Unit 2 Why do we use stereotypes?

So, we all know what a stereotype is, at least intuitively. But how is it defined?

Dictionary: “A stereotype is a fixed general image or set of characteristics that a lot of people believe represent a particular type of person or thing

Social psychology, stereotyping refers to the inference that an individual possesses a certain range of characteristics and abilities that has been correlated with the group we perceive that person to be a part of.

Stereotypes carry emotional value, meaning that when they are activated they make us feel in a certain way about the group and its member(s). Informing our actions and behaviours based on stereotypes can lead to discrimination and even those who explicitly work to dismantle them can still be affected by them implicitly!

So, why do we stereotype if it can lead to discriminatory behaviour and why is it difficult even for those who do not subscribe to stereotypes to unroot them from our unconsious?

  • Our brains have learnt to group individuals together based on the information received from the external environment we found ourselves in. This process is called social categorisation and we use it to automatically categorise people into sex, race, age, social status among others.
  • Although social categorisation was initially thought to be the cause of stereotyping, more recently, research has entertained the thought that the reverse is also possible, meaning that stereotypes influence the social categorisation process.
  • Stereotypes and the brain – what are the neural networks that help us to categorise and force us to stereotype: Does Your Brain Force You To Stereotype?