KNOWLEDGE AND PREJUDICE

     In the world of Harry Potter there are those who possess magic (wizards, witches, and such) and those who do not. Us unlucky magicless individuals are often discriminatingly referred to as “muggles”. Many of the pure-blooded magical individuals tend to have very negative and disparaging views of muggles.

     Even though this is a fictional magical world, we can apply some cognitive reasoning for the prejudicial behavior we might see in these characters. The explanation for their experiences and beliefs is likely not that different from what goes on in the real-world.

Image of Alecto Carrow from Harry potter movies

The (Unofficial) Story of Alecto Carrow

     As a young girl Alecto Carrow heard a lot of stories about muggles, most of them being negative. The rumors and stories she heard from her friends and family described them as greedy, heartless, and thieving individuals. They could not be trusted and they had a tendency towards violence. They love to blame others for their problems and find the shortcuts to success in life.

     On a family visit to the magicless world of the muggles, she witnesses a small gang of teenagers rush into a nearby shop to rob the elderly caretaker of candies and drinks. The experience was powerful evidence for everything she had heard up until now. Over time she came to the conclusions that all muggles really were terrible people. She eventually formed her own beliefs that most, if not all, were liars, crooks, and dangerous.

         Alecto generally avoided having to interact with muggles as much as possible. However, on one memorable occasion she met a fellow named Frank. He had come to her household to tend to her family’s garden. Alecto was immediately cautious of him and always kept a close eye on him when he was around. She was certain that if she stopped watching him for even just a second, he would sneak into the house and rob them blind. She was certain of this.

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Task: I want you to consider the (not J.K. Rowling approved) story of Alecto Carrow’s upbringing from a social-cognitive perspective. Her experiences are not unlike the experiences of people in the real-world who may also hold negative beliefs about others. I want us to use this chapter’s information to dissect how Alecto formed her prejudicial beliefs.

  1. Considering network models of knowledge, name the effect that took place in Alecto’s mind as she encountered information about muggles. Describe how the experiences she had led to her beliefs. | (3 points)
  2. What type of cognitive effect are we seeing when Alecto meets Frank, someone she knows very little about, for the first time ever?
    (Hint: I know she’s being “prejudiced”, so I’m not asking that). | (2 point)

It’s very challenging overcoming prejudicial beliefs. Let’s consider what might and might not have been effective in changing Alecto’s mind.

  1. Suppose you gave Alecto a book or pamphlet about muggle history and behavior. It contains both positive and negative information about them.
    1. What does memory integration say is likely to happen with the positive and negative information you present her? (3 points)
  2. Given everything we have learned about memory and knowledge up to this point, what would be the most effective way to change her negative stereotypes about muggles? | (2 points)

Note: This is a cognitive class so avoid using a purely social perspective. Do not discuss group think, group membership, polarization of opinion, or social stereotyping. Focus on knowledge structures and chapter material for your answer. Also avoid personal opinions; we’re a science class after all!