Lecture VI February 27 2012
Stereotypes, Prejudice, and Discriminations
Stereotypes are cognitive schemas that allow for easy and efficient organization of information
about people based on their membership to certain groups. There are four major factors you should
take from this definition: stereotypes are schemas (mental shortcuts), they are a way to organize
information, they are about people, and are based on group membership.
Rather than carefully making judgements about people we meet, we take these shortcuts. This is
because there is too much social information out there in order for us to carefully make a
controlled judgement about every person we meet. Thinking of everyone as a unique individual
just takes too much cognitive resources.
Stereotypes arent bad. That is, there is nothing in the definition of stereotype that is implicitly
negative. However, the way they get used is negative!
This area also happens to be considered one which requires much of our attention because of its
large implications and frequent occurrence.
Stereotypes can be based on membership to all sorts of groups. Some of these include race, gender,
ethnicity, age, socio-economic status, and occupation. The big three are sex, race, and age. It is
also possible that some stereotypes may be true on average. This becomes problematic when we
apply said averages to specific individuals and allow for that to affect our relationships. This type
of problem occurs because we use broad social categories in order to make judgements about
individuals. However, these broad social categories have a lot of diversity. If there was a high
degree of similarity in groups, then these sorts of judgements would be okay. But we use broad and
diverse groups (such as men, women, etc). Basically, because stereotypes are about large social
groups, using and applying them to specific people in those groups does not work, because said
groups have a lot of variant within them. However, if we used extremely small and unvarying
social groups or if people within groups were extremely similar, then stereotypes would essentially
work. Our cognitive miser nature also tends to get in the way. People should become aware of this
stereotyping process in order to see and understand when its negative.
Prejudice is the attitudes and affects that go along with stereotyping. This can either be positive or
negative, just like stereotypes can be positive or negative. However, even positive prejudice and
stereotyping is bad because both constrain individuals and put them in a box. It is the assumption
that all the people in a group are the same that is negative.
Discrimination is the behavioural side of things: the unjustified and inappropriate treatment of
people due to prejudice. You can think of it in this manner: Stereotype is the knowledge, Prejudice
is the emotion, and Discrimination is the behaviour. It can also be viewed as being symmetrical
with Cognition, Affect, and Behaviour (from the attitude lecture). An individual can have
stereotypes and prejudice, but not be discriminatory and discriminatory behaviour doesnt
necessarily have to reflect stereotypes and prejudice. Why does Prejudice exist?
People have a tendency to group objects and think of things in an organized matrix. We find a way
to do this quickly and automatically because organization facilitates decision making and
Social categorization is the human version of categorization. People are usually, if not always, a
member of the group they categorize others into. In other words, you are a member of one of the
categories that you assign others too. This creates an implicit us versus them distinction; a
my group versus the others. This group distinction is tricky because of the personal
connections and knowledge you have of your own group. This is something you dont have for
another group. In other words, by setting up an us (in group) versus them (out group) we
create difficulties because we have so much more knowledge of our group than the other
Generally, there is a preference towards the in-group. This probably exists because of the
emotional investment people have in social categories (since it is something we identify with).
The self enhancement motive also gives a strong emotional charge to the in-group and out-group
difference and preference. There is also a tendency to see the out-group as more similar. This is
known as the out-group homogeneity bias. It exists because, unlike the out-group, we are not a
part of it (or it would be the in-group) and because of that we only realize or notice the amount of
variability in our own groups. Basically, we are more sensitive to the differences between
individuals in our in-group, but out-group variability is less salient, thus the out-group is all the
Cross cultural studies have found that prejudice and stereotyping may be innate. These things are
present in every culture and there is no culture out there that treats or regards their out-group with
only respect. However, the content of stereotypes is learned through socialization. Once you are
born and taught a stereotype, they become so useful that they become automatically accessible.
Overcoming these things requires the engagement of the conscious system.
The law of least effect (Allport, 1954)
This law states that it is easier to prejudge people than carefully and thoughtfully come to a
judgement regarding them. Using stereotypes is a trade off between accuracy and efficiency for
quickness. When we stereotype, we use information from others rather than our direct relations and
information. In other words, we dont build our own stereotypes based on our own information.
Stereotypes come from society at large, they are ideas and thoughts that just seem to be floating
around, and become expressed in the media or the like. This is why stereotypes are common
culturally rather than globally.
Why Prejudice Exists
Prejudice exists due to in-group favouritism. We are basically biased towards anything that
includes us. This kind of favouritism can occur based on the most minimal amounts of information
(this is known as the minimal group effect).Tajfel and Henry
Conducted an in-depth study on how stereotype and prejudice gets formed and turns into
discrimination. They divided participants into groups before they developed an in-group and out-
group bias. Assignment to groups was meaningless and random. As the experiment progressed,
new variables were added in order to further create the in-group and out-group distinction.
However, this entire experiment failed. It failed because the goal of the experiment was to reach
the starting point; a point at which there was no in-group or out-group favouritism. Basically, the
researches were unable to form groups that had no favouritism. It appears that people begin
developing traits and differentiating between the in-group and out-group right away, with as little
information as possible. These researches tried the experiment with several different conditions.
One of these conditions was where participants did not even meet the other people in their
supposed group. However, in-group and out-group differences, favouritism, and bias still
Out-group and in-group favouritism/differences and bias could be caused by a mix of confirmation
bias, cognitive dissonance, and the mere exposure effect.
Sherif and Sherif (1954)
Conducted a study at Robbers Cave Park, OK. Participants were 22 white, middle-class, 11-year-
old-boys who were divided into groups before the beginning of the study (in other words, they had
no contact with the boys who would be in the other group right off the bat). There were two groups
of 11 boys who were matched for athletic ability and camping experiences. Basically, the boys met
their group beforehand, drove to the camp together, camped together (away from the other group),
ate together, and etc w