Blonde. What comes to your mind? Naturally, some one who is pretty, dumb, bimbotic, and well, like this:
We stereotype people base on how we assume people might be from their appearance. Just take the blondes for an example again. Not all blondes are dumb but the vast majority or should I say those that are expose to us, are dumb. And thus, when one meets a blonde, she’s dumb.
People from stereotyped groups can find this very disturbing as they experience an apprehension (stereotype threat) of being treated unfairly.
We change our stereotypes infrequently. Even in the face of disconfirming evidence, we often cling to our obviously-wrong beliefs. When we do change the stereotypes, we do so in one of three ways:
- Bookkeeping model: As we learn new contradictory information, we incrementally adjust the stereotype to adapt to the new information. We usually need quite a lot of repeated information for each incremental change. Individual evidence is taken as the exception that proves the rule.
- Conversion model: We throw away the old stereotype and start again. This is often used when there is significant disconfirming evidence.
- Subtyping model: We create a new stereotype that is a sub-classification of the existing stereotype, particularly when we can draw a boundary around the sub-class. Thus if we have a stereotype for Americans, a visit to New York may result in us having a ‘New Yorkers are different’ sub-type.
We often store stereotypes in two parts. First there is the generalized descriptions and attributes. To this we may add exemplars to prove the case, such as ‘the policeman next door’. We may also store them hierarchically, such as ‘black people’, ‘Africans’, ‘Ugandans’, ‘Ugandan military’, etc., with each lower order inheriting the characteristics of the higher order, with additional characteristics added.
Stereotyping can go around in circles. Men stereotype women and women stereotype men. In certain societies this is intensified as the stereotyping of women pushes them together more and they create men as more of an out-group. The same thing happens with different racial groups, such as ‘white/black’ (an artificial system of opposites, which in origin seems to be more like ‘European/non-European’).
Stereotyping can be subconscious, where it subtly biases our decisions and actions, even in people who consciously do not want to be biased.
Stereotyping often happens not so much because of aggressive or unkind thoughts. It is more often a simplification to speed conversation on what is not considered to be an important topic.