Stereotyping is known as an immediate generalization regarding an individual or a group which provides information about them. Prejudice refers to specifically negative judgments regarding a group of people.

Key concepts:

  • Stereotyping

  • Generalizations

  • Prejudice

  • Covert/Overt Prejudice

Introduction

It is imperative to begin this article admitting that the topics of stereotyping and prejudice are more complex, controversial, and dynamic than can be fully addressed in this short overview.  These topics have long seeded roots in history that have cause widespread oppression and marginalization of many groups. Having said this; this article will serve as a brief description of these ideas and a snapshot into how these have impacted American culture.

Stereotype

A stereotype can be defined as an inflexible overgeneralization about a group of people.  The common thought is that stereotypes are negative perspectives put on people by the others, generally the dominant group.  However, this is often not necessarily the case. Stereotypes have been referred to by scientists and researchers as empirical generalizations. An empirical generalization is an idea that is supported by some evidence and then applied to all situations or people. This means that there is usually truth behind stereotypes where the idea has often occurred and then is thought that it will always continue to happen. A simple example of this is that saying that all men love watching sports on TV. Do a lot of men enjoy watching sports on TV? Sure, they do. Does this mean that all men enjoy watching sports on TV? No, that is not true. So the stereotype that all men love watching sports excludes the men that do not like sports and also may indirectly imply that women don’t like watching sports.  This example represents a stereotype that may not hurt or offend anyone but it is an overgeneralization of an experience that has truth behind it.

Benefits of Stereotyping

Although stereotypes have been assigned a negative connotation in our society, there are significant benefits to this process. Stereotyping is a way in which people are able to quickly assess and evaluate their situation.  Stereotypes teach us how to interact with groups of people and also how not to act.  Since our brain does not have the ability to immediately process every piece of information at hand, we create groups, categories, and meaning associated with different people.  There could be a stereotype that police officers are unapproachable.  There may be truth behind this based on the duties of their jobs, again not meaning that this is true in all cases. However this stereotype may teach us that we do not approach police officers in a super casual manner or with any kind of suspicious behavior.  The benefit of this stereotype is that it teaches us how to behave when interacting or approaching police officers.  It is usually not a good idea to rapidly approach a cop to pat them on the back or give them a hug randomly. This stereotype is a quick way for our brains to process how we should behave.    

It is important to give the process of stereotyping value as it helps to simplify our world.

Risks of Stereotyping

There are also many disadvantages to stereotyping.  As we quickly flip through our brain rolodex of information to pass judgment, we often overlook specifics and the importance of individuation.  If we only follow our stereotypes of people and groups then we will miss out on getting to know individuals and broadening our lens.  Even if we believe that the stereotype highlights a positive trait about a group it can still be taken as offensive and frustrating; such as all Asian’s are smart or all African American’s are great dancers. These stereotypes may sound like a positive thing, however they are overgeneralizations and it is impossible to assign a trait to every person in a group.  This can be known as social categorization, thinking that all people in a group possess the same traits.  Social categorization often stems from a privilege group creating meaning for the less privileged groups.  When the dominant group in a society is able to define meaning for the underprivileged, this is often known as marginalization or oppression.  Although there are some positive stereotypes, just like with the word stereotype has a that negative connotation, this could result from the fact that many stereotypes are negative and hurtful.

Negative stereotypes often primarily affect oppressed groups, such as racial minorities, women, low socioeconomic groups, people who are overweight or homosexual individuals.  Stereotypes can serve a purpose to keep these groups marginalized and seen as less than.  For many years women have thought to be not as smart or capable in the workplace as men.  This is a hurtful stereotype that has materialized in real world disadvantages, such as women not getting hired as often as men and women not getting paid the same salary as men for the same job.  Another negative stereotype is that racial minorities such as African Americans or Latinos may be more aggressive or violent than Caucasians.  This racial stereotype has caused drastic differentials in arrest rates and incarcerations times for the same crimes.  Racial minorities do not commit more crimes respectively; however they do get accused, stopped and arrested more often.

These kinds of stereotypes can have a tremendous impact on oppressed groups.  If police officers hold stereotypes that Black men commit more crimes than White men, this will have a direct negative impact the experience and lives of Black men.  If women are told from a young age to aim to be a housewife or a non-education based job they may believe that they are not as smart enough to pursue something different.  Many women have been told by their families or communities to major in getting their Mrs. in college. This stereotype that women’s value comes from being married is a negative and extremely hurtful stereotype.

These are examples of how stereotypes transfer from rapid judgments about others to having substantial influence on an entire group’s position in society.  There has been significant research focusing on racial stereotyping, asking people assign personality and values to different racial groups.  The findings have been catastrophic in the negative association of traits with minorities and positive traits assigned to the Caucasian dominant group. These stereotypes are so powerful that even people in the minority group have assigned negativity to their own group.  One specifically powerful research experiment was done with very young children where the researcher asked value questions about a Black and White baby doll. Even the young Black children choose the White doll when asked which one was prettier, smarter or nicer. This example represents the sheer power negative stereotypes have in our society and how impactful they can be on the lives of entire groups.

Prejudice

The terms stereotyping and prejudice are in the same arena regarding prejudgments about others. Prejudice differs in that it is known as specifically negative thoughts and feelings towards a group; where stereotyping by definition does not have to be a negative perspective.  Prejudice takes another step where the negative judgments about a group of people which often calculates into oppressive and/or hurtful viewpoints and interactions. Prejudice can refer to internalized feelings about a group or can represent overt discrimination of a group. Similar to stereotyping, prejudice tends to minimize differences in groups and highlight the differences between groups.  An example of this is thinking that all Latinos behave, act, eat, and live the same way; whereas thinking that the difference between Latinos and Caucasians is much greater.   Some of the most common prejudices include; racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, ageism, and religious prejudice.

Overt Prejudice

As prejudice can be displayed in both overt and covert ways, it is important to understand and be able to identify the difference.  Overt prejudice is when the discrimination is clearly expressed towards the person or group being discriminated against. This happens when people partake in direct protests, hate crimes, or make decisions based negative feelings about a whole group. Examples of this could include: protests against African American’s having the right to vote, or groups picketing outside of a gay wedding.  The prejudice in these situations is very clearly stated and communicated.  The person who is on the receiving end of this prejudice generally is aware of the negative perspective others may have about them.  This overt form of prejudice has led to widespread oppression such as slavery, abuse, violence, and marginalization of entire groups.  Challenging overt prejudice often takes the form of public or political debates and social justice movements. 

Covert Prejudice

Covert prejudice refers to a form of discrimination that is not expressed in a straightforward manner.  Instead of forward protests or fighting against equal rights, covert prejudice takes the form in a confusing and unclear manner of holding others down.  Covert prejudice is more common in current society as overt prejudice was more acceptable when laws supported the discrimination. Covert prejudice is prevalent in modern day society and often the perpetrators are unaware of how their expressions or behaviors impact others. Covert prejudice may be a police officer pulling over an African American for speeding instead of the Caucasian driver who was also speeding, it could be a women not being hired for a job, or a gay couple being told that the hotel is full for the night.  The victims in these actions may not have clear evidence that what they were experience was specifically prejudice, often leaving them feeling confused and hurt.  This form of prejudice may lead to increased psychological distress due to the “crazy-making” feeling it leaves its victims with.

Managing stereotyping and prejudice

As previous discussed both stereotyping and prejudices have a long history and also some benefits.  Some of these ideas are seen as natural reactions to learning how to interact appropriately in the world.  Having the ability to classify people and situations may keep us safe and informed on how to behave around different groups.  With this being said there are also many risks of stereotyping, such as prejudice.  When we classify or categorize all groups of people as the same we run the risk of overgeneralizing and missing out on learning about individuals.

When attempting to combat prejudice and negative stereotyping it is important to educate yourself regarding where such beliefs come from and challenging over-generalizations. It is important to know that not all people in one group are the same and the difference between groups may not be as large as expected.  The way to explore these ideas of sameness and differentness are to open up to new people, experiences and opportunities. The chance of stereotyping and prejudice decreases when people go outside their comfort zone by increasing interactions with people from other groups. Educated yourself on areas where groups do not have equal opportunities and explore your own beliefs and any inconsistency beliefs you may hold.  Challenge preconceived ideas to create your own perspectives!

Article By: Kimberly Ortiz, MA, LMFT

References

Allport, G. W. (1954). The nature of prejudice. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

This source provides background and context to understand prejudice and how it plays out for different groups.

Katz, D., & Braly, K. (1933). Racial stereotypes of one hundred college students. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 28, 280-290.

This source specifically explores racial stereotypes and provides information on the views and stereotypes college students hold.

Fiske, S. T. (2000). Interdependence reduces prejudice and stereotyping. In S. Oskamp (Ed.), Reducing prejudice and discrimination (pp. 115-135). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

This source explores the how stereotypes and prejudice differ and ideas for reducing the negativity of prejudice.

McLeod, S. A. (2008). Stereotypes. Retrieved from http://www.simplypsychology.org/katz-braly.html

This source provides information on stereotypes, including the benefits and risks.

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