In this article we will discuss about Stereotypes. After reading this article you will learn about: 1. Definition of Stereotypes 2. Nature of Stereotypes 3. Causes and Development 4. Functions 5. Important Studies.
- Definition of Stereotypes
- Nature of Stereotypes
- Causes and Development of Stereotypes
- Functions of Stereotypes
- Important Studies of Stereotypes
1. Definition of Stereotypes:
Stereotypes have been defined as a false classificatory concept to which as a rule a strong emotional feeling tone of likes or dislikes, approval or disapproval is attached. According to Lippmam, stereotypes are individual attitudes so strongly inter conditioned by collective contacts that they become highly standardized and uniform within the group.
He also held that a stereotype is a composite of idea or attitudes that make up the picture of our heads or the “apperceptive mass” which means that all the experiences acquired in the past determine our perception about the object at a particular moment.
In other words, one’s behaviour, perception and judgement about others as well as about the self is determined by the pattern of stereotype we acquire from our culture. It largely determines what group of facts we shall see and what light and what shadow we will reflect on them.
According to Allport (1954) whether favourable or unfavourable, a stereotype is an exaggerated belief asserted with a category.
Vinacke has defined stereotypes as “A collection of trait names upon which a large percentage of people agree as appropriate for describing some sort of individuals”. The process of stereotyping, therefore, appears as a tendency to attribute generalized and simplified characters to groups of peoples in the verbal levels.
Since, the attempt to see all things freshly and in detail, bit by bit is time taking and exhausting overgeneralization of facts is made through already existing mental pictures and readymade facts.
In this connection, Lippman says “we do not first see and then define, we first define and then see. In the great blooming and budging confusion of the outer world, we pick out what our culture has already defined for us.”
Due to overgeneralization or false generalization people are classified into different types without taking time to see actually what they are. “We are told about the world before we see it, between these two there is big gap, but it is one of degree and not of kind.”
Kupuswamy observes that stereotypes are socially standardized concepts concerning other groups. They make it possible for the members of the group to communicate with each other quickly and efficiently about the other groups.
Baron and Byrne (1988) hold that stereotypes are negative schemata for social groups. They are a type of cognitive framework for interpreting and studying social information. It strongly affects the incoming information and information processing. Information relevant to a particular stereotype is processed and accepted more quickly than information not related to that stereotype.
Further, those informations consistent or equivalent to the stereotypes are attended to first and speedily. If someone has the stereotype that Indians are lazy people, at once, he will accept if he receives such an information from the environment. But the reverse he may not easily accept.
Even strong stereotypes may lead the person to make determined efforts to refute it. We usually remember those information which are consistent with our stereotypes and forget the rest because informations consistent with one’s cognitive frame work readily fits into it.
The stereotype is, therefore, to a large degree self confirming inducing the individual to bring supporting information to mind. Evidences for the operation of such negative schematas have been reported by Dovidio, Evans and Tyler (1986) and Greenberg and Zeynski (1985).
Sherif and Sherif (1969) have said that group stereotype is a popular term referring to agreement among members of a group on their image of another group and its members. They have operationally defined it in terms of the proportion of group members agreeing on levels or attributions for another group and its members. They further observe that a stereotype may be said to exist when a high proportion agrees on the image of the out group.
Psychologically, the phenomena of stereotype or group stereotype is not fundamentally different from the concept of prejudice or attitude. Sherif and Sherif hold that their distinctiveness is derived from the nature of the stimulus situation to which they refer (intergroup relations), not from the psychological principles governing concept and attitude formation or their change.
According to Bird “Stereotyped responses are perceptions of meaningful arrangement of ideas having their origin primarily in feelings and emotions rather than in some characteristics of the stimulating circumstances.” In stereotypes the thoughts and perceptions are mutually entangled.
From the above definitions and deliberations on stereotypes and its nature, the properties of stereotypes can be summarized in the following manner:
1. Stereotypes are basically fixed mental pictures in one’s head.
2. Stereotypes may have some stimulus value, but they are unscientific generalizations.
3. Stereotypes are mostly false elements.
4. Stereotypes are overgeneralized ideas.
5. Stereotypes are linked with emotional experience.
6. Stereotypes are shared by the group.
7. They are mostly negative in nature.
8. Stereotypes originate and grow like attitudes, prejudices and other social concepts.
9. Stereotypes are quite rigid and not easily amenable to change.
10. Stereotypes arise out of ingroup outgroup relationship and personal and group conflicts into which a good deal of fantasy is attached.
11. Stereotypes grow out of social interaction and ones past experience.
12. Stereotypes help in solving current problems and adjust with the present situation in a short time by the already formed readymade ideas.
13. Stereotypes are a type of cognitive framework and to a large degree are self conforming inducing the individual to bring supporting information to mind.
14. Informations supporting a particular stereotype are readily accepted and remembered while rejected informations do not go in the line of stereotypes.
15. Through stereotypes unfavourable traits or adjectives are attributed to the outgroup and favourable traits to the ingroup.
16. The idea of stereotype is based on few facts. It has only stimulus value, but no scientific value. It is usually based on partial truths. All the Kabuliwalas are not Sylocks. Only a few of them may be miser and our experience are limited with a few Kabuliwalas. The generalization about the Kabuliwalas can be found out by making a statistical analysis.
17. Stereotype is a major mechanism in sustaining prejudice and it resists change.
18. Stereotypes influence and colour many of our daily and day to day activities, perceptions and behaviour at large.
According to Lippmann “We do not first see and than define, we define first and then see. In the great blooming, budging confusion of the outer world, we pick out what our culture has already defined for us and we tend to perceive that which we have picked up in the form of stereotypes for us by our culture. Stereotypes are more or less consistent picture of the head to which our habits, tastes, capacities, comforts and hopes have adjusted themselves. They may not be a complete picture of the world. But they are a picture of the possible world to which we are adopted. In that world, people and things, all have their well known places and do certain expected things. We feel at home there we fit in. We are members, we know the way around. There we find the charm of the familiar, the normal, the dependable, its groups and share where we are accustomed to find them.”
2. Nature of Stereotypes:
When the different members of the society interact with the material objects of the external world and with each other, they develop certain ideas, attitudes, and mental pictures towards them. These ideas and attitudes named as cognitive framework developed out of past experience are used for processing and interpreting subsequent social information.
Thus, these readymade ideas otherwise known as schematas, “pictures in our head” or mental picture help one in determining his present behaviour and response mechanism. But, whatever, mental image one formulates about a person or place, idea or event may not be true. These are called stereotypes.
In this modern world, which is passing through conflicts and prejudices, interstate and international tensions, a knowledge of the factor underlying tension and conflicts in the social field may be necessary.
It is essential not only to have mere knowledge of stereotype, but knowledge of stereotype based on the findings of scientific studies and systematic investigations. From this stand point studies on national, racial group and linguistic stereotypes have been considered of tremendous importance.
Due to the presence of certain fixed mental pictures about others, there is misunderstanding at all levels beginning from familial to national and international level. The groups of people accepted by a group due to some reason or other get favourable reaction and it becomes the ingroup.
Sherif and Hovland point out that the attitudes associated with the groups placed in acceptable categories are predominately favourable and attributes associated with reflected groups are largely unfavourable. Thus, the acceptance or rejection of a group is bound up with the nature of stereotypes.
As experience shows every human organism has certain static ideas and fixed mental images in his head of himself as well as others.
Reene said “Mummy says not to play with black children “why”? asked Margaret. “Alas! don’t you know mummy told they are very sabby and illdressed” exclaimed Reene. This is a simple, but mating example of the picture of black children in a white girl’s head. To mental images and fixed kons of this kind Lippman (1920) for the first time attached the level “Stereotypes.”
To Political comme Walter Lippman, who authored the famous title “Public Opinion” (1922) the credit goes for introducing the concept of stereotype to modern psychology.
Stereotypes are the picture in the head that filters the news effect what one notices and how one views it. It simply means denoting any false image of others. It is a posture or gesture which does not change. Etimologically defined the terms stereotype has been derived from the Greek word “stereo” which means solid.
Once they are acquired, stereotypes become fixed conceptions in human mind. If one says, for instance, that Americans are materialistic, Englishmen are formal and diplomatic and Indians are superstitious, he is expressing a stereotyped generalization, a fixed idea about a category of people representing a particular nation or country.
Such generalizations are true to the extent that the whole concept may not be wrong, but the truth may be limited to a few people only and it is a case of over generalization which may be due to emotional causes or ingroup outgroup feeling etc.
3. Causes and Development of Stereotypes:
Stereotypes develop in the same manner attitude and prejudices develop. Social learning and social perception, group norms and reference groups play a tremendous role in the development of stereotypes.
Stereotype is, thus, purely acquired and is solely influence by socio-cultural conditioning. Stereotypes are also based on remours, stories, anecdotes and sometimes actual experience has tremendous additive value in the formation and development of stereotypes.
From the personal point of view stereotypes may have an unconscious self reference. Thus, Allport says that one may imagine his own qualities in a group and hate the group because he is in conflict over the same qualities in himself. Bird says that stereotypes originate more due to the feelings and emotions of the individual with less emphasis in the characteristics of the stimulating circumstances.
Once a girl told her Mummy “Mummy a woman wants to see you” Mummy retorted “do not say woman, say lady”. The small girl replied “But Mummy she is a scheduled caste and you always call them woman”? This shows how stereotypes grow due to social learning and imitation.
In the great blooming budging confusion of the outer world, we pick up what our culture has already defined for us and we tend to perceive that which we have picked up in the form of stereotypes for us by our culture.
Our perception consists of two types of objects:
(a) Perception of natural object
(b) Perception of social object. Perception of the natural object depends upon the objectivity of the stimulus
(c) But we learn from others how to perceive the social objects.
Here the perception is subjective, influenced by preconceived nations. In social perception, we have stereotypes on the basis of what are taught by others.
We are told about the world before we see it. In perception of natural object, we see things as they are, while in perception of social objects we see things as we are or we are told about these things well in advance before we actually see them. Emotional concepts and attitudes are more important for the development of stereotypes than knowledge and familiarity.
Stereotypes grow out of experience. As already indicated a stereotype is an undiscrimated construct which assimilates varying types of experiences into the same pattern on the basis of a minor resemblance or a fallacious similarity. Stereotypes are so persuasive and important that many investigators have tried to explore their psychological basis. Stereotypes are often based on cognitive processes as per recent views.
Recent thinking holds that their functioning results from special processes of thought. As long as a stereotype is in our consciousness an individual is never forced to examine the reasons underlying it. Such stereotypes can be used as an excuse to continue hostility.
Throwing further light on the causes and development of stereotype, Lippman remarks “Each of us lives and works on a small part of earth’s surface, moves in a small circle and of these acquaintances knows only a few intimately. Inevitably our opinion covers a bigger space, a longer reach of time, a greater number of things than we can entirely observe. They have, therefore, to be pieced together out of which others have reported and what we can imagine.”
According to Ruth Benedit (1942) “The first lesson of history in this respect is that when any group in power wishes to persecute or expropriate another group, it uses as justification reasons which are familiar and easily acceptable at the time.” The truth of her view can be realised in the tragic consequences of full blown racism in Nazi Germany bent on world conquest.
Sherif and Sherif (1961) hold “since world was to the racist justification, while still virulent in certain parts of Africa and in the American South has fallen into disfavour in knowledgeable circles.” They further add “attempts to classify people have produced several different classifications, none of which is without inconsistencies. In any event, none of these classifications includes cultural traits or achievements and none includes mental or psychological characteristics”.
Results of several observations, experiences and studies show that undoubtedly there are group differences in behaviour and attitudes. But the origin of such differences can not necessarily be attributed to biological and racial factors.
Though, a few psychologists still hold that differences in psychological test scores by Negroes and whites indicate inherant differences in biological make up, no evidence or empirical data supports the above view. But there are on the other hand many studies which indicate that such differences are not gentical or biological but environmental.
4. Functions of Stereotypes:
The functioning of stereotypes result from special processes of thought. According to Kenneth and Mary (1985) stereotypes help to a great extent in the persistence and sustenance of prejudice. Stereotypes are so rigid that they resist any kind of change in belief and attitude. Differentiation of polarization, negative memory, bias and illusory correlations speak about the way the stereotypes functions.
A common tendency is found to regard stereotypes as a sort of negative attitude. Lay men also think that stereotypes are always bad which signify a kind of defect in social integration.
So, it has been said that stereotypes are baseless and unpleasant and provide us with targets for abuse and socially acceptable objectives for aggression. But this only speaks a part of the nature of stereotype because stereotypes are both good and bad, palatable and unpalatable, liked and disliked and hence serve both good and bad purposes.
Stereotypes play a very powerful role in the development of prejudice and national and international tension. It controls, determines and directs social behaviour.
Eating habits, relationship with parents, family members, seniors and juniors, traditions and customs of marriage celebrations and sexual behaviour etc. are controlled by stereotypes. In addition to this, the behaviour of various castes, creeds and communities are also controlled by various stereotypes.
Stereotypes also influence perception and judgements of social objects. Allport (1954) holds that the stereotype acts both as a justificatory device for categorical acceptance, or rejection of a group and as a screening and selecting device to maintain simplicity in perception and thinking.
Stereotypes may be based on few facts or have little scientific value and may distort or direct human judgement, but not necessarily foolish or based on fantasy. They are convenient to use and act as time savers. But they are not accurate as based on over categorization and over generalization.
Though, the stimulus value of a stereotype is quite less as it is based only on a few cases, it does not always serve negative purpose and it not always social evil. Stereotypes are useful for smooth and cooperative interaction, for developing satisfying relationships, for quick perception and learning and prompt decisions. Many stereotypes appear to contain some grains of truth as viewed by G. Allport (1954).
They are often based on just enough facts for them to be useful in predicting other people actions. Peabody (1985) made a study of stereotypes when people in six different countries like English, Russians, Germans, Americans, French, Italians showed almost unanimous agreement in judging their own and others national character.
Stereotypes are not, therefore completely false or baseless like prejudice. They have some social value and some stimulus value.
However, the most discouraging aspects of the stereotypes are that many of our stereotypes serve emotional and selfish interests and, therefore, go deeper than what actually is. The system of stereotype may be the core of one’s personal culture and the defences of his position in the society.
Many stereotypes may be logically false concepts, but since people live not by logic, but by love and hatred, fear and anger, anxiety and tension, superiority and insecurity, stereotypes have existed, are existing and would exist in future. They are inevitable in human social and personal life.
On has to rely on stereotypes for quick perception and learning and for speedy adjustment with the immediate environment surrounding him. So, stereotypes are necessary. But to avoid the negative consequences of stereotypes, one should be cautious.
Donald and Campbell (1967) say that one must be cautious about:
(i) Overestimation of defences among groups
(ii) Underestimation of the variations within a group and
(iii) Justification of hostility or oppression.
5. Important Studies on Stereotypes:
Due to the tremendous importance of stereotypes in social life several psychologists have been attracted to the study on stereotypes. A few of the available important studies are briefly discussed here.
Goring made a study on the photograph of criminals and judgement of artists and found that the artists’ judgement of criminals was influenced by his idea of criminals. Shereman found a negative correlation between high eye brow and scholastic achievement.
Rice (1926) made a classical study on the effect of stereotype on human judgement, Results indicated that the stereotypes may distort or direct human judgement but are not necessarily false. Katz and Barly (1932) studied the racial and national stereotypes of college students. Katz and Barely (1932) made a famous study on the stereotypes of college students.
They have a list of 84 traits to American college students which they had obtained from the students themselves on a previous occasion and instructed each subject to select 5 traits they considered typical of the various national groups.
Findings of the study indicated a relatively high degree of consistency among the students in assigning traits to various national groups. 84% viewed that Negroes were superstitious and 75% asserted that they were lazy.
They held that 79% of the Jews are mercenary. On the other hand, 48% and 47% of them attributed to Americans as industrious and intelligent respectively. This shows that they attributed unfavourable qualities to the outgroups and favourable qualities to the in group (Americans). Sumner (1906) much earlier to the above study viewed this type of stereotype due to “Ethocentrism”.
According to him, ethno-centrism is “view of things in which one’s own group is the centre of everything and all others are scaled with reference to it………. each group nourishes its own object and affinity, boasts its superiority, exalts its divinity and looks with contempt on outsiders”.
According to Sherif, Kupuswamy and many others, when we do not like the other group, we are biased and usually attribute unfavourable traits to them and when we like groups or persons, we attribute favourable qualities to them. There are only a very few, who are judicious and critical in their view in attaching favourable and unfavourable traits.
In this context Sherif (1956) opines “Infact stereotypes can be taken as an index of social distance…………………………….. the favourableness and unfavourableness of stereotypes attributed to the different groups varies in terms of their position on the social distance scale”.
When some people do not like a particular group or community due to whatever reasons and experiences, they start building up a social distance towards them. This social distance interacts in the pictures in our mind about that group.
The degree of unfavourable qualities increase with the degree of social distance. The more the gap or distance there is greater attribution of unfavourable qualities. The less is the gap, more favourable qualities are attributed. This study reflected some common stereotypes used by the public at large.
Their results were similar to Bogardus’s result in social distance experiment. Zillig made a study on two groups of students, liked and disliked and they were given similar tasks to perform.
Individuals in favour of the liked group reported that the students have performed their task correctly even though they made mistakes. In a study by Horwitz certain beautiful houses and pictures were shown to some whites of South America. Questions were asked “what the coloured woman is doing?” Even though there were no coloured woman, the responses were “she is washing the plates or cleaning the house.”
Blake and Dennis asked some judges to check traits that were characteristics of Negroes and Whites. Gilbert (1950) repeated the experiment by Katz and found that stereotypes grow weaker with time, Stanger did a study on fascist attitude. The role of frame of reference was associated with the meaning of different words. Some studies to be describe.
The problem of stereotype has been studied in India on a large scale by the UNESCO. Rath and Das (1957) conducted a study on the stereotypes of college fresh men in Orissa. The purpose of the study was to find out the stereotypes of Oriya college freshmen towards other nationalities on the basis of admired and derogatory traits.
Sinha and Upadhaya (1960) have conducted a study on group and national stereotypes, Rath and Sircar (1960) on caste stereotype, Kupuswamy and Parashiva Murty on linguistic stereotype.
The present author, Mohanty (1968) conducted a study on the correlation the entire study is to be given between tension and contact in a study of provincial stereotypes on a group of 200 male and female Oriya college students to find out:
(a) The derogatory stereotypes, hostility and tension of any of the sample towards the people of seven other states such as Punjab, Maharashtra, Bihar, Bengal, Assam, Orissa and towards Nepal.
(b) The favourable stereotypes towards the above groups and towards themselves, the correlation between tension and contact of the ingroup i.e. Oriya subjects towards the other outgroups.
(c) When the contact between two groups or nationalities increases, the tension and hostility between them may decrease as each group tries to understand the other with more sympathy and friendliness and his mental picture for such a group may change in the positive direction.
On the contrary, less contact may not give the correct information about the qualities of a group or nationality to another group and hence their fixed notions may not change.
Following the Katz and Barly method of studying stereotypes a pilot study was conducted to prepare the final questionnaire which contained 60 traits out of which 30 were favourable and the remaining 30 were derogatory. Subjects filled up the inventory by checking as many favourable and derogatory traits as they wished for each nationality.
Data showed that Biharis secured the first position in the scale of tension and seventh (last but one) position in the scale of contact being considered as the most hostile group. The Oriya students have put themselves in first ranking in the scale of contact and last in the scale of tension i.e., they thought themselves superior to all other groups.
The other groups such as Assamese, Maharastrian, Bengali, Punjabi, Nepali and South Indians got 2.5, 2.5, 4.4 and 7.0 respectively in the scale of tension and 6.8, 2.3, 5.0 and 4.0 respectively in the scale of contact. Correlation between tension and contact is -.57 which indicated that there is a negative relationship between tension and contact.
This suggested that the more is the contact between two groups, the less is the tension and vice versa. Mohanty (1968) conducted another study on sex differences in linguistic stereotypes among University students which is probably first of its kind in India.
Detailed note on linguistic stereotype be given. The purpose was to a certain:
(a) The degree of uniformity or agreement in assigning traits to various linguistic groups by two groups of male and female university students
(b) The degree of difference between the two sexes in attributing traits to different linguistic groups.
Males and females constitute equal part in a society and take responsibilities in promoting interstate harmony and understanding. Therefore, it is essential to know whether males and females differ in their linguistic stereotypes.
The sample of the study consisted of 2 groups of male and female university students, each groups consisting of 100 subjects. They were matched for educational status, socioeconomic background, age and mother tongue.
The seven linguistic groups included were Punjabee, Madrasi, Behari, Bengali. Assamese, Marahathies, and Oriya. The data was collected following the same procedure as in the earlier study of Mohanty discussed above.
The findings of the study indicated that Beharees and Assamese have been considered as the most unfavourable outgroup by both the male and female groups. Marahatthas were considered as the most liked group securing first position in the scale of favourable traits by both the sexes.
However, the female group demonstrated less hostile tendency towards the Bengaleese than the male group who judged the Bengalees as a hostile group next to Biharees and Assamese. In other cases, the difference between the groups was not significant.
The results further show that some standard stereotypes were attributed to different linguistic groups expressed by both the sexes such as Punjabi—brave and beautiful, Oriya—lazy, Biharee— coward, Assamese—illiterate, Bengali-showy and proud and Marahatthas-brave and honest.
Also difference in male and female groups in certain stereotypes were marked which indicated the type of relationship existing between the rated and the rating group. However, there is more uniformity than diversity in the stereotypes of both the groups towards the linguistic groups.
Both these studies were conducted about 20 years back by (he present author and hence the data relate to the stereotypes and mental pictures existing 20 years back. A follow up study on this problem, perhaps, might show if the same stereotypes are still existing or they have faded or have been completely changed.
A comparison between the data obtained from the second study conducted in 1968 with the study conducted in 1954 on college freshmen of Orissa, however, show some similarity.
Buchanan and Cantril (1953) compared the adjectives used by most persons in representative cross sections in nine European and American countries to describe their own nationalities and found them mostly favourable
“when the German Psychologist Hofstatter (1957) correlated the responses in each country with those in each of the others, he found very high correspondence between the images people hold of their own countries.”