Stereotypes are beliefs about personsbased on where they belong within a group. Generally, they can be positive, neutral, or negative. Stereotyping based on sex, tribe, or occupation are common in a number of societies. For example, people may view a woman as loving and nurturing, while viewing sales agents as being dishonest about their products. A white man is viewed to be superior to a black one. Women are viewed as underdogs[SRW1] in a marriage, while men are viewed as heads of their families. Society is more forgiving to a woman who stays outside her matrimonial home than to a man who commits adultery. Stereotypes are there to stay with us[SRW2] throughout the ages and generations. They are not easy to change because of the various factors that require consideration before undertaking the changes.
First, when people meet situations that do not support their beliefs in a given group, they are likely to assume that those situations are not typical subtypes of that given group (Brown, 1995). For example, Chris stereotypes that gay men are nonathletic. When he meets Peter, who is athletic, he assumes that he does not typically represent gay people. Secondly, people perceive others according to their own expectations. For example,Kate stereotypes that elderly people are usually mentally unstable. While going home one day, she sees an elderly woman shouting and talking to herself. She readily concludes that the old woman is mad. According to her stereotype of old people, the old woman is talking to herself because she is mad. Yet, the woman was actually on her cell phone![SRW3]
People selectively choose to recall the instances that confirm their stereotypes while ignoringthose that disconfirm them. For example,James stereotypes Latin Americans as not academically motivated. To justify his belief, he mentions some of his classmates, Latin Americans, [SRW4]who had failed to read the class material given to them. However, he fails to recall the times when the same Latino classmates completed their assignments in time. This idea is of much relevance in our study.
Stereotypes have many significant functions. They allow quick procession of new information about people or events. They help organize people's experiences. Stereotypes also help people assess their differences meaningfully, both in individual members and groups. Stereotypes can be used to predict, to some extent, other people's behaviors.
The word 'stereotype' has been met with [SRW5]negative connotations, for understandable and good reasons. For instance, negative stereotypes about a particular group can have a terrible impact on people's lives. Being African does not necessarily mean that one is inferior; however, when one is judgedbased on the color of his or herskin, and not the [SRW6]character, the person feels inadequate, less confident, and resents towards the whites. However,stereotypes help a good number of [SRW7]people to function in the society. Picture this: [SRW8]a woman is late from work. She walks alone a secluded street. Suddenly, in the dark, she sees a group of young men walking towards her, talking loudly-[SRW9]and they appear to be rough. The woman decides to cross the street and to hide insome convenient store until the rowdy men pass and then continues with her walk home. Though she acted prudently, her actions were predicted, given the circumstances. The woman mainly relied on a stereotype: that young, rowdy men are violent, to guide this behavior (Salinas, 2003).
Stereotypes sometimes result in distortions of realities; this happens for several reasons. They make people magnify differences among groups of people. In Kenya, there are two tribes that have long fought each other over historical land issues. The tribes are Kikuyu and Luo. [SRW10]The Kikuyus believe that the Luo community is violent, while the Luos believe the Kikuyus are cunning. The animosities between the two run through the generations due to the stereotypes.
People focus on the information that supports their stereotypeswhile ignoring the information that disconfirms it[SRW11]. Stereotypes tend to make one group of people see the other group as mainly uniform in their actions and behaviors, even though they see themselves as heterogeneous. However, where did the tendency to stereotype originate from?[SRW12]Evolutionary psychologists speculate that human beings evolved this tendency since it offered their ancestors an adaptive edge. Stereotypes were needed for survival purposes; theyhelped people decide where they belonged (Salinas, 2003).Thus, peoplewere able to separate between friends and foes. Evolutionary psychologists have speculated that humans evolved the tendency to stereotype because it gave their ancestors an adaptive advantage. Being able to decide quickly which group a person belonged to may have had survival value, since this enabled people to distinguish between friends and enemies. Xenophobia, the fear of strangers, evolutionary scientists believe, is genetic. Their argument is that the human mind is programmed to respond positively to people with similar genes and negatively to people with different genes.[SRW13]
The topic of 'stereotypes in social psychology' cannot be exhaustively covered without studying an equally important topic-prejudice. By definition, a prejudice is a negative belief or a feeling about particular groups of individuals. They are always passed on from one generation to another.[SRW14] Prejudices are destructive, since they serve to legitimize many psychological, economic, and social functions. In most cases, they allow human beings to overcome doubt and fear (Dixon, 2012). Consider the following example: John's parents came from a low-class background, but they are now wealthy entrepreneurs. John may choose to dislike the working class, since he does not want to identify with them. He passionately believes that associating with the working class would be damaging to hisnew social status, the upper class. People can use prejudices as scapegoats during trouble times. Here, people use prejudices to justify their actions and behaviors. Visualize this: [SRW15]Thomas is jobless in his own country, while the foreign citizens in the same country are underemployed. He believes that these foreigners are incompetent, but are willing to work for low wages. Prejudice boosts self-esteem of a person. A poor white peasant farmer in the slavery era could probably have a sense of well-being by affirming his authority over his inferior black employees.
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Evolutionary psychologists speculate that prejudices make it possible for a personto have a sense of belonging to their social group. On the contrary, prejudices help them alienate themselves from the outside groups. Religious prejudices help church members believe that their doctrines are superior to or better than [SRW16]those of other churches. In fact, it is prejudice that fuels enmity between Christians and Muslims. The Muslims, for instance, believe in Jihad, the Holy War[SRW17].[SRW18] On the contrary, Christians do not believe in murder due the preaching they get from their churches [SRW19](Dixon, 2012).
Prejudice justifies discrimination, since it apparently[SRW20] legitimizes the dominance of one group over the other. It is prejudicing[SRW21] that fueled[SRW22] slavery and slave trade. The whites believed, and some still do, that they were superior to the blacks. The famous Apartheid[SRW23] in South Africa was a result of a prejudice. It led to segregation of the blacks in work places, public offices, and places of accommodation.
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Different types of prejudice existdepending on the different criteria they are based on. The common ones include:
Race: under this, people are judged along the racial lines.
Ethnicity: as per this, people judgeothers based on their ethnic background.
Gender: under this, people are judged based on their sex.
Religion: as per this, people are judged based on their religious beliefs.
[SRW24]Other prejudices include those based onweight, looks, sexual orientation, education, profession, disability, sickness (both mental and physical),age, class, one's taste in music or clothes. People are judged by how they dress up. Much respect is attached to those who dress up fancily. People who wear less appealing clothes are not as [SRW25]respected. Older people are given more respect than the young. They are believed to be wiser (Salinas, 2003). The[SRW26] society treats those who are straight, in terms of sexual orientation, [SRW27]with much[SRW28] adoration than those whose sexual orientations are questionable, [SRW29]like gays and lesbians. Those with good careers are naturally respected. They are consideredthe cream of the society. On the contrary, those with less appealing jobsor theunemployed are despised. The taste in music or fashion can be used to judge peopleas well.
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Studies find it increasingly difficult to measure prejudice. A reason to explain this is that [SRW30]people possessdifferent types and extents of prejudice in their behaviors. For instance, a person making insulting remarks about a given ethnicity is seen as just ignorant (Dixon, 2012). Again, people sometimes deny admitting cases of prejudice. Research shows that people often possess implicit unconscious prejudices, although they do not necessarily exhibit explicit prejudices. Research studies assess implicit prejudice according to different criteria.Some researchers examine attitudes that implore prejudice, like a strong emotional adamancy to an affirmative action. Others are more interested in behavior rather than in attitudes. One’s behavior in a stressful situation is useful in exposing implicit prejudice.
Yet some researchers study the unconscious attachments people place on specific groups. People’s social identities are greatly influenced by the groups they belong to. From anindividual perspective,any group that onechooses is an in-group,while any group onedoes notchoose is an out-group. Generally, people have a lower opinion of the out-group members and a higher opinion of the members of their own group. Chances are that the rival out-groups prejudice against those who incline towards a given group. The tendency to perceive one’s owngroup as composed of a diversity of people justifies thebehavior of a group member. Concurrently, the members of the in-groupview everyone in theout-group as being the same. From the perspective of contact hypothesis, prejudice subsides when in-group members become more aware of the norms, customs, music, food, and attitudes of people in an out-group. Interactions with the out-group members help them see the diversity among them (Salinas, 2003). Animosity between the groups increases when the in-group and the out-group members compete. Research studies confirm that hostility in the groups declines when the members cooperate towards a common goal. When they do cooperate, people in the two groups tend to develop a feeling of belonging together inan integrated community rather than intwo separate groups.
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In reducing prejudice and conflicts, the following are suggested:
1. The groups must be equal in terms of economic opportunities, legal and politicalstatus.
2. Authorities advocate for equal rights.
3. The groups develop avenues for formal and informal interactions.
4 .The groups cooperate in order to realize common goals. .
[SRW31]Perhaps Kurt Lawanda,a renowned social psychologist, shed more light onthe understanding of the human behavior (Brown, 1995). He developed a number of concepts within social psychology that are widely applied today. His greatest contribution was the "field theory", which stated that a person’s behavior is largely dependent on his or hercharacterand the environment onegrew up in. His other contributions helped to reduce racism.[SRW32]