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Stereotypes*

Definition
Before we focus on how stereotypes are created and whether they should/can be overcome, we
ought to try to define the meaning of stereotype (noun + verb).
This compound stems from the Greek language and means a solid impression. Let us start with a
most comprehensible stereotype definition: A stereotype is a commonly held popular belief about
specific social groups or types of individuals. (Wiki) When some group is perceived to be different
from the norm of those who make subjective evaluations, stereotypes are harboured. Stereotypes are
mostly related to the nationality, ethnic origin, religion, age, gender, sexuality, culture, heritage of
the Other, to name a few areas. However, it can rightly be stated that a stereotype is "...a fixed, overgeneralised belief about a particular group or class of people. (Cardwell 1996) These two
definitions also show why stereotyping is usually wrong and therefore should be avoided:
Stereotype is a fixed idea that people have about what someone or something is like, especially
an idea that is wrong (e.g. racial/sexual stereotypes): He doesn't conform to/fit/fill the
national stereotype of a Frenchman. (Cambridge Advanced Learners Dictionary)
- an over-simplified idea of the typical characteristics of a person or thing (Pocket Oxford
English Dictionary)
Stereotyping is a form of prejudgment. Brown's definition of stereotyping through prejudice is the
holding of derogatory social attitudes or cognitive beliefs, the expression of negative effect, or the
display of hostile or discriminatory behaviour towards members of a group on account of their
membership to that group. (Brown, R. Prejudice. Oxford: Blackwell, 1995)

Characteristics
The first characteristic of stereotyping is over-generalisation. The second feature and characteristic
of stereotyping is the exaggeration of the difference between ones own group (the in-group) and
the 'other' group (the out-group). Through stereotyping and categorisation we exaggerate the
differences between the groups.
We all stereotype. We live in a complex social environment, which we need to simplify into groups,
or categories. Sociologist Charles E. Hurst says that: "One reason for stereotypes is the lack of
personal, concrete familiarity that individuals have with persons in other racial or ethnic groups.
Lack of familiarity encourages the lumping together of unknown individuals."
A stereotype is a popular belief about specific social groups or types of individuals. Stereotypes are
standardized and simplified conceptions of groups based on some prior assumptions. Stereotypes
focus upon and thereby exaggerate differences between groups. Competition between groups
minimizes similarities and magnifies differences. By designating one's own group as the standard or
normal group and assigning others to groups considered inferior or abnormal, it provides one with a
sense of worth. Generalizations about cultures or nationalities can be a source of pride, anger or
simply bad jokes. Some people say that in all stereotypes there is some basis in reality, as they dont
develop in vacuum.
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* This handout is a compilation of excerpts from different sources and it is not to be cited as
an original source.

A stereotype is an oversimplified and usually value-laden view of the attitudes, behaviour and
expectations of a group or individual. Such views, which may be deeply embedded in sexist, racist
or otherwise prejudiced cultures, are typically highly resistant to change, and play a significant role
in shaping the attitudes of members of the culture to others. Within cultural studies, the role of
stereotypes is possibly most marked in the products of the mass media (including the portrayal of
women and ethnic minorities in drama and comedy, and in the shaping and construction of news
coverage), although they are also significant in education, work and sport (in channeling individuals
into activities deemed appropriate to their stereotyped group. (Cultural Theory: The Key Concepts.
Edited by Andrew Edgar and Peter Sedgwick. London & New York: Routledge, 2002)
In order to define the notion of stereotypes it is necessary first to define what prejudices are,
because stereotyping makes a part of a prejudice. Prejudice is an unfair and unreasonable opinion or
feeling, especially when formed without enough thought or knowledge (Cambridge Advanced
Learners Dictionary), and it can be positive or negative. Stereotype refers to the cognitive part of a
prejudice, and it represents the oversimplified opinion about a person, group, institution etc.
However, stereotypes cannot be easily rooted out, because we need them for better orientation in a
society. People want to mark the distinction between the stereotyped group and their own, and tend
to involve emotions into defending their attitudes. Though stereotypes are not exclusively negative;
since they may be formed in a feeling of admiration for the group or country in question, they are
often disapproving and discriminative. Stereotypes are usually negative caricatures of some positive
traits of a group, emphasised even to ridicule. Prejudices and stereotypes are a consequence of
peoples tendency to overgeneralise and to classify the world into certain categories. Stereotypes are
ingrained/deeply rooted, conventional and oversimplified manners of thinking about certain events,
groups of people (judging according to their occupation, nationality, religion, race, social class,
sexual orientation and other). They represent group concepts of one group towards another.
Creation of stereotypes is based on: oversimplification, exaggeration of the generalisation and
stating ones cultural attributes as inborn, natural. Stereotypes can be changed through education
and getting to know the stereotyped group. Prejudices are formed on the basis of stereotypes, and
can result in severe discrimination.
The reasons why stereotypes are deeply rooted in our historic backgrounds and contemporary
cultures may be defined as follows:
a) it becomes almost impossible not to get influenced by our perception and preconceived opinions
in the everyday life since we feel that our senses and judgments can hardly deceive us;
b) the world we live in is so complex that we cannot take in all of the complexities of other people
as individuals;
c) we make stereotypes to compare our qualities with those of some other group and in order to feel
good about ourselves;
d) some stereotypes are preconceived in childhood by the values which parents, peers, society,
media and education system left upon a developing individual;
e) we often possess limited, inaccurate information from unreliable resources such as television,
products of popular culture and minimal contact with members of the stereotyped group.
The ability to categorize others is in human nature because it enables us to simplify, predict and
organize our world. If we do generalize about characteristics in a particular group, we try to
establish a pattern about that group and predict their values and behaviour. No matter how educated
or open-minded individuals are, they may start to subconsciously stereotype or label others to some
extent. Such stereotypical behaviour may become easily noticeable in their every day interactions
with other people. However, what is important to remember when it comes to stereotyping is that
not only stern, inflexible people are prone to this way of behaviour, but also more tolerant people.

As Gordon Allport says in The Nature of Prejudice (1954), there are so many people whom we
encounter in our daily routine that we "must group them, form clusters. We welcome, therefore, the
names that help us to perform the clustering." Some of the labels are especially powerful. "They
tend to prevent alternative classification, or even cross-classification. Ethnic labels are often of this
type, particularly if they refer to some highly visible feature, e.g., Negro, Oriental. They resemble
the labels that point to some outstanding incapacity feeble-minded, crippled, [...]", however:
"there may be genuine ethnic-linked traits, making for a certain probability that the member of an
ethnic stock may have these attributes. But our cognitive process is not cautious. The labeled
category, [] includes indiscriminately the defining attribute, probable attributes, and wholly
fanciful, nonexistent attributes. [] When these labels are employed we can be almost certain that
the speaker intends not only to characterize the persons membership, but also to disparage and
reject him." As an example to prove his point, Allport emphasizes that: "In his novel Moby Dick,
Herman Melville considers at length the remarkably morbid connotations of black and the
remarkably virtuous connotations of white." Thus, as Homi K. Bhabha states in The Location of
Culture (2003), whiteness is related to positivity, rationality, universality, progress, cultural
supremacy and the idea that there is a desire on behalf of the colonized to identify with the
humanistic, enlightenment ideal of Man, while blackness is linked with tragic experience,
discrimination, despair, belatedness (racial stereotypes). National stereotype is a system of
culture-specific beliefs connected with the nationality of a person. This system includes beliefs
concerning those properties of human beings that may vary across nations, such as appearance,
language, food, habits, psychological traits, attitudes, values etc.
There are many similar definitions of stereotypes, for instance that they are:
- psychological representations of the characteristics of people that belong to particular groups
- shared group beliefs, or
- generalizations about a group of people whereby we attribute a defined set of characteristics to
this group. (All three taken from Stereotypes as Explanations: The Formation of Meaningful
Beliefs about Social Groups, Edited by McGarty, Yzerbyt and Spears, 2002)
Classifications that exist can be positive or negative when we stereotype some nationalities as
friendly and others as unfriendly. Stereotypes are misleading since they do not acknowledge the
individuality and complexity of the representatives in some group. Negative effects of stereotypes
should be noticed, such as: being judgmental and unwilling to reconsider the formed opinion;
having false perspectives of people, countries, societies, cultures; cooperating with greater
difficulty; preventing integration of stereotyped groups and their involvement in diverse activities;
lacking empathy towards the different. "Whether favorable or unfavorable, a stereotype is an
exaggerated belief associated with a category. Its function is to justify (rationalize) our conduct in
relation to that category." - stresses Allport and adds that, regardless of the fact that "stereotypes
may or may not originate in a kernel of truth, they aid people in simplifying their categories, they
justify hostility, sometimes they serve as projection screens for our personal conflict. But there is an
additional, and exceedingly important, reason for their existence. They are socially supported,
continually revived and hammered in, by our media of mass communication by novels, short
stories, newspaper items, movies, stage, radio, and television. In an analysis of 100 motion pictures
involving Black African characters, it was found that in 75 cases the portrayal was disparaging and
stereotyped. In only 12 cases was the Black African presented in a favorable light as an individual
human being."
His conclusion is, therefore, that: "While it is important to bear in mind that biases may be pro as
well as con, it is none the less true that ethnic prejudice is mostly negative." However, other authors
underline the positive effects of stereotyping, as well: Shared stereotypes, for example, are useful
for predicting and understanding the behaviour of members of one group to another. (Stereotypes
as Explanations: The Formation of Meaningful Beliefs about Social Groups, 2002) or: stereotypes

serve to simplify our social worlds and to make them comprehensible. (Stangor, Charles.
Stereotypes and Prejudice: Essential Readings (Key Readings in Social Psychology), 2000)
Although stereotypes are rarely changed and our pre-conditioned wrong beliefs remain stable even
if we are surrounded by disconfirming evidence, there are three theoretical ways in which our
stereotypes can be modified or adjusted:
1. Bookkeeping model: Our stereotypes are adjusted to the new information despite the fact that it
may be contradictory and controversial to a previously supposed truth. Only a lot of repeated
information makes us change our views because each individual evidence is considered to be an
exception that proves the rule.
2. Conversion model: We throw away the old stereotype and start again usually due to strong
disconfirming evidence.
3. Subtyping model: We create a new stereotype that is a sub-classification of the existing
stereotype, particularly when we can draw a boundary around the sub-class. Thus if we have a
stereotype for Britons, a visit to London may result in us having a Londoners are different subtype.

Conclusion
Stereotypes are inevitable indeed, but those striving to be educated and to avoid media manipulation
should try to obtain wider knowledge on the unknown and the other, thus analyzing critically
the potential bias and the approach in informing mass audience. It is quite difficult to measure to
which extent stereotypes change and it is widely believed that they actually remain constant even
when the fluctuations happen in the society and a lot of time passes after difficult groundbreaking
events. In order to learn more about the changing variables of stereotypes, we should bear in mind
the study of Yueh-Ting Lee and his associates who have established an EPA Model with three
dimensions of stereotypes and categorical knowledge. (Evaluation, Potency, Accuracy). 1 "E"
represents evaluation or valence (e.g., stereotypes and human categories can range from positive to
negative). "P" represents potency or latency of activation from the memory of human knowledge
(e.g., stereotypes or human categories can range from automatic activation to little or no activation).
Finally, "A" represents accuracy (e.g., stereotypes and human categories can range from accurate to
inaccurate). In practice stereotypes may transform to these following dimensions only when the
reality changes, following the changes in human perceptions.
Yanko Tsvetkov, Bulgarian illustrator and graphic artist living in London, analyzed wittily the
European relations and attitudes through the medium of his stereotype maps.2
To conclude, each of us can contribute to creating less stereotypical image about us. Here us
means belonging to some nation, age and religious group, gender, educational, cultural and political
establishment. As Ms. Vesna Goldsworthy observed, Everything changes at the speed of lightning.
In 1903 British looked upon Serbia with horror, and in 1914 with admiration: what does eleven
years mean in our lives?3

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yueh-Ting_Lee
http://alphadesigner.com/project-mapping-stereotypes.html
3
http://www.vreme.com/cms/view.php?id=431702
2