Monday, April 2, 2012

[PL 211] Is it reasonable to think in terms of stereotypes?

In Introduction to Logic and Critical Thinking (5th edition), Salmon (2007, pp. 100-101) says the following about thinking in terms of stereotypes:
[Thinking in terms of stereotypes is] fixed, rigid, or conventional mental patterns that leave little room for noting individual variations in information received or for classifying new information appropriately. A blatant example of this kind of fallacy would be to argue that a person was intelligent--or stupid--solely on the basis of the fact that he or she was a member of some racial or ethnic group. Arguing on the basis of such an inaccurate generalization ignores the well-known fact that individual members of every ethnic or racial group vary considerably in intelligence and that variations among groups as a whole are negligible compared to variations within groups. Prejudicial judgments of this type are a particularly invidious form of thinking in terms of stereotypes.
The following is a nice illustration of how common this sort of thinking is:
A boy and his father are in a car accident. The father dies at the scene and the boy is taken to a hospital. At the hospital, the boy is taken immediately into surgery. Upon seeing the boy, the surgeon steps out of the operating room and says, "I can't operate on this boy; he is my son." Who is the surgeon?
And this video shows how silly thinking in terms of stereotypes can be. (Warning: content may be offensive to people without a sense of humor):

However, some psychologists now think that stereotypes are a useful mental shortcut; they help us make sense of our social world. If these psychologists are right, does that mean that it is (at least, sometimes) reasonable to think in terms of stereotypes?


  1. I disagree with some psychologists thinking that stereotypes are a useful mental shortcut in anyway. How can stereotypes possibly be used if they are false? Stereotypes cannot help human beings problem solve, learn, or discover as mental shortcuts because stereotypes are inaccurate. Stereotypes are inaccurate because stereotypes generalize entire groups of people based on "common" intelligence. However, the way the world is, not every person apart of a racial group fits under the umbrella of that generalization. One of the examples in the video said all Jamaicans are always high. Speaking as a Jamaican, not one person in my family smokes pot. It might be true that a lot of Jamaicans spoke pot however; a lot of people are still not everyone. My example alone proves stereotypes to be a fallacy. There are millions of examples like mine that break down stereotypes as being both false and unreliable as a source of information. It is never reasonable to think in stereotypes. For example, if a hiring manager at EY believes that all Asians are mathematical geniuses and then proceeds to hire a whole team of Asians under those beliefs. More than likely not every single one of them will be able to deliver results to the manager’s standard regarding their mathematical skill; simply because not every Asian is mathematically gifted. Stereotypes are inaccurate and false; therefore they should not be used as a reliable source of information.

  2. The deleterious effects of stereotypes are readily evident in contemporary society. However, it is obvious even from a laymans’ perspective that such stereotypes exist and are highly relevant within our highly social world. Whether stereotypes are evidenced via conscious or subconscious means, they affect our behavior toward the stereotyped individual. Empirical work has shown that these stereotypes have a marked effect on how we behave toward certain individuals who carry the burden of being stereotyped.
    From a psychoevolutionary perspective, stereotyping is seen as an evolved mechanism for discerning and evaluating certain individuals, allowing for greater predictive power over others’ actions traits, and general behavioral tendencies. The idea that stereotyping may be adaptive surely has a great deal of scientific support, and another analogous research area in group dynamics also gives us reason to believe such. Research on ingroup vs. outgroup interactions has shown that even groups of strangers that are formed based on a simple random assignment (Group 1 vs Group 2) tend to derogate the outgroup, and show greater support for the ingroup in a lab setting. It seems that as a hyper-social species, our tendencies for social function are hard wired for survival.
    Nevertheless, despite the fact that stereotyping may be a psychological heuristic (mental shortcut), it has damning consequences for those subject to stereotyped beliefs. There are a plethora of studies that show how we implicitly associate certain minority groups with violence (using the implicit association test –IAT, among others). The research is rather conclusive in terms of the societal harm stereotyping is responsible for. One phenomenon that is of interest is referred to as Stereotype Threat Activation. This is a phenomenon where when a certain stereotype is made salient, it increases the chances that the stereotyped individual will conform to the particular stereotype. The hypothesized mechanism is that the threat of being stereotyped causes detriments in performance (as compared to the control).
    If the question of whether stereotyping behavior is normative, the answer is surely yes. We all use heuristics (some of them stereotyped), whether we are consciously aware of them or not. The evidence for stereotyping as a general human instinct is rather conclusive. However, the research on subconscious stereotyping has become sensationalized, mainly through pop-psychology and other media sources. Many researchers do not believe that we are all “implicitly racist”, and many empiricists believe that both the internal validity (mainly due to implicit measures not truly being implicit) and the external validity of much of the research in this area is problematic, and at the least, wanting.
    However, if the question is whether we should consciously allow stereotypes to influence our behavior toward individuals, or whether it is rational – it is surely not. I will however concede that some limited form of stereotyping may be warranted (i.e. you are in an area of town where anti-Semitism is prevalent, you are Jewish, and you see men with hooded white garments – stereotyping these men as KKK members is rational, as is running). In a general sense though, stereotyping leads to societal detriments in a reciprocal fashion. What I mean by this is that the stereotyping individual is leaving themselves open to a great deal of fallacious misinterpretation by seeing an individual through the lens of a stereotype, while the stereotyped individual falls victims to potential misinterpretation of their character, and behavior. The societal damage of stereotyping is thus fairly clear, and while it is likely that they will never simply be eviscerated it is not rational to try not to avoid seeing the world trough a stereotyped filter.

  3. Stereotypes are defined as over generalizations or over simplified standardized images of a person or group. According to psychologists this is a way for us to make sense of our social world; used as a mental shortcut. This simplicity causes us to think in simplistic way rather than forming knowledge based upon evidence. Stereotypes hinder our ability to think critically or reasonably because we accept and process thoughts based upon these stereotypes rather than challenging the claims made by people using stereotypes. Stereotypes are beliefs and expectations that we create without conscious awareness. Prejudice and discrimination are reactions and emotional responses to these thoughts. Reasonableness would be applying reason or sound judgment to your thinking. By thinking according to stereotypes we form incorrect and ill formed judgments which are exhibited as prejudice and ignorance, and are not formed using sound judgment or reason. These thoughts and beliefs do not always reflect reality. Judgments based upon stereotypes prevent the ability to learn and gain knowledge from others because of the preconceived notions about them. Stereotyping is extremely limited thinking. Since stereotypes are quick responses used to make initial judgments it is not reasonable to think in terms of stereotypes.

  4. I did not expect that video at all! It was funny but I have also heard some of those stereotypes mentioned.
    Stereotypes have been created as a means of making sense of our social world through shortcuts and that is reasonable in some circumstances but to solely abide by stereotype thinking is where people go wrong. Not allowing room for individual variations is what makes stereotypes silly and those who think that way never see the full picture. Simply assuming that someone's ethnicity will tell you every thing about the person isn't leaving room for individuality. Having this narrow view on the world and the people in it closes a person off from others. Sometimes stereotyping is reasonable just as some psychologists think but constantly viewing the world that way is where it becomes not only unreasonable but a fallacy because no matter what a person can't know for sure how every individual person will act. This view will hold stereotypes to be inaccurate because it doesn't hold true for every one. This video shows how silly stereotype thinking can be. Stereotyping can be reasonable at times but taking it one step further and having that be the only way of thinking is where it becomes irrational and silly.

  5. I don't believe it's reasonable to think in stereotypes. According to Paul's article, our minds categorize information we process from past experiences or what is happening before us. These categories lead to stereotypes. However, these stereotypes also create a divide and may prevent us from being reasonable. When we categorize people according to their name, color of their skin, nationality, gender, etc., we may be preventing ourselves from processing the reality of the individual.

    The riddle provided as an example shows one problem with believing stereotyping is reasonable. The son has two parents: his mother and father. This is a biological and reasonable assumption. However, a person stumbles over answering that the surgeon is the boy's mother, then the stereotype that surgeons aren't women prevents a person from being reasonable.

    Another reason why stereotypes are unreasonable is because they become self-fulfilling prophecies. We will unconsciously categorize types of people, which prevents us from seeing more of reality. It seems that certain types of people conform to certain stereotypes, but we created those stereotypes in the first place. We are conditioned with these stereotypes, which makes them impossible to escape. Just because they are impossible to escape, that does not make them reasonable. However, if we are aware that we constantly categorize the world around us by stereotyping, we may be able to question what we have been conditioned to know (stereotypes) and make more reasonable assumptions (instead of jumping to stereotyped conclusions).

  6. Cleopatra Acquaye-ReynoldsApril 4, 2014 at 6:56 PM

    First, I'd like to declare my use of the word reasonable will not share the same meaning as "rightfully so". Just because something is reasonable, does not make it a permissible act. With that in mind, I do agree that is reasonable to think in terms of stereotypes but only because it has been so ingrained in our minds, it has now made a firm pattern in our behavior. There are some stereotypes that we participate in, because of the culture some HAD to make for themselves, that perpetuate our stereotypes. For example, the idea of food deserts in urban neighborhoods where person of color communities exists. (A food desert is basically a neighborhood or area in the community that lacks food of nutritional value and is replaced by fast food or food that has passed little or no regulation). These food deserts exist in these particular places, because these areas tend to be very low income and no one will build businesses there except for, let’s say, fried chicken venues that have very little startup money to create business elsewhere. And here we arrive to the stereotype that black people love to eat chicken. Do black people really love to eat fried chicken or does this derive from much low income black families not having a choice to buy anything else?
    But these stereotypes should not be iron clad standards when reviewing different types of people. Therefore, we should 1) Acknowledge that some stereotypes exist, but this is due to years of certain behaviors being pushed and oppressed on to certain people and 2) We must be aggressive looking past these stereotypes or else we miss the important actions we see in people who have escaped an oppressive atmosphere.

  7. Arnequa CampbellApril 4, 2014 at 7:38 PM

    As the article stated, subconsciously everyone thinks in stereotypes. It is not something we can help, and it may not be something noticeable to others. We are affected by our environment and also by our experiences, this helps solidify some notions of stereotypes. It is not reasonable to think in terms of stereotypes because that would cause people to generalize about certain "types" of people and end up with a closed off mind. It also must be kept in mind that stereotypes vary in how offensive they can be, some are completely absurd and some are from misunderstandings. A person could say "all Jewish people have money," but then they could meet some Jewish people who do not have money, yet this will not change their belief. Stereotypes are the strongest when a person has experienced something that was stereotyped, but that does not mean it is any less ignorant. Stereotypes should hold no validation simply for the fact that every single person is different. The society that we live in exposes us to them regardless, but it is a constant conscious battle to not succumb to it.


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