When we think about stereotypes, it looks like there are only negative aspects of the whole thing. But if so, why do we unconsciously use them?
First, we should answer the question of what stereotypes are. The Cambridge Dictionary defines a stereotype as:
„a set idea that people have about what someone or something is like, espcially an idea thats wrong“The Cambridge Dictionary
The Human Psyche
For our psyche, the usage of stereotypes is a mechanism in which we simplify our social world. At the same time, it eases the processing in our brains when we meet a new person. Stereotyping carries concluding a person’s characteristics and abilities based on a concept of social categories. In our minds, this leads to in-groups and out-groups using prejudiced attitudes like differing between them or us.
Now the question is: once a distinct cliche is activated, can we withdraw from thinking in stereotypical forms?
Before the class social study, experts generally believed, that we can consciously reject them and additionally not act on them.
The Class Study
To investigate the hypothesis about unconsciously acting on stereotypes there were three experiements. The first experiment focused on the unconscious effect of different clues. Therefore, people were given a word puzzle. There were different kinds of word puzzles; one rude, one polite and one neither. Afterward, the person had to wait for their experimenter to talk about their experience. The question the researchers wanted to answer was what percentage of people would interrupt if the experimenter kept ignoring them by talking to the other person for 10 minutes. As a result, over 60% of the people with the impolite word puzzle interrupted the experimenter but only 18% of the people with the polite word puzzle. The results were quite sifnificant.
The second experiment centered the stereotype of age, especially the one about old people being slow. It was conducted in a similar way with giving typical elder people word associations in contrast to younger people wordpuzzles. And again, the experiement proved an unconscious change in behavior. It is not surprising then that the last experiment, as well, stumbled across the same mechanism.
In sum, the class study found out that we are hypersensitive to detail. These details can cause unconscious changes in our behavior. At the same time, others also receive said signals and equally do the same thing in their minds. So are we completely powerless?
Even though we would like to believe it otherwise: sometimes stereotypes can unconsciously influence our behavior, powerless for our conscious mind. Keeping our minds open and questioning forejudged conclusions the second we consciously recognize them, is what we should do.