Stereotypes are general assumptions and popular ideas about a group of people, which can often be exaggerated or unsound.
Stereotypes are considered as old as humanity and they have become natural and common phenomena in cultures around the world. A stereotype is based on some kind of prejudice or generalization and it can refer to people's race or color, gender, social class or appearance.
The word stereotype derives from Greek and it literally means "solid impression". The word itself was put into use by French printer and type founder Firmin Didot and it indicated the metal printing plate created for the actual printing of pages.
Stereotypes can imply both positive and negative ideas; however, they are usually used to make a certain group of people feel superior to other individuals or groups of people. For example, the generalization suggesting that black people are good at basketball and are more rhythmical compared with white people is a positive stereotype. An example of a negative stereotype is the assumption that women are bad drivers.
Stereotypes are created and replicated in both words and images. As part of the human culture they also appear in the media. The media intentionally uses stereotypes because, like other generalizations, they can serve as mental shortcuts and are especially likely to activate when people are busy or distracted. Stereotypes help the media create easily recognized images. People can apply stereotypes even unconsciously by a flash image or expression linked to a particular group of people, which once switched on can affect their conduct and attitudes.
Research into stereotypes can be traced back to 1933 when Daniel Katz and Kenneth Braly conducted a poll among 100 university students asking them to point out the most typical characteristics of certain groups of people. A total of 84 percent of the participants in the poll attributed superstition to African Americans and 75 percent defined them as lazy, whereas 79 percent described Jews as shrewd.
Racial stereotypes have not faded since the 1930s, however, they have been masked with political correctness due to the public outcry against racism. For example, a study from the 1990s discovered that when questions in the poll lacked a politically correct answer, many of the surveyed concurred with generalizations based on people's race.
Using cognitive psychology methods, researchers have also established that people may hold prejudiced ideas without even realizing it. The so called implicit attitudes people may hold against other people are tested by an experiment, known as "priming". Test subjects are shown words or images that relate to stereotypical assumptions and ideas and once an implicit prejudice has been applied, researchers can examine its impact on human conduct and beliefs.
The Implicit Association Test, or IAT, is another popular method to study implicit stereotyping. It is a computer-based test used to assess how quickly people can place into categories a number of words and images. The test is based on the idea that people can distinguish words and images more quickly when they move from closely related categories. The IAT has served to assess various hidden implications, including gender and racial stereotypes and political favors.
Stereotypes widely affect the human behavior. For instance, the prejudice that women are bad drivers can lead to poor female results in driving tests. A study from the late 1990s showed that female math students registered a lower performance in a test after being told that it can reveal gender distinctiveness in math skills.
Prejudiced and biased ideas are developed from an early age. Children are especially vulnerable to stereotypes. An Israeli inquiry from 1996 uncovered that two-and-a-half-year-olds applied anti-Arab stereotypes.
Advertising and the media exploit stereotypes to a great extent. While ads try to convince men and women who they should be and what roles they should play in society, media stereotypes can even have a stronger impact on people's attitudes and decision-making. For example, a study showed that men who had watched sexist ads eventually deemed female job applicants as less reliable. Researchers have also discovered that males who had watched scenes objectifying women are more likely to deem that a rape victim actually liked the violence and that she deserved it. Males watching such scenes are also more likely to start considering women as more sexual and submissive. Furthermore, the studies showed that white people who had been exposed to prejudiced comic images of black people are later more likely to judge a black defendant guilty of a crime.