[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?