The effects of stereotyping on society

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Stereotypes are simple images of what a certain type of person is or does, and are used widely to inform or influence people's perceptions about others, often incorrectly.

A stereotype can be racial, religious, sexual or even social, and can be the result of a well-known incident or attitude from years before, or simply the result of prevalent rumours. Stereotyping can impact across various areas in society.

People Make Assumptions

At a basic level, the presence of stereotypes can cause people to make incorrect assumptions based on their perceptions of what a certain type of individual is or does. These assumptions can filter into many aspects of life; an employer might refuse to give someone a job, for instance, based on stereotyping, or an individual might avoid a part of town associated with a certain ethnic group due to the stereotypes associated with that ethnicity.

On Young People

Young people are particularly susceptible to the effects of stereotyping, since, as pointed out by the Media Awareness website, many of an individual's values and attitudes develop during the formative years of childhood. Therefore, when a child is exposed to blatant stereotyping, she is perhaps likely to grow up having absorbed the stereotyped portrayal as something that is factual. An example would be the portrayal of Native American Indians in some early Hollywood films, where this minority group are presented as marginalised and in some extreme cases savage compared to the people of the American West. This kind of stereotyping can leave a lasting impression on a child, and inform her attitudes as an adult.

Ambiguity for Stereotyped Groups

In some cases, the negative stereotyping of the past, even if such attitudes are falling out of fashion, can have a lingering effect on the groups victimised by the stereotyping. For example, African-Americans in the educational system in the United States have been subject to the stereotype that they are generally less intelligent than white students, as noted by the Association for Psychological Science website. This stereotyping may cause African-American students of the present to worry whether the grades they receive are a result of low expectations by teachers who are prejudiced and therefore give such students an easy time, or if they actually reflect their true achievements.

Stereotype Threat

When individuals are aware that they are stereotyped as a result of a group they belong to, their reaction may be to act the opposite way in an attempt to prove to their peers that the image presented by stereotyping is incorrect. This reaction is termed "stereotype threat" by psychologists. An example would be a businesswoman who wishes to prove that she is not indecisive, a stereotype sometimes applied to women in such roles as noted by Carrie Conaway in her essay "A Psychological Effect of Stereotypes." The businesswoman might thus act rashly when making decisions in the workplace.