On stereotypes. Or perhaps effect sizes. Or possibly how to think about psychology which I do a lot with very little progress.

Back in grad-school I was the TA for the upper level Social Psychology course. The teacher, Ed Hirt, would assign 2-page papers for the students to write, on some particular topic in Soc Psych, usually asking them to relate the particular phenomenon to a real experience they had. When we had the sections on stereotypes and then prejudice, he asked them to write about some time where it had turned out relying on a stereotype had been beneficial.

It was amazing how many of the students just could not grasp that notion, and returned a paper where they condemned stereotyping.

This inability to consider an upside to stereotypes extended to at least some of the grad students. Me, with my cognitive psychology background wanted to think about them like schemas, summaries that could be very useful, although at times quite negative, and tried to start discussing this with one of my pals, knowing full well that this was not quite the PC way to discuss the topic, but we were scientists, damnit, and as Mind Hacks say, science takes no sides, and I wanted to explore it. It was akin to holding a cigarette lighter to a gas leakage, because everything out of her mouth were about how bad stereotypes are, and how much she did not want to be stereotyped as a woman, and on and on and on. And, yes, I sympathize with some of this as neither one of us are particularly traditionally gender conformists, but it was, in some ways, odd. Stereotype = bad. And, here I wanted to wrest it back, in order to try to understand why we have them in the first place, and seem unable to ditch them, if they supposedly are so bad.

(And, yes, I go the schema way –we have to order and simplify our world, and frankly, there are plenty of times I’m happy if people stereotype me and treat me accordingly, for example in my role as a university teacher, and I do not want them to get to know me personally and intimately in my own unique snow-flaky way, because that would really interfere with teaching).

Although there were others of the social grad students who mentioned that there were some work on stereotype accuracy and the kernel of truth, it was kind of like hush hush. Even more so than talking about IQ. But, we were only grad students.

I think the person they talked about was Lee Jussim, who has written an absolutely excellent book called Social Perception and Social Reality – why accuracy dominates bias and self-fulfilling prophecy.

I was glued to this book. His writing is very engaging and clear. He is well aware that this is a controversial topic, and he lays out his thesis carefully and logically. And, he provides data. Essentially, this is a book long series of meta-analyses, either his or others, involving a whole series of seminal, influential studies, where he brings in and interprets the numbers. The effects. It is beautiful!

At the same time, I was teaching my advanced social cognition course. We use Taylor and Fiske’s social cognition book (newer edition, but now out of print), which is dense, wide-ranging, and fantastic in many ways in what it covers. (They even do not too shabby entries both on neural nets, and on emotion, although they are very clear about the fact that this is a bit outside their focal areas of research).

The amount of research they pull together is immense. It is also all together narrative. Effects are stated in directions:” participants who listened to an expert were more persuaded than participants who listened to a non-expert.” Sometimes the results are more complex: “those who were in a happy mood were more persuaded by the experts than those in a neutral mood, but over time this effect dissipated.” Etc. Anybody reading psychology are familiar with these statements. In papers they are accompanied by numbers, graphs, inferential statisics, the magic p value, and perhaps an estimated effect size dutifully copied from an SPSS output. In the text book the numbers are rarely (if ever) presented. (Sentences in quotes are not actual citations, but plausibel statements I made up. Those types of effects do exist, but it is more for an illustrative purpose).

It is quite difficult to assess how strong these effects are. Would I notice it or not? Does it have real consequences? Are they so strong that people living in incommensurable worlds, enveloped in biases, bounced around by circumstances, uncapable of controlling feelings, thoughts and behaviors that are problematic yet difficult to even get out of?

To that last, Jussim says, no. This is, in some cases, how findings are presented – and he gives plenty of examples. The effects are real, but they are small to moderate. Now, he only goes through research that is particularly interesting for his assessment of how accurate the stereotypes we use are, and there are loads of more very interesting effects in social psychology that need this kind of treatment. (Which is why I want to get into meta-analysis, because, why collect new data, when so many people have spent so much time doing it already, and now it needs to be pulled together).

But to go back to some of the results he discuss, that are frequently cited as large factors in behavior even outside social psychology, without really going in to how large they are, or are not.

He starts with Rosenthal and Jacobson’s (1968) Pygmalion effect. He has done quite a bit of research in schools and on learning, so this fits in with what he does. The Pygmalion effect is used as an argument for how malleable human performance is. I had actually heard a researcher mentioned that it doesn’t replicate, although he didn’t elaborate on it (just enough to sow a seed of doubt), but you see it regularly mentioned as evidence in all sorts of circumstances in a hopeful manner. The story is that teachers were told that some students were going to bloom, planting en expectation of excellence. And, this expectation caused the students to perform better. This sounds wonderful! Simply expect excellence from your students, and they will just magically fulfill your prophecy and do just wonderful!

Pygmalion in the classroom, original paper (paywall)

Except, it is not that simple, and that was not quite what the study actually did, although there seemed to be some effect of expectation. the original study, and several versions of follow-ups, he concludes there is some effect of expectancy. If I recall, about the level of r = .200. What he also brings up (and summarizes research of), is that teachers are good at accurately assess their students. Their expectancies are not overinflated, or overly malleable, but relatively spot on. Also, he shows that the students themselves are not passive beings that will simply respond to whatever someone expects of them. No they are themselves interested in signaling clearly who they are and what they are capable of. Does not this seem reasonable? Don’t you want your friends and loved ones to know you (and you ensure that they have the opportunity to), so that the expectations are somewhat aligned with who you are? There is slosh– but limited slosh. Both perceiver and perceived (or both interactant) are interested in the relationship being somewhat accurate. I think this is kind of what Robert Kurzban is on about here also (although there is more to it).

He discusses Hastorf and Cantril’s (1954) famous study where students from Princeton and Dartmouth watched a football game between their respective teams, and then assess the judgments of the play. They differ. This is interesting. But, Jussim goes to the numbers and reasons about how to assess agreement and disagreement, and places the numbers in the larger context of a football game (this starts on page 22, and goes on for a couple of papers). Particularly interesting exercise for someone like me who likes the numbers, but is not interested enough in American football to have a prior feel for how many fouls or plays or what have you we are talking about. There is actually an awful lot of agreement, although there clearly is some disagreement also. This is an interesting bias, of course, and sometimes very small biases can have big consequences. But it is not as if the two groups saw different games.

A third eye-opener was of a classic study on the halo effect by Snyder, Tanke, & Berscheid, (1977). The premise is that there is a belief – a stereotype – that attractive people are warmer friendlier smarter what have you. And, the study is elegant. Male students were given a picture of a woman they were going to speak with via the telephone. In some she is plain, in others beautiful. The person the participant talks to is randomly assigned to condition, so there is no relationship between the attractiveness of the person on the photo, and the attractiveness of the woman in the other room. The conversation is recorded. Independent raters are then rate the conversation on warmth and friendliness. Those men that believe the woman is attractive are rated as behaving warmer and friendlier. So is the woman responding! This is taken as evidence that the activation of a stereotype (beautiful is good), can result in a self-fulfilling prophecy (the responding woman becomes warmer and friendlier). It is a nice study, but Jussim proceeds to analyze it suggesting that it is not necessarily strong evidence for the biasing effect of stereotypes (pages 95-97). (Also, the presented analyses does not allow for a retrieval of the effect sizes). For one, later research has shown that the attractiveness stereotype perhaps is not biased as there is some evidence that attractive people are more socially skilled. So, perhaps the men were simply acting in accordance with more or less correct expectations (although now the cue of attractiveness was uncorrelated with the target woman). The men had a false expectation. It is also not quite clear that there was an activated stereotype, but, as he says, why would 19-20 year old men possibly want to impress on a pretty 19-20 year old woman? In my quick re-reading, I don’t see him addressing that the women (of arbitrary attractiveness) became warmer when the men behaved more warm. What he is after is, what does it say about stereotypes and their biasing effect? And the answer is, it is unclear. It is an elegant, inventive study, but it leaves questions open. And, interestingly, for such an influential study, there has only been one attempt at direct replication By Anderson & Bem (1981) (and as far as direct replication, I don’t think it would be considered that in the current climate of replication interest). Incidentally, the effects did not replicate! For such an influential study, this is kind of remarkable.

He reviews this research, because they have been used as evidence against his work on stereotype accuracy. Stereotypes cannot be accurate because of self-fulfilling prophecies, for biased observations, for halo effects that will render them inaccurate and misleading. But, although the effects are there, they are not particularly strong.

He proceeds to summarize the work on stereotype accuracy. (These are chapters after chapters, and very interesting). Of course, he is entirely in the clear about that stereotypes can be pernicious, negative, and used for horrible purposes, and that they can be wildly inaccurate and smearing. But, is this all they are? Why do we have them, if they are so misleading? Because having a wildly inaccurate view of the surroundings cannot possibly be beneficial. He then walks through evidence where stereotype accuracy is assessed. That is, does peoples beliefs about some group (women, men, African Americans, etc) on some dimension (e.g. school performance) somewhat match how that group actually behaves and performs? Although people are not perfect, they are more accurate than inaccurate in many instances. It is like the stereotype is a summary of knowledge from which one can make a reasonable bet. It is a bet, so it may not pay off, of course. It is only as good as the accuracy of that stereotype is, and, at least when you interact with people from another group, it may be of interest to keep that stereotype updated so as not to make too many mistakes.

It doesn’t mean that stereotypes can’t be wildly off, or that they can be highly negative. It doesn’t mean that there are those motivated to pursue negative biased stereotypes about others (as in propaganda). Doesn’t mean that stereotyping can lead to very bad consequences, or that, as an individual it can become tiresome if not outright painful to frequently be assessed as something you are not, and he is very well aware of this.

But, if you are a scientist, you have to actually try to look at your topic area and try to understand what is really going on, rather than being influenced by other agendas. It is perfectly fine, of course, to want to end pernicious stereotyping, but it is also a good idea to try to accurately understand the phenomenon. He discusses this extensively (really, read the book. It is great). There is a confusion about meaning when it comes to stereotypes, and it is inconsistent. One could consider stereotypes those types of summary information that are wildly biased and plain wrong (for whatever reasons, lack of knowledge, motivation to derogate), but then there needs to be a term – like perhaps schema – for the summaries we have that aren’t perfect maps of everyone, but are rough priors for orienting among people – but, as he points out, we don’t.

It is not unreasonable that we do have some clue about how to assess others, using some kind of rough summary knowledge acquired from multiple sources that may or may not be accurate, of course.

It squares with work on snap-judgments where, supposedly, you can assess better than chance a number of traits from rapidly presented snapshots of faces (Todorov). Or non-verbal assessment. Having a degree of accuracy in our perceptions of others (or, at least not really wildly wrong) would be in our interest.

As I also have some, as yet written up for publishing work where I assess attitudes via IAT, and where I find a link between this and the judgment I’m interested in, but it is incredibly weak, and the more impressive “ground” information is how top of mind it is about the problem with stereotyping, I really need to know this type of calibration. Should you really write about it as pernicious hidden prejudice? Or is it the echo of both our frequency of encounters with “others”, and our need to actually categorize, and a perfect equipotential is just not something that can ever be reasonably expected among most people within a fairly wide swath around the mean.

I have the research interest here, but my students, especially those that are mainly interested in getting an overview, have a practical interest also, in that stereotyping and prejudice and that type of relations are a very active problem. And, I honestly am not sure if what we know from research can help resolve this in a “once and for all” manner – but points more to that this is a bit like cleaning house, or looking over the infrastructure. Just a couple of minor anecdotes dealing with the idea of priors and wrong bets.

I recently went to what was called an inspiration seminar at my university, which was inspirational. One of the topics were the work on recruiting and retaining people from underrepresented groups, and to work on making sure that people from these groups feel welcome.

During the panel talk, one of the members recounted anecdotes from people – students, personnel, not sure – at that department who, well, don’t look like me. I really look stereotypically Swedish (blonde, blue-eyed, rather tall) so a Swedish assumption is correct. But, of course, there are plenty of swedes who look nothing like me, who nevertheless are as Swedish as I am (more so, since I’m actually now American). These were people I gather who looked Asian or middle-eastern (because their ancestry were from there), but who were from here. But, people would make the bet they were not, and start speaking English to them. I can see that that is quite annoying. I would think that anybody that has lived in non-homogeneous places have heard those stories, and even on occasion being one of those that did the wrong bet.

But, I also have this alternate anecdote. This year, I have met two women with very Swedish first and last names. In fact, both blonde. As I don’t care whether I use Swedish or English I spoke English to them because they spoke English to me first, although I wondered whether I really should speak Swedish. (There have been people who start speaking English to me on account of my last name.) One of them is a California girl with a Swedish parent, and the other a Canadian woman with a Swedish husband. I would have bet wrong here too, if I had started speaking Swedish with them.

This then becomes a real conundrum. On the one hand, the annoyance of people in minority status is completely understandable, but the mistaken bets of individuals are also understandable and are likely not due to serious bias or racism, but more due to sensitivities to frequencies, and having made a wrong bet. The experience is asymmetric.

Now, I can analyze that from a science point of view, but, practically, what do you do? Be timid? Like the prof at my old uni who kind of hesitantly went up to me when I was a rather large 8-months pregnant and asked, aheming, if, well, perhaps, was I possibly, maybe, pregnant? I know where that comes from, but it was kind of funny.

Perhaps with time the missed bets about background will also fade, as what you look like will become less of a reliable marker, as was first suggested by Kurzban’s study, and that Tom Stafford recently covered. (And, anecdotally, after 23 years in the US, my view of “white” contains many different ancestries from all of Europe and the middle-east). I don’t think the mistakes are signatures of hidden prejuice. I think they are honest mistakes from bets/heuristics that went wrong.

I’m beginning now to think about the frequencies, the distributions out there, and how our psychology picks those up – but I think I have to leave that to a later post.

Some refs – for those I didn’t link.

Anderson, S. M., & Bem, S. L. (1981). Sex typing and androgyny in dyadic interaction: Individual differences in responsiveness to physical attractiveness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 41, 74–86.

Hastorf, A. H., & Cantril, H. (1954). They saw a game: A case study. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 47, 129–143.

Rosenthal, R., & Jacobson, L. (1968). Pygmalion in the classroom: Teacher expectations and student intellectual development. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.

Snyder, M., Tanke, E. D., & Berscheid, E. (1977). Social perception and interpersonal behavior: On the self–fulfilling nature of social stereotypes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 35, 656–666.

About asehelene

... because if I'm in a room with a second person, I want to be reasonably sure I'm the crazier one.
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9 Responses to On stereotypes. Or perhaps effect sizes. Or possibly how to think about psychology which I do a lot with very little progress.

  1. Hi Ashelene, great discussion. Ocurred to me that stereotyping is more about evolutionary utility. Shared stereotypes promote shared biases. In which case 1. stereotyping needs only to be ‘good enough’ to confer advantage, and 2. of little value in culturally diverse and fragmented societies. What’s useful for hunter/gatherers to organise hierarchies and establish roles may not be so useful in an individulistic megalopolitan society. (Think I might have just made “megalopolitan” up – too much Judge Dredd as a boy)

  2. asehelene says:

    Great word though! Thanks. I have been sniffing around evolutionary social psychology a bit, because I’m interested in this, and roughly I agree with your thoughts.

  3. jswagner says:

    Great subject. Wish I could afford to drop 80 bucks on the book you recommended by Dr. Jussim. My own take is perhaps a downgrade of dependency and an upgrade on ubiquiity from that of other peoples’ perceptions of how much stereotyping we do. I feel it’s used mostly successfully across genders, ages, levels of intelligence, and across many cultural/role differentiations, some of which coincide with race. I just don’t think we’d be anywhere near as successful with one another without dozens of stereotyping successes, spliced in with the necessary failures, throughout our days. I think stereotyping will eventually be widely celebrated for what it buys us among ourselves.

    In the work that I do of political psychology, American conservatives have a much better appreciation for the inherent value of stereotyping and heuristics. I am in a running argument with one intelligent conservative who even rejects the notion of perceptual bias as a negative- and he makes some interesting points. American liberals stumble and stutter around the whole business of leveraging “bias” (signals) gainfully, especially when they first address any positive implications, because negative stereotyping for most of us is, as with your students, the greatest evil in the world or somesuch. Doesn’t even matter that there may be good versions of stereotyping, Best to chuck that baby with the bathwater.

    Certainly getting comfortable and cozy with our cognitive biases can have negative effects like observer bias, large dollops of the FAE, reverse halo effects, out-group bias, etc.; That’s seems to be happening with American conservatives, based on many studies. Yet there’s real potential useful power in any kind of partial (probably flawed) awareness- and therefore of running with initial or repetitive signals, in it’s proper form, stereotyping is a Bayesian attempt, of greater or lesser skill, to estimate and skitter toward an efficient response to social stimulus. It’s not like we have all the time in the world to stand there and let someone’s (non-unique) essence distill within us before answering their question appropriately, or selling them something, or avoiding a distinctly larger chance of, say, getting murdered.

    Stereotyping has to be a low R-squared type of tool, but over a long day that kind of effect can add up like crazy. This is readily apparent in political ideology, where intelligent, concientious stereotyping is absolutely essential for any chance at decent cross-ideological communication. We may be only talking about people who, like in politics, are 15% more likely to attend church, or who have 10% more cleaning products at home, or who prefer the smell of coffee over newborns at a slightly greater rate. Yet, if we’re getting .1 or .2, or the occasional .3 effect from leaning into an approach with a person based on their accent, or their politics, or their apparent intelligence, or their gender, or where they sit in the classroom, or whether they’re hanging out outside a night club or a church, etc., we’re getting one hell of a bang for the buck cumulatively. And our misfires, spectacular though they be, don’t slow us down much, because hey, R-squared is R-squared. Get up, dust off, and make another educated guess. Or an uneducated one. Next try, you probably won’t get hit as hard. They might even miss.

  4. asehelene says:

    Thanks for your nice, interesting comment!

    Even Dr. Jussim says the book is too expensive. I got our university library to buy it. It is really a shame.

    I don’t do the political psychology, but i find it interesting, as I have friends across the political spectrum (spectra?) which is…. well… sometimes rather uncomfortable, but, as I’m a psychologist, I figure I should deal!

    Richard Harper commented that there were connections with both error-management and Gigerenzer’s fast and frugal heuristics. I was actually about to write something about Gigerenzer, and realized that the post was long enough already that it would have to wait for a later time.

    • Scott Wagner says:

      Thank you for mentioning Gigerenzer, who I hadn’t heard of. His work was a needed adjustment from my earlier reference to Bayesian methods as default stereotyping techniques; he indicates well the empirical necessity of using simple and lower-dimensional methods of decision-making in real life, and provides a hope for the success of such. An old paper of his also helped me to understand more integrally how mechanical and grey-laden the difference is between using signals well as a heuristic, and being inefficiently biased. It helps me to think of the journey between useful heuristic and unhealthy bias as a chunky simplex or continuum, rather than expecting clear-cut markers where we start to fall off the accuracy wagon. “He’s biased” starts to be less and less useful a statement.

      I thought of Rorty’s philosophy a lot as I read Gigerenzer- the notion that if there is a Truth out there, it doesn’t matter nearly as much as we might think. I think the light went on for me in one of Gigerenzer et al’s algorithmic explanations, where they show <20% of information available being used to make a decision, and then he simply says "the rest of the cue values were not looked up."

      I can see my unpantalooned granddaughter crying in my mind's eye, unable to hear anything said by large people, repeating over and over "But I don't WANT to wear those pants!" Absent a grandparent, not a bad low-dimensional heuristic; fold me in, though, and it's unhealthy bias…but wait- her second, hidden variable was the deceptively time-dependent nonlinearity of achieving a chaotic binary switch: she has a gift for wearing me down, especially if we're going to be late…behold, yet again, an emergent small truth.

  5. Really interesting topic. This has to be the future of stereotyping and discrimination research. Yet, we are far from there right now.

    I am working with a meta-analysis on IAT and predicting discrimination right now, and it is clear that the literature on this is not one, but two steps, away from the stereotype accuracy literature.

    It is a re-analysis of the influental meta-analysis of Greenwald et al. (2009), which is widely cited as having proved that IAT can predict discrimination. The problem is that this meta-analysis did not investigate this question.

    The deal is that the most common type of so-called discrimination studies do not even include a control group. For example, a typical study is the correlation between IAT (and some explicit scale) and behavior (e.g.,non-verbal) towards black people (often a single stimuli that should have been includes as a random effect but I’ll let that slide for now). But there is no behavior towards a white person reported, and hence there can be no discrimination or bias, since there were no differential treatment. It turns out that there is a correlation between IAT and behavior towards minorities, but this is not discrimination since these minorities were not treated worse than the comparison group (in the few cases they were included). People with “anti-black” (which is not what the IAT measures but, anyhow…) effects on the IAT behaves more badly against black people. But they behave more badly overall against white people to. Perhaps the IAT is simply a measure of being able to control un-nice behaviors.

    Even more interesting is that those studies that did include a control group did not even bother to look at differential treatment. When we analyze the data we find that there is none. Sometimes it is entirely apparent, and takes 5 seconds to look at a graph to conclude that the findings non consitent with discrimination, or even consistent with ironic discrimination. Yet, it is still published in psychological science and no discussion about this.

    This is the state where the research is right now. And from that to also include the dimension about the accuracy of the stereotypes, it is a long way. Researchers into prejudice and discrimination have in many cases even stopped investigating if bias occurs and simply assume that it does (throw the control group out save 50% of participants) and start trying to explain the behavior towards minority *as if the entire behavior was being biased*.

    I have not yet read Jussims latest book (I have his old one though and read lots of the papers) and I do not know if he cites Mobius and Rosenblatts “why beauty matters” (published in american economic review). This is at true masterpiece of a study looking at the expectance, as well as accuracy, of being beautiful in relation to work tasks. This is the type of experiments we need to do if we are going to understand anything more about stereotyping and discrimination.

    It is damn complicated experiment though, and I did not get around to it during my thesis work although I had the ambition early on. We are running this type of experiment right now on height-bias, though. And me and Jens are applying for a grant now to look at age discrimination and relate it to accuracy. I have to admit we have it framed from the perspective that the stereotypes may be not so accurate, but we will at least try to take this into account.

  6. asehelene says:

    Thanks for your post, Rickard. (Anybody else follows, Rickard did his PhD at our university, so I actually know him in meat-space. ). It is a really interesting topic to look for. Incidentally, Lund university has Jussim’s book as an e-book (I ordered it as a print, and they let me know that they already have it. Actually works very well as an e-book, and I used it when I was summarizing the research above).

  7. jswagner says:

    I heard a rumor- those dying for a copy of the mentioned Jussim’s book who cannot afford to buy it may find it now using the title in Google search. I feel bad enough about this to not include the link, but not bad enough to stay quiet. Ha!

    Regarding Rickard’s point about control groups. Besides the sloppy nature of many study designs (esp in the face of limited budget), I believe the missing controls are a powerful reflection of our academic assumptions around prejudice- that they are bad; that they are powerful; that they reflect erroneous judgement; that they don’t exist within in-groups; etc. Those assumptions tend to make controls much less necessary in the design phase.

    Bias, prejudice and stereotype are all considered to be identical, which muddies the water a great deal, since at least prejudice and stereotype are much more helpful than harmful in the world. Like many, I prefer to think of bias as erroneous and dangerous, which is probably fine. But if I do so, I should be consciously assigning bias as the error-oriented subset of the much broader notions of prejudice and stereotypes. Equating bias simplistically with “how to use a priori experience to lean into an emergent situation” has made us blind to the advantages and ubiquity of stereotype, to the point where our intellectual leaders skip things like control groups when assessing results on stereotyping studies. Or your rather astounding example, Rickard, of key control analysis ignored (love to see examples of that).

    What we’re going to enter in on, I hope, is an age where the complexity and general preciousness of pre-judgement is appreciated. We ain’t there yet obviously, probably because we’re still trying to get beyond erroneous prejudice socially- “let me tell you about niggers, my boy…” Jussim argues that bias in this negative sense is a relatively straight-forward affair, and working on it socially (within ourselves or with others) can generate quick, powerful results. This is an awesome point, and it’s true- our science has progressed to where talking about a few standard biases can really help people, particularly within a specific context like politics. I’ve been excited to discover that in my own work, and to get feedback from people about how helpful a little bias study is for them. I’m hoping that, in my lifetime, we’re dealing with the fundamental attribution error, the bias blind spot, and in/outgroup effects as a required part of children’s education.

    Jussim’s main point, though, is that stereotyping is where the real meat is for social scientists- not as a short-sighted conflation with simpler, error-based biases, but as a systematic, integral, powerful way we accurately view and react to the world. It’s a very commonsensical point, to me: if races, cultures, personalities, job types, localizations, genders, etc. display tendencies, however weak, then interactions with people with those characteristics are better, on balance, if our poor understandings of those tendencies are taken into account. That’s the greater lesson of my own work of understanding ideology: after dealing with the biases, we focus on powerful tendencies, mostly inherited, that yield predictable patterns of both behavior and interaction. Ignoring those tendencies- stopping prejudice, if you will- is stupid and dangerous. And we don’t, in real life. Couldn’t if we wanted to, to get even basic social tasks done.

    Successful stereotyping is everywhere, and everywhere essential. It’ll be a good day when academia starts leading on that point.

  8. skeptical dude says:

    So, Jussim’s argument is that stereotypes have a bad stereotype… that’s ironical.

    In fact I think quite a bit of the fuss around it may be due to the wiggle-room inherent to textual definitions. Perhaps sometimes “stereotypes” are being interpreted as somewhat wrong too distorted in the direction of difference by definition (what I’d think is the more “classical”/stereotypical view of stereotype), perhaps sometimes it’s just an “overall impression” that’s somewhat more balanced than the sense of stereotype with emphasis/caricature on difference (Jussim’s notion of stereotype, perhaps “weak stereotype” could be used for a distinction).

    How we’d word the whole thing about driving and gender? Women being seen as less apt drivers, when in fact, they commit less and/or less severe traffic accidents, whereas men accidents lead to more fatalities, which is also taken into account by insurance companies, who don’t like to loose money with incorrect data?

    You could point that as an example of an incorrect stereotype, but also you could “refine” it and be more specific, saying that women do drive worse, but they are aware of that and then drive more carefully, avoiding major accidents, while still having more (perhaps) minor ones. So it just “looks like” the stereotype is false! Perhaps it also confirms some stereotype about women being more “caring” then. And if we look at the “men” side, we can still confirm even more stereotypes: they’re more confident, not only because they’re more confident (accurate stereotype then!), but because they’re actually better drivers (accurate stereotype!), which in turns leads them to be reckless (stereotype confirmed!), and then have more major, even fatal, driving accidents.

    I suspect some of this may happen also with other “stereotypes”, with “strong stereotypes” being false and “weak stereotypes” being true, in so far as they’re general perceptions of people with considerable contact with the subject matter.

    About Pygmalion effect, whereas I don’t for a moment think that people’s expectations are “magical”, I find hard to believe that specially *negative* expectations don’t materialize. In classroom scenarios it seems it does at least start to some degree in biased views of teachers influencing even their gradings, with one or another studies of different gradings for the same test according to different photos of the fake student accompanying the test. However resilient students unfairly seem as weaker and given less support in class may be, everyone has a breaking point somewhere.

    In the end, after all, there’s also the “stereotype” that racism is quite widespread, and quite harmful, so it must be accurate, then…

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