What are stereotypes and why are they needed?

This word is usually used in a negative sense. It is often said when someone is accused of stereotyped thinking and unwillingness to understand the situation. Which is partly correct, but not entirely fair.

A stereotype is a pre-formed assessment of something and a willingness to act accordingly. In social psychology, this is the generalized belief about a certain group of people, the expectation of some specific behavior from them.

Stereotypes can be positive or negative. In general, patterns of behavior are not always bad. They help to save a lot of time precisely due to the fact that you do not need to evaluate the situation anew every time, there are already working patterns of behavior. Otherwise, you would have to think too much. And stereotypes provide security.

For example, usually before a tsunami, water first moves away from the coast before hitting it with a high wave. The stereotype “if the sea leaves, it’s dangerous, take an alarm case and run to the mountains” literally saves lives. The desire to think, understand, listen to all versions of what is happening can end tragically.

It’s the same with people – if you see a suspicious group of men with chains and bats in the distance, you are unlikely to decide that they have gathered to fence the site and play baseball. Most likely, you will bypass them. And even if it’s still baseball players, it seems better not to risk it.

Our ancestors were also perfectly guided by stereotypes. Big, yellow and spotted – must be a giraffe, you can relax. The middle one is the same color – most likely, a predator from the cat family, it would be necessary to quickly retire. Someone similar to us approaches the tribal camp – this is our own. If he is not like us, then why did he come – hardly with good intentions.

In general, this mechanism looks quite useful. But in practice, this is not always the case.

Why stereotypes are not always effective

The term “stereotype” was first used by American journalist and politician Walter Lippman. He borrowed it from printers. Their stereotype is a printed form with text typed on it. With the help of such a blank, you can make many prints.

But now imagine that the typesetter made a mistake and, say, in a book about mushrooms, accidentally inserted “not” in one of the chapters. And now people are surprised to read that the pale grebe is not poisonous, and enrich the undertakers.

With stereotypes, the probability of error is even greater. If they are formed through their own experience, a person simply does not have the necessary amount of data for an objective assessment. Suppose, on his life path, he met two Anatoly, who turned out to be so-so personalities. And now he is suspicious of all Toliks and Tolyans, although a person with any name can turn out to be unpleasant.

Stereotypes work great in repetitive environments, like the tsunami story. But do not rely on them when it comes to something changeable.

It is difficult to imagine something more changeable than people. Evaluating them according to some formal feature, or even a group of such features, it is easy to get into trouble. After all, behavior and habits are influenced by many conditions. For example, no matter how much one would like to believe that a particular nationality has an innate set of characteristics, people will behave differently depending on the area of ​​​​residence, wealth, religion, personal beliefs, and so on.

Instead of the word “stereotypes” here, you can use “prejudices” or “prejudices – it doesn’t sound so innocent right away, does it?

There are several reasons why stereotypes may not match reality.

Stereotypes form without critical reflection

A child is like a blank slate, his outlook on life is formed by the environment he trusts. For example, he reaches for the stove. Mom says: “Careful, hot. It will hurt! The baby still has not enough experience to comprehend her words. He touches the stove and burns – and it really hurts. It seems that mom understands something in this life, she can be trusted. The child grows up a little, breaks his knee, runs to his mother so that she takes pity on him … And his mother says to him: “What kind of rag are you! Boys don’t cry.” And now he already considers emotional men weak. Dad at this moment is reviewing the archives of Zadornov: “Well, the Americans are stupid!” And the boy believes this too.

Believe in the word – this is the problem. Judgment is assimilated irrationally. A person no longer needs to check if the stove is hot, communicate with Americans, watch how emotional men react to stress (spoiler: better than those who forbid emotions). He takes his word for it and bases his expectations on literally nothing.

Stereotypes are formed from particular to general

Have you forgotten the example about Anatoliev yet? That’s exactly how it works.

Scientists often conduct research on thousands of people for decades, and then they still write in the comments: the results are the same, but we cannot draw unambiguous conclusions. To people far from science, irrelevant samples are unimportant. They can literally hang out with one person and extend all of their inherent qualities to those who look similar. Needless to say, it’s not.

It’s like seeing someone get poisoned by a red berry and cutting out strawberries, raspberries and cherries from life.

Stereotypes are formed out of convenience, not out of truth.

As we have already determined, much here is based not on in-depth research, but on faith. And it is easier and more pleasant to believe in what looks more convenient and safer. For example, the stereotype that the victim is to blame for violence (probably provoked) is based on the belief in a just world. This cognitive bias helps you think that if you follow some rules, then nothing bad will happen to you.

Stereotypes become obsolete

It would seem that for a group of people, the sample should be sufficient to form true stereotypes. But here again there is a great risk of missing. For example, for a long time it was believed that higher education is a guaranteed way to a better life. And some time ago it was true. For example, if a person was born on a collective farm, entering a university was one of the rare social lifts for him. With a diploma, he could already work in the office, and not on the field. Many live in accordance with this stereotype and now and are ready to study anywhere, just to get a diploma. Although the mere presence of crusts does not guarantee anything.

How stereotypes can hurt

It would seem that stereotypes do not work and do not work, people tend to be mistaken. But it’s a little worse. Stereotypes create a hostile environment for those they work against. For example, it will be more difficult for a swarthy brunette with brown eyes to rent an apartment. At the same time, there is not much difference whether he is a builder or a professor in the third generation.

Moreover, under the influence of stereotypes, the representatives of the group to which they are directed may agree with them. For example, in societies where girls are not constantly told that math is not their thing, they do well at the same levelas the boys.

And this is not to mention the fact that a person, driven by stereotypes, locks himself in his narrow and not always cozy little world. It is no coincidence that there is an expression “captive to stereotypes”, but there is no expression “in paradise of stereotypes”.

How to deal with harmful stereotypes

Learn to recognize when they are driving you.

It will not be an easy fight, because the stereotype is a ready-made solution that pops up in the brain without delay. On the other hand, sometimes it is enough to catch yourself on a prejudice a couple of times, after which it will no longer be possible to “unsee” it.

There are many examples of stereotypes that you can notice in yourself. For example, you may think that if a person is HIV-positive, then he is a drug addict and marginalized. Or between a doctor with a Slavic and non-Slavic surname, automatically choose the first one. Although there are many ways to transmit HIV, and both doctors have plus or minus the same education.

Try to break the stereotype

There are several ways:

  • Try to find another explanation for the person’s behavior. For example, a man cannot sew on a button, not because it is “unnatural”, but because he has never done it before. After all, this skill is not innate. Try and learn.
  • Look for exceptions – people from the group who do not fit the stereotype. The exception does not prove the rule at all, this is absurd. It only indicates that there is a certain rule in our heads. And everything that does not fit into it, we perceive as something non-standard. And the first impulse of the brain, which is looking for simple ways, is to ignore the exception as something that does not fit into its picture of the world. And this is where the growth point lies: the non-standard makes it clear that the world is more diverse than it seems to us, and the rules we have invented are not always consistent.
  • Evaluate a person according to his personal qualities. Do not run ahead of the locomotive and hang labels. Let people express themselves.

Expand your horizons

The more a person learns about other people, their life, culture, and so on, the less he is subject to prejudice. For example, if someone is interested in Asian culture, it is quite easy to distinguish a Chinese from a Korean, and a Japanese from a Filipino. For him, they will not be the same person. So knowledge is still power.