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Stereotypes and Prejudice

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  • People selectively recall instances that confirm their stereotypes and forget about disconfirming instances.

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.

Functions

Stereotypes have several important functions:

  • They allow people to quickly process new information about an event or person.
  • They organize people’s past experiences.
  • They help people to meaningfully assess differences between individuals and groups.
  • They help people to make predictions about other people’s behavior.
Dangers

Stereotypes can lead to distortions of reality for several reasons:

  • They cause people to exaggerate differences among groups.
  • They lead people to focus selectively on information that agrees with the stereotype and ignore information that disagrees with it.
  • They tend to make people see other groups as overly homogenous, even though people can easily see that the groups they belong to are heterogeneous.
Evolutionary Perspectives

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.

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