Reducing Stereotype-Based Judgments: The Impact of Habitual Stereotype Use

By Johnston, Lucy | New Zealand Journal of Psychology, March 2006 | Go to article overview
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Reducing Stereotype-Based Judgments: The Impact of Habitual Stereotype Use


Johnston, Lucy, New Zealand Journal of Psychology


The reported experiment investigated whether an individual's habitual use of social stereotypes influenced the impact of the presentation of stereotype-disconfirming information on stereotype-based beliefs. Participants were first categorized as either high or low users of stereotypes using a diary task. They were then presented with stereotype-disconfirming information about members of a specific target group and subsequently evaluated a member of the group about which disconfirming information had been presented and a member of each of two other stereotyped groups about which no information had been presented. Relative to control participants, low users of stereotypes made less stereotype-based judgments only for the member of the target group about which disconfirming information had been received whilst high users showed a generalized reduction in their use of stereotype-based judgments across all the targets. These differences were not due to differential processing of the presented information; neither reading time nor memory measures differentiated between high and low users. Results are discussed in terms of both the use of stereotypes and stereotype change in general.

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There is now a large body of literature demonstrating that the presentation of stereotype-disconfirming information about members of a target group can lead perceivers to rely less on stereotypes in evaluating both individual members of that target group and the target group, in comparison to perceivers who receive no disconfirming information (e.g., Johnston & Hewstone, 1992; Kunda & Oleson, 1997; Seta & Seta, 1993; Weber & Crocker, 1983). Attention has been paid to identifying those conditions under which such reduction in stereotype-based beliefs is most likely to occur, considering factors such as the dispersion of the disconfirming information across target exemplars (e.g., Johnston & Hewstone, 1992; Hewstone, Hassebrauck, Wirth, & Waenke, 2000), and the perceived homogeneity of the target group (e.g., Hewstone, Johnston & Aird, 1992). Somewhat surprisingly, however, little attention has been paid to individual differences amongst perceivers. The present research investigates whether differences in perceivers' overt use of stereotypes influences the impact of stereotype-disconfirming information on stereotype-based beliefs.

Given the prevalence of strong social norms against the use of many social stereotypes (Gaertner & Dovidio, 1986; Heinemann, Pellander, Vogelbusch, & Wojtek, 1981; Yzerbyt, Leyens & Schadron, 1997; Yzerbyt, Schadron, Leyens, & Rocher, 1994), their overt use by perceivers in evaluating others is a strong statement. Individuals who publicly express stereotypic beliefs often risk disapproval and sanctions from others (Adler, Starr, Chideya, Wright, Wingert, & Haac, 1990), although individuals do differ in the extent to which they agree that applying a stereotype to members of a target group is acceptable (Pressly & Devine, 1997). Greater understanding of why perceivers differ in their overt use of stereotypes is needed. The focus of the present research, however, is on the impact of differences in perceivers' use of stereotypes on their response to the presentation of stereotype disconfirming information about specific targets and their subsequent endorsement of stereotype-based beliefs.

A non-stereotypic, or non-prejudiced, response may disguise different motivations to avoid stereotype use. It may reflect either compliance with, or internalization of, society's non-prejudiced values (Crosby, Bromley, & Saxe, 1980; Dovidio & Gaertner, 1991). Plant and Devine (1998) identified both internal and external sources of motivation to respond without prejudice. Internal sources of motivation derive from internalized and personally important non-prejudiced standards whilst external motivations derive from social pressures to comply with non-prejudiced norms.

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