represents a serious threat. Envy toward these groups becomes volatile, mutating into anger and spurring the most extreme forms of discrimination — intentional harm and even annihilation.
"The Psychology of Anti-Semitism" (New York Times)
"Warmth and Competence as Universal Dimensions of Social Perception: The Stereotype Content Model and the BIAS Map" (PDF)
image: Gates of the Jewish Memorial at Dachau, Jason Weisberger
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