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Stereotypes are the psychologi

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Stereotypes are the psychologi

To adequately investigate the question as to whether stereotypes are the psychological lubricant on intergroup behaviour, several areas need to be considered. In the context of this essay the concept of stereotypes needs to be defined. Although Lippmann (1922) is credited with first using the term 'stereotype? in this context it is perhaps Brown (1995) who offers the most applicable definition when he wrote that "to stereotype someone is to attribute to that person some characteristics which are seen to be shared by all or most of his or her fellow group members." (p.83). With this definition in mind this essay will, firstly, in an attempt to address the question make a brief review of some of the research that has been conducted on the formation of stereotypes. Secondly, this essay will move onto examine the function of these stereotypes in the individual, both from the perspective of intergroup conflict and also in intergroup co-operation. Thirdly this essay will also examine the research that has been carried out into the persistence of stereotypes. Because of the vast amount of research that has been conducted in this area, this essay will, as far as possible, concentrate primarily on the more recent research conducted within the last decade.

It appears from some of the research (for example Hamilton and Gifford, 1976; Hamilton and Sherman, 1989 and Chapman, 1967) that stereotypes are often derived from an over-awareness of statistically infrequent events. More specifically that if an event occurs infrequently amongst a group then it is remembered more vividly than events which might occur on a more regular basis. In a study carried out by Hamilton and Gifford (1976) they divided their participants into two groups with a disproportionate number of participants in the first group. The participants were then informed of a number of desirable and undesirable behaviours. It was found that despite the fact that members of both groups were just as likely to engage in undesirable activities an ?illusionary correlation? of the smaller group meant that a far higher number of these activities was perceived. Schaller and Maass (1989) found that this illusionary correlation would occur for positive as well as negative traits, although not when the perceived negative trait was perceived to be associated with the in-group, only with the out-group.

In a review of the field of research carried out by Schaller and Maass (1991) they argued that cognitive and motivational processes interact in stereotype formation and maintenance and are altered by in-group biases already present, such as the desire to portray positively the in-group. Schaller and Maass point to Social Identity Theory (Tajfel & Turner, 1979), and self-categorisation theory (Turner, 1987) as the "most coherent contemporary models of motivational biases" (Schaller and Maass, 1991, p.190) in relation to social group membership. One of the key points with Social Identity Theory is that the very act of categorisation, regardless of group contact, is enough to produce in-group preference and differentiation from the out-group. According to the theory an individual's self esteem is related to his or her social category membership and therefore the individual seeks to make the social category appear in as positive a light as possible. This group differentiation can lead to the formation of stereotypes. Turner's self-categorisation theory states that individuals seek to form self-categorisations of themselves at many different levels ranging from the most abstract, as in the perception of the self as human, to the most defined, that of the self as a well-defined individual. As with Social Identity Theory, individuals seek to perceive themselves in a positive way and seek to establish a positive distinctiveness between the self and other in-group members and between the in-group and the out-group. There have been a wide range of studies that have found support evidence for both these theories (for example Howard & Rothbart, 1980 and Oakes & Turner, 1980). One area of possible criticism is that far from finding that individuals with exceptionally low self-esteems discriminate more between the in-group and the out-group it has been found that individuals with high self-esteem are more likely to discriminate (Crocker et al, 1987).

Haslam et al (1996) carried out a study to investigate the way in which shared stereotypes are mediated by social influence. They found that stereotypes were bolstered when confirmed by the in-group or contradicted by the out-group. This has implications for the formation of stereotypes initially and it is interesting to note that very little research thus far (according to Haslam et al, 1996) has actually investigated why stereotypes are shared by large groups, a point also made by Tajfel (1981). Like Schaller and Maass (1991), Haslam et al (1996) noted that it is through the process of social interaction that group members form these stereotypes in a way that cannot be reduced to the level of the individual but rather to the perceived group homogeneity. The studies carried out by Haslam et al supported this view.

Having considered the formation of stereotypes this essay will now move on to directly address the function of stereotypes in intergroup conflict and co-operation. Brown (1995) noted that the primary use for stereotypes was their use in social judgements in combination with information specific to the individual. The majority of research in this area has looked at the use of stereotypes in intergroup conflict and this is what this essay will primarily consider, although an attempt will be made to examine their use in intergroup co-operation as well.

Ashmore and Del Boca (1981) proposed three areas of study on the functions of stereotypes, which they termed the cognitive, psychodynamic and sociocultural orientations. The cognitive orientation firstly states that stereotypes are no different to other cognitive activities engaged and in are "nothing special" (Ashmore and Del Boca, 1981, p.28). Stereotypes serve the function of cognitive economy, allowing the perceiver to manage incoming information in smaller, more manageable portions. This is supported by Locke et al (1994) who found that, in the case of prejudicing stereotypes that they are often used in an automatic and unconscious way, much like other cognitive functions. The psychodynamic orientation states that stereotypes are used in a self-protective capacity, especially in situations where there is perceived to be conflict for limited resources. This ties-in with the work of Jost and Banji (1994), that is examined below. Thirdly is the sociocultural approach in which stereotypes are treated as a function of the wider community in which they are found. In this orientation stereotypes help people to fit in more closely with the in-group enabling more effective interaction within the group.

Jost and Banaji (1994) examined the function of stereotyping in system-justification and the production of false consciousness. Using the earlier work of Tajfel (1978) and Tajfel and Turner (1979,1986) as a basis Jost and Banaji sought to apply these findings, as well as there own research, on the function of stereotypes. In their work they looked at stereotypes being used to provide legitimacy or support for attitudes and beliefs. They note that there are three types of justification. The first is ?ego-justification? which states that stereotypes are developed to protect the individual or the behaviour of the individual (this is the psychodynamic orientation proposed by Ashmore and Del Boca, 1981). ?Group-justification? refers to the development of stereotypes to protect the group as a whole. The third type of justification, which they coin, is 'system-justification?. System-justification includes the use of stereotypes in other situations, such as negative stereotyping of the individual or in-group. Effectively system-justification is a way of mentally legitimising currently operating social, legal or other arrangements.

Augoustinos et al (1994) examined the link between prejudice towards Aborigines in Australia and stereotypes based on the work of Devine (1989) who argued that stereotypes and personal beliefs should be categorised as separate cognitive components. Their research over two studies found that participants rated as highly prejudiced were more likely to support negative comments about Aborigines than those rated as low prejudiced who were more likely to support positive comments. They concluded that cognitive models of stereotype activation alone were insufficient and that the beliefs and the mental evaluation of those ...

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Keywords: stereotypes psychologist, what is stereotyping psychology, stereotype psychology examples

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