Seven Kinds of Prejudice That Limit Your Well-Being

Prejudices are unconscious and incoherent and often cause you to make the wrong decisions. Recognizing them and deactivating them allows you to shape a more respectful and happy world.
Seven Kinds of Prejudice That Limit Your Well-Being
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 20 October, 2022

There are different types of prejudices that limit your well-being. They’re predetermined and unconscious beliefs that we all have about people, the world, and every reality that surrounds us.

These mental evaluations arise, in many cases, as biases that limit your human potential and even your social harmony. They hinder your relationships with others, simplify your vision of things, and make you act with fear and skepticism instead of facilitating openness and cognitive flexibility.

These types of psychological constructs are, in many cases, the purest expression of illogical thinking.

The psychologist and Nobel Prize winner, Daniel Kahneman, claimed that we all make use of these cognitive resources. Their purpose is to allow us to give quick answers by subjectively filtering the available information.

In fact, it’s a way to simplify the complexity of your environment and make immediate forecasts in contexts of uncertainty. Should you trust that person? Who should you team up with at work? What type of information should you validate? How should you react in a certain circumstance?

Many of your responses and actions are mediated by unconscious prejudices that don’t always lead you to the most successful or desired destination. Let’s take a closer look.

“There is nothing that deceives us more than our own judgment…”

-Leonardo da Vinci-

Couple arguing and thinking about the prejudices that limit your well-being

The need to organize the world into mental categories

Racism, sexism, ageism, homophobia, xenophobia… The prejudices that limit your well-being actually go beyond the categorical dimensions that we all recognize. They’re unconscious and stereotyped mental architectures that reinforce negative attitudes toward many areas of your own reality. Especially toward groups of people.

If you want to know why you create and reinforce them, there are several explanations for this. As the psychologist, Gordon Allport explained in his work, The Nature of Prejudice (1954), prejudices and stereotypes arise due to normal human thought. Indeed, since our world is complex and unpredictable, we need to organize it into mental ‘categories’.

Daniel Kahneman claimed that we all make use of these heuristics (mental shortcuts) to make decisions on a day-to-day basis. These prejudices are also mediated by moral and emotional motivations, the education we received, and the influence of our environment.

Limiting prejudices

Recognizing and deactivating the prejudices that limit your well-being will always start with your ability to become aware that you’re making use of them. For example, simply asking yourself why you reinforce some beliefs about certain people means you’re already making progress.

However, it’s also advisable to review the negative biases that you have a tendency to internalize. They’re as follows:

1. What you don’t know is bad (fear bias)

This bias lays the foundation for most prejudices. It’s the idea that what’s different is dangerous and what you don’t know is bad and, therefore, you must defend yourself. As a matter of fact, prejudice out of fear not only shapes racism, but also self-defensive behavior.

This characteristic defines those people who always prefer the known bad to the unknown good and who respond with concern and even contempt to any change or novelty. In this respect, James Cook University (Australia) conducted an extremely revealing study.

The study claimed that when we’re curious, imaginative, and open to experience, our prejudices are reduced. That’s the key, seeing what’s different, not as a threat, but as a learning opportunity.

Prejudice for fear of what’s different forms the substratum of intolerance and the root that blocks any opportunity for change and human progress.

2. If you look like me, I’ll like you more (affinity bias)

Another prejudice that limits your well-being is understanding the world according to your own experiences and points of view. It means you consider that those who have opposite views or who haven’t gone through the same as you aren’t worthy of your trust or friendship.

The affinity bias suggests that there are many people who’ll always demonstrate unconscious preferences for those who have qualities and experiences similar to theirs.

For example, you’ll tend to look more favorably upon those who have the same political ideas as yourself, who studied at the same university, or who are of the same nationality.

3. Your image tells me everything (physical appearance bias)

Appearance bias is a classic. Indeed, who hasn’t ever exhibited this kind of behavior at some time in their life?

As a matter of fact, most of us tend to prejudge people based on their image and the way they dress. We know that physical appearance always matters, but you must be careful. That’s because you can occasionally fall into the trap of making serious errors of judgment that sharpen the weapons of discrimination.

4. Men and women will never be the same (gender bias)

Among the prejudices that limit your well-being are undoubtedly gender biases. It’s not enough that society itself continues to reinforce certain sexist schemes. In fact, you often continue to internalize certain prejudices that completely limit your own potential.

For instance, some women decide not to opt for managerial or senior positions because they believe that these kinds of positions are intended only for men.

5. Prejudices that limit your well-being (beauty bias)

The prejudice of power and beauty is extremely relevant today. For example, many young people believe that only those with certain physical attributes achieve success. However, if there’s one really debilitating and negative bias, it’s assuming that thinness or beauty opens doors in all scenarios.

The prejudice of power and beauty is sustained by low self-esteem. It’s an emotional bias that limits your potential. That’s because you think that all success or achievement of goals comes only from the physical aspect.

6. One mistake determines everything (horn effect)

People are sometimes really cruel, both to themselves and others. Often, someone only has to make a mistake to be considered untrustworthy or worthless.

The horn effect (derived from the devil’s horns) claims that someone only has to exhibit one bad quality (even if this is only temporary) for it to be considered to be better to stay away from them. Moreover, you can also apply this type of belief to yourself. You only have to make mistakes or be fallible in one aspect of your life to think that you’re a complete disaster.

Woman thinking about the prejudices that limit your well-being

7. When something goes wrong, everything will be worse (straight line bias)

The final prejudice on our list that limits your well-being is assuming that, when something goes wrong, the trend will continue and everything will go the same way. This kind of bias appears in your everyday experiences and situations.

It’s a negativity filter that makes you despair because you prejudge that what starts badly can’t be straightened out.

In conclusion, nothing can be as cathartic for your potential as becoming aware of these psychological constructs. As William James said, much of the time when you think you’re thinking, what you’re really doing is rearranging your prejudices. It’s not the right thing to do.

For this reason, you should try and deactivate them and start to reason as you deserve and need.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Allport GW. The Nature of Prejudice. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley; 1954.
  • Crawford JT, Brandt MJ. Who is prejudiced, and toward whom? The big five traits and generalized prejudice. Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2019;45(10):1455-1467. doi:10.1177/0146167219832335
  • Rouse L, Booker K, Stermer SP. Prejudice. In: Goldstein S, Naglieri JA, eds. Encyclopedia of Child Behavior and Development. Boston, MA: Springer; 2011. doi:10.1007/978-0-387-79061-9_2217
  • Ng DX, Lin PKF, Marsh NV, Chan KQ, Ramsay JE. Associations Between Openness Facets, Prejudice, and Tolerance: A Scoping Review With Meta-Analysis. Front Psychol. 2021 Sep 28;12:707652. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.707652. PMID: 34650474; PMCID: PMC8506218.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.