Cognitive schemas can result in stereotypes and contribute to prejudice.
Stereotypes are beliefs about people based on their membership in a particular group. Stereotypes can be positive, negative, or neutral. Stereotypes based on gender, ethnicity, or occupation are common in many societies.
Examples: People may stereotype women as nurturing or used car salespeople as dishonest.
Stereotypes are not easily changed, for the following reasons:
Example: Ben stereotypes gay men as being unathletic. When he meets Al, an athletic gay man, he assumes that Al is not a typical representative of gay people.
Example: Liz has a stereotype of elderly people as mentally unstable. When she sees an elderly woman sitting on a park bench alone, talking out loud, she thinks that the woman is talking to herself because she is unstable. Liz fails to notice that the woman is actually talking on a cell phone.
Example: Paul has a stereotype of Latin Americans as academically unmotivated. As evidence for his belief, he cites instances when some of his Latin American classmates failed to read required class material. He fails to recall all the times his Latin American classmates did complete their assignments.
Stereotypes have several important functions:
Stereotypes can lead to distortions of reality for several reasons:
Evolutionary psychologists have speculated that humans evolved the tendency to stereotype because it gave their ancestors an adaptive advantage. Being able to decide quickly which group a person belonged to may have had survival value, since this enabled people to distinguish between friends and enemies.
A prejudice is a negative belief or feeling about a particular group of individuals. Prejudices are often passed on from one generation to the next.
Prejudice is a destructive phenomenon, and it is pervasive because it serves many psychological, social, and economic functions:
Example: Rachel’s parents came from a working-class background but are now wealthy business owners. Rachel might develop a dislike of the working class because she does not want to be identified with working-class people. She believes such an association would damage her claim to upper-class social status.
Example: Glen blames his unemployment on foreign nationals whom he believes are incompetent but willing to work for low wages.
Example: A poor white farmer in the nineteenth-century South could feel better about his own meager existence by insisting on his superiority to African-American slaves.
Example: Most religious and ethnic groups maintain some prejudices against other groups, which help to make their own group seem more special.
Example: Pseudoscientific arguments about the mental inferiority of African Americans allowed whites to feel justified in owning slaves.
Researchers find it difficult to measure prejudice. One reason for this is that people differ in the type and extent of prejudice they harbor. For example, a person who makes demeaning comments about a particular ethnic group may be bigoted or just ignorant. Also, people often do not admit to being prejudiced.
People may often have implicit unconscious prejudices even when they do not have explicit prejudices. Researchers assess implicit prejudice in three ways:
People’s social identities depend on the groups they belong to. From a person’s perspective, any group he belongs to is an ingroup, and any group he doesn’t belong to is an outgroup. People generally have a lower opinion of outgroup members and a higher opinion of members of their own group. People who identify strongly with a particular group are more likely to be prejudiced against people in competing outgroups.
People tend to think that their own groups are composed of different sorts of people. At the same time, they often think that everyone in an outgroup is the same. According to the contact hypothesis, prejudice declines when people in an ingroup become more familiar with the customs, norms, food, music, and attitudes of people in an outgroup. Contact with the outgroup helps people to see the diversity among its members.
Research shows that prejudice and conflict among groups can be reduced if four conditions are met: