Critically consider the roles played by stereotypes - Sample Essay

In this essay I am going to consider the roles played by stereotype in how we perceive other people. Stereotype are described as ‘the as the little picture we carry around within our heads’. A definition of stereotype is a belief held by people about the characteristics of the members of a social group. For example all black people commit crime.

People form stereotypes as it saves mental energy, as cognitive misers we aim to use the least possible energy to cut down the amount of cognitive effort involved in social perception. We use stereotypes to put people into categories once we have made a stereotype we tend to apply the characteristic to the whole social group. So it is easier to describe a whole social group rather then, describing them as individual as this would make them think more.

Stereotype are activated as soon as we come into contact with a contact with a particular social group, once a stereotype has been formed we have a mental list of there characteristics in which we expect them to behave, if they don’t match up to our characteristic we tend to say they are an exception as it is easier to say they are one of a kind rather then change our perception. In addition to saving on cognitive effort, stereotype has an important role in the way individual interpret social information.

Duncan (1976) showed white participants a video of two actors arguing leading to one actor shoving the second actor. When it was the black actor shoving the white actor the participants described his behaviour as a violent act. However when the white actor was seen shoving the black actor, the participant described his behaviour as playfulness. This shows that the participant had already formed stereotype of black people, that they are more prone to violence then white people. Allport (1958) developed the grain of truth hypothesis.

He suggested that that stereotype might have originated by a single grain of truth. He argued that this is all blown out of proportion a grain of truth leading to a stereotype. However Campbell (1967) developed on Allport ideas. He suggested that a stereotype originated either from a person experience from other people experiences. For example he used the example of all German are humourless, this is probably because he has met a German person that is humourless or they know some who has meet a German person who is humourless.

Then this view is generalised the grain of truth hypothesis has got little support as it fails to explain how a grain of truth develops into a full-blown stereotype. Also there may not be a grain of truth in the first place. The way people perceived characteristics might reflect their culture or their attitude. However the illusory correlation may offer some further explanation for some of the limitation of the grain of truth hypothesis to a certain extent. Illusory correlation means a perceived relationship between two things that does not exist or that is over estimated.

This is most likely to occur when thing are correlated e. g. people and behaviour that stand out. This was shown in a study by Hamilton and Gifford (1976). The participants were given statements, which describe behaviour of 2 groups, group A and group B. Group A – majority participants, group B – minority participants. 2/3 of the statement described desirable behaviour and 1/3 of the statements described undesirable behaviour. The participant was asked to recall desirable and desirable behaviour.

The participant’s in-group A over estimated the number of times members of group B behaved undesirably. Group Band undesirable behaviour were less frequent then members of group A and desirable behaviour. Therefore group B behaviour were seen as more distinctive. However the participant in both group showed the same proportion of undesirable behaviour therefore group B had less people showed there behaviour to be more distinctive therefore creating illusory correlation. In conclusion it show that stereotyping play a big role in how we perceive other people.