What are stereotypes? 4 ways that affect us
Stereotypes are one of the fundamental elements to understand how we perceive others and ourselves. Part of our social life is influenced by them and, although we do not realize it, they act from the margins of our consciousness and predispose us to adopt certain attitudes and to make certain decisions in our coexistence with the rest of people.
In this article we will see what stereotypes are , and we will review some examples that help to understand the way in which they express themselves through our actions and thoughts.
- Related article: "Stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination: why should we avoid prejudging?"
What is a stereotype?
The human brain is a set of organs very difficult to understand and study, but if there is a clear thing about it, one of its main functions is to simplify reality. Make it easy to understand what is really complex and convoluted.
This idea can be common sense, but at the same time it has very important implications on how we think and perceive reality.
In particular, it tells us that the human mind is not made to give us access to the truth, but to give us a minimalist and simplified version of it, faithful enough to reality to allow us to survive. And the stereotypes are one of the ways by which unconsciously and involuntarily we get that simplifying effect .
In particular, stereotypes are beliefs that affect our perception of a specific group or group. There are stereotypes that address a socioeconomic criterion, such as the difference between rich and poor people; others that are based on the gender distinction between men and women, others that apply to our preconceived ideas about ethnic or racial groups, etc.
In fact, these beliefs may arise from any categorization of human groups , however arbitrary they may seem. It is possible that stereotypes arise about the inhabitants of a town or a wider region that does not even correspond with an administrative entity, and can even appear by simple physical characteristics chosen almost at random.
And a prejudice?
If stereotypes are fundamentally beliefs, prejudices are attitudes linked to stereotypes; that is to say, they have a clear emotional component . A person can adopt a stereotype about the Scots, for example, without this making him emotionally position himself in a clear way before this group; but another may be emotionally positioned with respect to them, being more friendly or more hostile for this reason.
Of course, the boundaries between stereotypes and prejudices are never clear, and in fact it is difficult to sustain stereotypes and not express any kind of prejudice . That differentiation is always relative, just as the intensity and power that prejudices and stereotypes have in each person.
- You may be interested: "The 16 types of discrimination (and their causes)"
Examples of the expression of stereotypes
These are several ways in which stereotypes can manifest themselves.
1. Application of hate prejudices
This is possibly the most negative consequence of the existence of stereotypes: the possibility of building, through them, negative prejudices that lead us to hate groups of people not because of what they do as individuals, but because they are something, to wear a label .
The case of racial hatred driven by the Nazis, capable of rooting in a mass public among the inhabitants of Germany, is one of the clearest examples of this phenomenon, but it is not by far the only one. Long before Hitler, hate campaigns targeting ethnic minorities have been a constant in the history of humanity.
2. Adoption of paternalistic attitudes
Stereotypes do not necessarily have to predispose us to adopt a hostile attitude towards the members of that group that try to "summarize" us in the form of generalizations. Sometimes, they can even lead us to adopt an attitude of condescension and paternalism that, although it is usually annoying, does not arise from the desire to harm the other .
This type of stereotypes are relatively frequent in the treatment that many men have with women, for example, among other things because historically women have not had access to higher education.
3. Emergence of undeserved admiration
As we have seen, stereotypes do not always go hand in hand with ideas that lead us to hate a certain group; Sometimes, they lead us to adopt a positive attitude towards this.
In some cases, even they facilitate the emergence of a kind of admiration and feeling of inferiority , given that stereotypes define others, but they also define us by contrast: if we believe that Chinese, Japanese and Koreans are very good at mathematics, it is because we implicitly consider that the group we belong to performs worse in this ambit.
4. Emergence of errors due to erroneous assumptions
Another way in which stereotypes are expressed has to do with misunderstandings and errors in contexts in which a person is treated following erroneous behavior patterns based on myths or exaggerations of the culture or way of being of the members of a collective.
In short, stereotypes are an almost inevitable element in our social relations, although that does not mean that they must be so strong as to fully determine how we deal with other people. Nor, of course, as to lead us to hate individuals by generalizations based on the groups to which they belong.
- Amossy, R., Herschberg Pierrot, A. (2001). Stereotypes and clichés. Buenos Aires: Eudeba.