Stereotypes: Dangerous and Harmful Things


This paper will examine whether or not the argument for stereotyping is a valid reason for treating someone a specific way. Stereotyping can be a dangerous and very hurtful thing that can damage not only the person it is directed toward, but it can also damage the person whose perspective is askew. This harmful use of stereotyping can damage the way someone sees the world and how they react to it. Examining the way a person acts within a situation is a large part of Psychology. It helps us examine the deeper issue within their cognitive thinking. It also allows to see the motive within that specific area of thinking. It could be that due to the color of a person’s skin, a person may feel uneasy and unsafe around them. But, why is that? Are there deeper pre-assumed notion of that person or is there a societal norm in with they are preserving this that person through? These questions are difficult to address, but in addressing them, we can build a greater understanding of motive and help our society move toward a more unified culture.

Review of Literature

James L. Hilton addresses the question of why we stereotype by stating, “”We devote relatively little attention to this interesting question of why stereotypes exist. We believe stereotypic thinking typically serves multiple purposes that reflect a variety of cognitive and motivational processes. Sometimes, for example, stereotyping emerges as a way of simplifying the demands on the perceiver. Stereotypes make information processing easier by allowing the perceiver to rely on previously stored knowledge in place of incoming information. Stereotypes also emerge in response to environmental factors, such as different social roles, group conflicts, and differences in power. Other times stereotypes emerge as a way of justifying the status quo, or in response to a need for social identity. Thus, when it comes to the question of “”why,”” we think the answer can most often be found in the notion of context-dependent functionality. Put simply, stereotyping emerges in various contexts to serve particular functions necessitated by those contexts.”” James’ examination of stereotyping and the motive behind it clearly displays that we have different motives based on different factors. Basing all of our judgment on status quo is never the right way in which to go about judging a person’s character. This is an inaccurate way to determine someone’s respectability, wealth, character, or social status.

In a study that addresses the social stereotyping, Keelah E. G. Williams, Oliver Sng, and Steven L. Neuberg ran an experiment which involved asking fifty-one Americans (28 females; mean age, 18.75 y; SD, 1.38; 68% white, 12% Hispanic, and 8% Asian American) were chosen to participate in the study of “”impressions of individuals who live in different environments.”” Their prediction is that not all racial stereotypes were true in America due to the social structure and a lack of definite culture. They agreed that ecology does affect a person’s life in such a way that a stereotype may be true, but within the United State, ecology had less to do with stereotyping. Race was the big deciding factor of whether or not these stereotypes were true. Their report states, “”After reading the written ecology descriptions, participants were asked to rate the individual on a series of traits, “”How likely is this individual to [trait]?”” Traits were grouped into five categories, representing life history strategy-relevant suites: sexual unrestrictedness, impulsivity, opportunistic behavior, investment in own education, and investment in children. We predicted that individuals ostensibly from desperate ecologies would be stereotyped as more likely to exhibit fast life history strategies than individuals from hopeful ecologies. Individuals from the desperate ecology were stereotyped to be more impulsive than individuals from a hopeful ecology […], more likely to engage in opportunistic behavior […], less invested in education […], and less invested in their children […]. Individuals from the desperate ecology were also stereotyped to be more sexually unrestricted than individuals from a hopeful ecology; this effect approached statistical significance […].”” Their first study did prove that ecological stereotypes were indeed influential in a person perception of another person. Although this left the racial stereotype open ended. Did racial stereotyping have just as much to do with perception as ecological background?

In their second research they used forty-eight individuals (23 females; mean age, 18.71 y; SD, 1.38; 70% white, 13% Hispanic, 6% Asian American, 4% African American), but instead of describing a person’s ecological background, they showed a photo that depicted a specific ecological situation within the United States. They then evaluated each individuals’ racial suggestion that they had composed by giving percentages of what races may be within this ecological situation. Their findings were stated as, “”Across all life history behavioral domains, we found the predicted effects: critically, targets in both the predominantly “”black”” desperate ecology and the predominantly “”white”” desperate ecology were stereotyped as possessing faster life history strategies than targets in the hopeful ecologies. If stereotypes about desperate ecologies were merely stereotypes about blacks, participants’ stereotypes of individuals in the predominantly white desperate ecology should have been similar to stereotypes of individuals in the predominantly white hopeful ecologies. These stereotypes, however, were not similar. Ecology stereotypes are not derivative of race stereotypes; ecology stereotypes are applied to both white and black individuals.”” They came to the conclusion that stereotyping is not predominately based upon race, but more so upon ecology. The environment in which an individual is raised in can drastically change how they react in certain situations and even give them an upper hand within the social spectrum of wealth, education, job availability, etc.


Based upon the research cited, the people who involved seemed to be handpicked by the issuer of the experiments. This could lead to biased results based upon whether the subjects were given an incentive to react a certain way. But, even with that one criticism, both studies were valid and very thorough. They provide a very clear distinction between the two stereotypes of race and ecology. Knowing that racial and ecological stereo types are two drastically different ideologies/opinions can help the common people promote racial unity. This unity does not derive from the assumption that their ecological background has no meaning, but that should not dictate their ability to function within a society. Racial diversity is something that should be celebrated and be brought about with a unifying mindset.

Though there are differences within a society, each individual within that society should strive to work for the common good all people. This is not bound to a specific racial or ecological background. Race and ecology are things that make a person who they are. Based upon the data that was received, society as a whole does have damaging presumptions and stereotypes that can affect how they perceive the world. The United States as a whole could definitely for a better, more unified society. Though this is difficult because of stereotypes, it is not impossible.

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