Social stereotypes

(ORDO NEWS) — Psychologist Olga Gulevich about the effect of stereotypical threats, gender and racial stereotypes

In everyday communication, we often come across the word “stereotype”. When we talk about stereotypes, we mean very simple patterns, representations or sequences of behavior that affect our assessments or actions. It is also one of the key terms of social psychology.

It is important to understand that the scientific and everyday definitions of this concept are different. In psychology, stereotypes mean a set of traits that a person ascribes to representatives of a particular social group. For example, when they say that women are prone to kindness and emotional, and men are prone to leadership and aggressive.

The nature of stereotypes

Stereotypes are a universal phenomenon for different countries and societies. They can be formed in relation to different groups, but in all countries there are stereotypes about men and women (gender stereotypes), stereotypical ideas about people of different ages, most often old and young (age stereotypes). Two more universal types of stereotypes are ethnic and racial stereotypes – ideas about members of ethnic and racial groups.

The content of stereotypes can vary greatly. They can include both positive, socially desirable, and socially undesirable features. For example, intelligence is a plus characteristic, and aggressiveness is a minus characteristic. From the point of view of psychology, these traits in the minds of people are grouped into two large dimensions. The first is competence , which includes traits related to intelligence, knowledge, professional experience, determination. The second dimension is warmth , which includes characteristics related to kindness, honesty, well-intentionedness, willingness to meet other people.

How do we recognize stereotypes

Stereotypes are the result of social life, because people are not born with stereotypes. A person gradually remembers them from the moment of birth. First, we recognize them in the family when the parents say: “Do this and do not do this: you are a boy”, “Do this and do not do this: you are a girl.” Then we meet these stereotypes at school, university, at work. Even these stereotypes always accompany us thanks to the media of communication, where in the news, feature films and commercials there are examples of the behavior of stereotypical heroes.

Stereotypes continue to exist in society, because people tend to make the world around them understandable and predictable. When a person gets into a new situation, he tries to get information about what is happening, tries to understand what kind of people surround him and what to expect from these people. In many situations, we have almost no such information. Imagine that you were at a new job or in a new country for yourself, you know little about others, but you can get minimal information by studying the external signs of people. In such uncertain situations, we spontaneously begin to classify people on the basis of clearly visible signs – we conduct social categorization, for example, on the basis of biological sex, on the basis of age, color, and eye shape. When we put a person in a certain group, we say: “Yeah, we have a woman in front of us,” and then we begin to apply stereotypes. We think: “Yeah, she is a woman, which means she is kind, but emotional.” Or: “Yeah, he is a man, which means he is inclined to leadership or, possibly, aggressive.” As a result, we make the world around us more understandable and predictable.

The problem of stereotypes

The problem with using stereotypes is that all people are different. Psychological studies show that differences between women and differences between men in aggressiveness, in emotionality, in intelligence are greater than differences between men and women in general. When we start using stereotypes, we remove individual differences, throw them out of our perception. As a result, the judgments that we build and the forms of behavior that we choose may not be suitable for a particular person.

Despite this problem, people continue to use stereotypes, and they have a dual effect on our assessments and behavior. We give two examples related to gender stereotypes, they will concern the emotional side of life on the one hand and professional activity on the other.

Gender stereotypes and emotions

Psychological studies show that people differently recognize emotions on the faces of men and women. According to stereotypes, women are emotional and friendly towards others, and men are less emotional and more hostile. If a person supports such stereotypes, then he begins to notice signs of emotions on a woman’s face faster than on a man’s face, because he expects to see these signs. In addition, we quickly recognize joy and sadness on a woman’s face. On a man’s face, we quickly recognize signs of anger and contempt.

The most interesting thing is that if we saw on the faces of people emotions of intense sadness and even tears, then we will explain these emotions in different ways. Strong sadness, accompanied by tears, in women is explained by their inherent psychological characteristics. A similar emotional behavior of men is usually explained by strong situational factors, external influences.

Gender stereotypes and work

The second example is related to stereotypes in professional activity. The influence of stereotypes is observed, because traits that seem to be characteristic of men and women partially determine the kind of activity that these people can conduct.

Something related to communication with children is considered a traditional occupation for women. For men, occupation is more likely to be related to technical areas and business – or just seems to be related. If you adhere to such stereotypes, then when selecting candidates for work, the choice will be a foregone conclusion. If a person selects people involved in programming for work in a computer organization, then men will be preferred, because they look more competent in advance. And for the post of elementary school teacher or kindergarten teacher, according to stereotypes, a woman is more suitable.

Even when a person has already been hired, they will be treated differently. Studies show that people playing the role of boss allocate more material resources to men to perform specific activities. It seems that you have a position and you are fulfilling it, but the opportunities that are given to you are different. This is one side of the impact of stereotypes associated with their influence on the perception of others.

Stereotypical threat effect

Amazingly, stereotypes influence our self-perception. If we support some stereotypes, then we begin to apply them to ourselves.

A striking example of such an effect is the effect of a stereotypical threat. He was first discovered on racial stereotypes, and then on gender. This effect occurs when a society has a stereotype of a specific group that includes negative features. For example, women do poorly with technical or exact sciences. As a result, people from a stereotyped group become victims of such stereotypes. Many psychological studies show that women who are reminded of the existence of such stereotypical representations perform math tests worse.

The appearance of this effect occurs for several reasons. First of all, when a person remembers such stereotypes, he begins to worry, and extraneous thoughts arise in him. A person is afraid to meet these negative expectations, and as a result of stress they justify them. Also in such situations, a person falls motivation.

In addition, such a view has a lasting impact. People who are under the influence of such stereotypes for a long time do not want to engage in relevant activities. For example, girls who are reminded of such stereotypes do not see themselves in the future as technical science universities. Man simply closes for himself this activity. Similarly with men who are told that pedagogy or linguistics is a female occupation. People distance themselves from such activities, so they may not even begin to engage in the area where they would have been waiting for great success.

Stereotypes and Society

The impact of stereotypes is considered in the social sciences, especially in psychology, as a big and serious problem. But this does not mean that this problem cannot be solved.

There are different people in societies who, to varying degrees, agree with these stereotypes. Someone supports them, some do not. Countries vary in the degree of these stereotypes. Comparative studies show that gender stereotypes are less pronounced in countries of Northern and Western Europe than in countries of Southern Europe.

Most importantly, many psychological studies show that stereotypes can be changed. There are entire programs with which to change stereotypical expectations. This process is important because changing stereotypes and partially abandoning stereotypes allow people to do what they themselves want to do in life, rather than what similar ideas require them to do.


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