The term “stereotype” holds many definitions. While Aronson et al. state that “stereotypes are widely held evaluative generalizations about a group of people”, the definition from Augoustinos et al. is that “a stereotype is a schema, with all the properties of schemas”. As one can tell from these definitions, a stereotype can be seen as a generalization, a schema, or maybe a combination of the two. Human behaviors that may arise as an effect of stereotypes include stereotype threat, prejudice and discrimination, selective attention (which may lead to confirmation bias), and misdiagnosis in mental health due to gender and cultural bias. In this essay I’ll be focusing on the definition of stereotypes as “overgeneralizations”, discussing how they may arise, and the resulting behaviors; prejudice and discrimination, and stereotype threat.
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Firstly, a way in which stereotypes could arise is from the Social Learning Theory, researched by Albert Bandura in 1961. This theory states that people learn by observation, modelling, and imitation of others, and it takes into account attention, memory, and motivation. In relation to stereotypes, this could suggest that people see others basing decisions and actions on a generalization, and thus they eventually learn the generalization by observing and imitating frequently. As a result of this, the behavior that is displayed could be prejudice and discrimination from an ingroup of an outgroup. Although stereotypes are a form of prejudice, which can lead to discrimination, they are not inherently a form of discrimination, as discrimination is action while stereotype is thinking. However, stereotypes do have the potential to lead to discrimination, as shown in research by Gibbins (1969), Buckhout (1974), and Duncan (1976). Thus, Bandura found that stereotypes arose from the Social Learning Theory, and therefore influenced the development of prejudice and discrimination. However, a considerable flaw in the SLT is that it does not account for when some social groups negatively self label. Therefore, there may be some uncertainty about which stereotypes were created by, or with the help of, the group that the stereotype targets.
Another way in which stereotypes could arise is by cultural influence. For example, racial stereotypes about marginalized groups/outgroups (black people) are often taught and exhibited in a non-marginalized group/ingroup (white people). Culture reinforces the stereotype and thus embeds it into members of that culture. The culture that a caucasian child grows up in is vastly different to the culture that a black child grows up in. A caucasian child may have grown up in a culture that believes that black people are lesser than whites. Meanwhile, a black child may have grown up in a culture that have had the “unintelligent black people” stereotype forced onto them by caucasian culture. Since stereotypes arising from cultural influence could cause “inherited” discrimination, this could lead to stereotype threat. This resulting behavior was demonstrated in research conducted by Aronson and Steele (1995), who proposed that stereotypes may be internalized as templates and affect individual behavior. A common example of this is in relation to intellectual performance. Aronson and Steele’s study placed African Americans and European Americans in a 30 minute verbal test made up of difficult multiple choice questions. Group 1 (threat condition) were told it was a “genuine test on verbal abilities” while Group 2 (no threat condition) were told it was a “laboratory task that was used to study how certain problems are generally solved”. The study found that African Americans in Group 1 scored significantly lower than European Americans. On the contrary, African Americans in Group 2 scored equally as good (if not, higher) than European Americans. Hence, Aronson and Steele’s study proved that stereotype threat can have an effect on how an individual or group sees themselves, provided they believe in the stereotype. Additionally, it proves that stereotype threat can have a direct influence on performance. The African and European American study was repeated similarly with females and lower social classes, so there is no bias concerning different marginalized groups. There is also no uncertainty concerning era dependant data as the study was done only a little over a decade ago.
Despite all of the causes that have been discussed so far, there is, nonetheless, evidence that exists to show there are alternate explanations as to how stereotypes might form and effects of stereotypes. Schemas, for one, are a way in which our brains help us to simplify the world around us by categorizing information, including information about groups or individuals. This cognitive processing of information inevitably results in the creation of stereotypes. Therefore, this means that everyone, even members of stereotype-targeted groups, hold stereotypes and prejudice about others. Stereotypes may also cause self fulfilling prophecies; predictions that come true due to the fact that a person expected it to come true. When applying this to stereotypes, it means that an individual or group may fulfill a label or stereotype because they believed it to be true, or they were made to believe it to be true. A last effect of stereotypes on human behavior is reciprocal determinism. Reciprocal determinism states that individuals are influenced by the environment but also have the ability to influence the environment. An example of this happening in real life is the feminist movement, where women were affected by stereotypes of being a “stay-at-home” wife but also influenced the environment so that they were allowed to vote and go to work.
In conclusion, the development of stereotypes and prejudice can stem from the Social Learning Theory and cultural influence. This prejudice can then lead to discrimination if the majority of the ingroup holds that prejudice. These stereotypes can form due to cognitive processes such as observational learning and schemas, as well as ingroup/outgroup identity in a cultural context.
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