The Psychology of Prejudice

By Mark P. Zanna; James M. Olson | Go to book overview
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5
Expectancy-Confirmation Processes in Stereotype- Tinged Social Encounters: The Moderating Role of Social Goals

Steven L. Neuberg

Arizona State University

Theorists and laypersons alike have argued that one can eliminate inaccurate stereotypes by having the holders of such beliefs meet and interact with individual members of the stereotyped group. If people merely experience firsthand what members of such groups are truly like, the reasoning goes, inaccurate stereotypes will prove themselves to be of little use and will gradually disappear. This notion--the contact hypothesis--has been with social scientists for a while now and admittedly possesses much intuitive appeal ( Allport, 1954; Cook, 1978).

Unfortunately, empirical evidence does not strongly support the contact notion, at least not in its simple form. Indeed, real-world interventions often reveal that contact can paradoxically serve to maintain, and even intensify, stereotypes and prejudices (for a review, see Miller & Brewer, 1984).

Why is this? Why is contact so often ineffective at reducing stereotypes and prejudices? To answer this question, one must focus on two fundamental aspects of the stereotype-change process. First, to change a stereotype or a prejudice, a person must obtain information about the group that is accepted as being incongruous with the stereotype or prejudice. Second, the person must use this information to modify his or her beliefs and feelings toward the group in general. Stated in terms most relevant to the situation of interpersonal contact between a potential stereotyper and the potential stereotypee, we can thus pose two broad questions: (a) What are the processes inherent to stereotype-tinged social encounters that determine whether or not individual members of a stereotyped group are viewed as being confirming or disconfirming of their group stereotypes? And (b) What are the processes that determine whether or not the impressions formed of these individuals subsequently influence the perceiver's group-level stereotypes and prejudices?

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