Stereotypes in Social Psychology Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

Stereotyping Inevitable: An Investigation of How People Use and Maintain Stereotypes, and How They Can Be Changed

Social psychology by nature deals with the examination of social phenomena including stereotyping. The intent of this paper is a close review of the nature of stereotyping, in order to determine whether stereotyping is inevitable and to determine whether or not social stereotypes can be changed. In particular stereotyping will be examined to determine whether or not people have an unconscious tendency to create perceptions of others, and what if anything can be done to change this unconscious pattern of thinking. The effects of stereotyping on members of groups will also be discussed and analyzed.

Analysis of Problem

Before one can examine the question of stereotyping, they must first understand exactly what stereotypes are. Stereotypes can be defined in a number of ways; most simply stereotypes are a set view or image of the members of a group or culture or generalizations one makes about strangers or certain members of a group based on limited knowledge of that groups beliefs, culture etc. (Aronson, Wilson & Akert, 2004).

It is important to note that not all stereotypes are considered negative, but many are misleading and too general and inflexible to offer an accurate assessment of a group or members of a group. Even if a stereotype is considered positive, it allows misconceptions of a particular person or groups of people, and any assumptions or misperceptions of a particular group can be harmful or damaging over time.

Most social psychologists agree that stereotyping is overall negative because it is harmful to human relational processes. It often leads to false beliefs and assumptions about other groups.

Social psychologists have long noted that stereotypes are traditionally formed when members or participants in a particular group, which they identify with, view other people who are not part of the group in terms of stereotypes (Kenrick & Simpson, 1997; Aronson, Wilson & Akert, 2004). According to some researchers, people automatically assign stereotypes to other people based on the ways they view them, thus stereotyping occurs whether or not a conscious effort is taken to acknowledge or disregard the preconceptions one has formed about a particular person or group of people (Devine, 1989; Kenrick & Simpson, 1997).

People have a tendency to view individuals as alike and different when they are not members of our immediate group that is familiar and considered the norm (Anthony, Copper & Mullen, 1992). People who are considered members of our 'in groups' that is the people we are most likely to associate with, we are less likely to stereotype and recognize that each person is an individual possessed of unique traits and characteristics (Kenrick & Simpson, 1997).

Most people attribute differences that are evident in people who are not members of our immediate social circle as negative, thus negative stereotypes and labels are often formed to identify these characteristics and categorize them (Kenrick & Simpson, 1997).

Stereotypes may be inevitable if they are in fact truly created on a subconscious level. If as Kenrick & Simpson suggest, people have a natural tendency to form preconceptions about a certain group of people based on little knowledge of that groups actual morals, behaviors, cultural tendencies and behaviors, it is very possible that stereotypes will continue to exist for all time.

Fortunately however social psychology lends itself to the belief that people can change, thus one must believe that the tendency to form stereotypical beliefs about a certain group or culture can be altered with a conscious effort on the part of the group that is judging others.

Stereotypes are maintained when people have fears and make assumptions about other members of groups without knowing anything about them. It is natural for humans to be mistrusting of members of a group that are not similar to their own; for example, people from one culture might be more likely to distrust members of another culture automatically, whether it be because they look different, act in different ways or partake in different day-to-day actions and activities (Aronson, Wilson & Akert, 2004).

It is possible however to break the cycle of stereotyping by training individuals to be more open minded about people from different cultures, backgrounds, belief systems etc. The first step toward breaking down the cycle of stereotyping people is learning to identify what stereotypes one uses to begin with.

One cause of stereotyping is the belief that all members of a group outside of one's own group are the 'same' meaning they are not possessed of unique talents, skills, abilities or other traits that distinguish them from one another. When one holds stereotypical beliefs about another person or group of people, they believe that all members of that group are the same. This contradicts normal logic, which would dictate that all people are in fact different. As Kenrick & Simpson (1997) point out, people who stereotype still believe and acknowledge that they are unique and that members of their group are unique. The key to changing stereotypical behaviors then, will be helping people who stereotype recognize that members of other groups are also individuals, and must be treated as such. This will help break the unconscious association one has that a group of people is alike based on false premises.

Another key to changing stereotypical behavior is making the public aware of false stereotypes when they exist. Take for example, the recent terrorist activities that have befallen the nation. At the time the attacks on the World Trade Center occurred, out of fear and distrust many people may have automatically assumed that any 'outsider' or individual who was an Arab was automatically dangerous or had 'terrorist' tendencies. While stating this seems ridiculous, in all reality many people leap to similar conclusions when faced with situations that are unfamiliar and threatening.

Changing behavior such as this will require that people become more aware of the tendency to 'type' certain people based on the actions of a few. Not all beggars on the street for example, should be considered uneducated, poor and subject to substance abuse behaviors. However, stop any one person on the road and ask them to characterize the typical person who might beg for money or be homeless, and they will probably describe someone that fits the above description. These ideas aren't often based on personal experiences with an individual, but rather assumptions that are made as a result of a variety of factors.

For attitudes to change and for the tendency of people to leap to conclusions about another's habits and behaviors to change, the public must first become aware of the natural tendency humans have to judge others and make assumptions about their natural tendencies and deficits. Recognition of one's own prejudices and fears will also enable an individual to understand under what circumstances they would be more likely to judge someone else and make false assumptions about their attitudes and beliefs.


Stereotypes have existed since the dawn of time. Since man was first able to become a member of a group or society, man has had a tendency to conjure negative associations of people that were 'outsiders' or not members of their own society. Social psychologists have suggested that man's tendency to judge members of groups that are different from ones own is unconscious. This would lead one to believe that stereotyping is behavior that is inevitable. One cannot argue that stereotyping has existed for many years. Simply examining ones own prejudices will probably reveal numerous stereotypical beliefs about members of certain groups.

There is however much hope that the cycle of stereotyping can be broken. There are several steps one can take to reduce the likelihood that they will stereotype others, at least in a negative fashion. From a social…

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