Why stereotypes are bad even when they’re “good’
I couldn’t think of what picture to put on this post - there are so many different stereotypes in the world! So, I just went with one that depicted the Scottish stereotype because I thought it was appropriate being a Scot.
The Scottish stereotype is pretty much what is depicted in movies involving scottish people - we all have red hair, wear kilts, cross mountains to get places, decorate our homes with our clan’s tartan - oh and we’re usually drunk and a bit overweight (particularly the males).
Most people would be good at calling this description out as a stereotype. Nowadays as a society we are much more aware of stereotypes and the need to avoid them at all costs.
However, people are not as good at calling out “positive stereotypes”. Positive stereotypes would be: black people are better at sports, women are more in touch with their emotions, etc. The more “positive” stereotype that follows Scottish people is that the Scots are an angry people, but in a kind of poetic noble warrior way because they’ve been so hard done by (i.e. like in Braveheart - a movie pretty much universally despised by the Scottish).
What’s wrong with these “positive” stereotypes? A new study suggests that they might actually be worse.
The study, led by Aaron Kay, used fake articles showing evidence for 3 of the most consistent stereotypes about black people: that they are less intelligent, more prone to violence and better at sports.
Being exposed to these made up stories made people more likely to believe the stereotypes (we are often more likely believe what we read is true if it looks official, comes from an official source etc., even if it seems implausible).
But what was interesting was the difference between the negative stereotype articles presented and the positive stereotype one. The positive stereotype article that claimed to show evidence for superior athletic ability among black people was much, much more likely to be accepted as true. It seemed to evade people’s “stereotype detectors” completely. Secondly, after reading the article, people were more likely to believe that there were biological differences in the sports abilities of black people and white people.
Obviously this is bad - instead of black athletes being recognised for their outstanding achievement and effort in sports, it would seem that people would downplay how hard they must have worked to be so good. Usain Bolt is one of the best runners in the world - do people think that this is only because of his race? Do they ignore the fact that he must have trained harder than his fellow white competitors in order to be the best? Thus, you can see why this “positive stereotype” is bad. Imagine if someone told you that your most important achievement came easier to you simply because of your ethnicity - you would undoubtedly be hurt by their dismissal of your effort to reach that achievement.
However in the study, most surprisingly, the positive stereotype (good at sports) apparently led to a stronger negative one (prone to violence)! Participants were given a second test, in which they had to rate the probability that a hypothetical series of people with African-American names might commit a crime. Participants that were exposed to the positive stereotype article rated the possibility as higher than those individuals who read the negative ones!
This seems to suggest that when we are aware of a negative stereotype, we might try to downplay our following reactions and thoughts in some way because know that it is wrong to stereotype. Thus, those participants in the negative stereotype group rated the following stereotype situations as less likely. However, if we are unaware of a stereotype being presented to us - like in the “positive stereotype” group - we might show that we really are much more influenced by negative stereotypes than we think.
The researchers say: “Positive stereotypes may be uniquely capable at reinforcing cultural stereotypes and beliefs that people explicitly eschew as racist and harmful”.
Read the original story for more information