Angela van Rose
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Stereotypes in Psychology and Everyday Life


Stereotypes in Psychology and Everyday Life

Stereotypes, psychology, understanding stereotypes,

Stereotypes are well-researched as a social phenomenon in modern psychology and social neuroscience. A stereotype is usually defined as a set of generalized beliefs and related expectations about a specific social, national or any other group and its constituents. They are the product of common perceptions of the whole society (or more often of smaller groups in society) that perpetuate certain images of groups or the members of those groups. Stereotypes are usually applied to ‘other’ people but they can apply to ourselves as well. What I would like to demonstrate in this blog post of mine is that stereotypes are quite complex occurrence that needs our regular attention and reevaluation in many instances. We simply can’t live and exist without stereotypes but are we benefitting from them or not?

‘Right’ and ‘Wrong’ Stereotypes

Psychological studies acknowledge the harmful effects of stereotypes as they can lead to prejudices and even to some forms of discrimination. Of course, prejudices and discrimination are beliefs (and practices) that should be exposed and rejected altogether since they harm whole groups of society or even whole nations. Therefore, prejudices and discrimination should be regarded as wrong stereotypes. Prejudice is a predominantly negative evaluation of a group and its members but it can be positive as well. Probably it’s time we had some examples that can illustrate the practical significance of prejudices. Such examples would be ‘I hate athletes’ (negative prejudice) and ‘I love and admire athletes’ (positive prejudice). There is an obvious overlapping among stereotypes, prejudices and discrimination because discrimination is often described as strong beliefs and repeated behavior towards specific individuals on the basis of their membership in a particular group.  A subtle distinction between prejudices and discrimination can be made by narrowing down prejudices to attitudes about a group and its members and describing discrimination as actual behavior directed towards a group and its constituents.  

Benefits and Downsides of Stereotypes

Stereotypes develop from our desire to know better the world around us. They allow us to organize the vast amounts of data and information that we come across in our everyday activities. They are forms of generalizations and, therefore, they are product of our thinking process (or more often the thinking of other people which we accept as our own). The problem with stereotypes, though, is that too often they tempt us to oversimplify the world around us or the world that we do not actually know but pretend to know through the stereotypes.

In my opinion, stereotypes have their benefits if they are true. For instance, the statement ‘Athletes entertain people’ is an example for a stereotype that can benefit society. Untrue or false stereotypes, accordingly, should be deemed as harmful to society’s beliefs and practices. Such stereotype would be ‘Athletes are not very intelligent’. The problem with the ‘truthfulness’ of stereotypes is that sometimes it can be very hard or even impossible to verify their accuracy. The last example with the low IQ of athletes is quite telling – it is impossible to claim that all athletes are highly intelligent because we are dealing with a very large group of professionals and those professionals are inevitably persons with varying degrees of intelligence.

Another downside of stereotypes is the so-called ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’. Self-fulfilling prophecy is defined as an expectation about the manifestation of future behavior that acts to increase the likelihood of the occurrence of that specific behavior. For instance, self-fulfilling prophesy is the following situation: ‘I tend to be unhappy if I miss my morning exercise routine’.

Do Stereotypes Define Us in Any Way?

Regretfully, our stereotypes tell a lot about us as individuals and human beings. Moreover, stereotypes can and do influence us when we take certain decisions. I believe that there is no need to expand on the negative impacts of decisions that are taken on the basis of wrong stereotypes. However, it is also very fortunate for us that we can change and adjust our stereotypes and thus improve ourselves.

Stereotypes do not define us completely but they affect us in our everyday life to some extent and we cannot afford to ignore them. Instead, we should recognize which beliefs and attitudes of ourselves are stereotypes and accordingly we should diligently reevaluate them if need be.

Examples with Stereotypes

In my YouTube video below you can see some of the most typical stereotypes about French people.

If you have any comment(s) on this particular blog post of mine, please feel free to share them in the comment section under my YouTube video.

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