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 behaviour's. 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-categorization 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 categorization, 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-categorization theory states that individuals seek to form self-categorizations 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 judgement's 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, psycho dynamic 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 psycho dynamic 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 Banaji (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 psycho dynamic 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 legitimizing 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 categorized 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 beliefs were equally important. Augoustinos et al noted that one of the functions of stereotypes amongst the highly prejudiced was to serve as an easily accessible knowledge base, from which prejudiced beliefs can be rationalized, becoming in effect a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Their research effectively points to stereotypes being largely used as mental heuristics, in unprejudiced situations as well as situations involving prejudice. Snyder and Miene (1994) conducted a study into the functions served by the largely negative stereotyping of the elderly amongst themselves as well as the younger generations. They theorise d that the cognitive function of negative stereotypes towards the elderly (such as 'frail', 'weak' and 'feeble-minded') is to simplify the processing of cognitive information about the old person in question. The function of stereotypes in the psycho dynamic orientation would state that the elderly are perceived as a threat towards the younger generations, and negative stereotypes are an attempt to deflect the fear at the elderly person specifically, rather than the ageing process to which they are part of. The sociocultural orientation of the functions of stereotypes towards the elderly would emphasise the differences between the various social groups that are separated by age. That stereotypes are persistent and pervasive appears to be self-evident from the large body of research.
This persistence of stereotypes in intergroup behaviour illustrates the usefulness of stereotypes, despite their limitations, and this essay will now consider why stereotypes are so persistent. Long and Manstead (1997) examined the process of group immersion and intergroup differentiation and more specifically at contextual shifts in categorization. In an experiment that they carried out they looked at the effect of a group immersion task on several groups of psychology students. They found that context played a significant role on the intergroup behaviour, although not in the way that they had predicted. They found that a large effect was recorded within the group categories. From their results Long and Manstead stated that categorization is dependent on the relationship between the individual and their context, as the individual perceives it.
This may partially explain the persistence of stereotypes in that they are being constantly altered relative to the context in which they are used. Hantzi (1995) examined the pervasiveness of the sub typing model as put forward by Brewer et al (1981). This is where the stereotypes are viewed as hierarchical structures and that any of the stereotype leads to discriminations with the group and in turn leads to the creation of subtypes. This leaves the overall stereotype unchanged even though aspects of it have been disproved.
This sub typing model would lend itself well to the persistence of stereotypes, because they are able to effectively shed aspects which are proven to be inaccurate whilst still maintaining the overall view. Hantzi sought to examine the validity of the sub typing model, and indeed did find evidence to support the effect of both dispersed and concentrated patterns of dis confirming information over a variety of different conditions. So, in conclusion this essay has examined three main areas in order to address the question as to whether stereotypes are the psychological lubricant of intergroup behaviour. These areas were firstly, the formation of stereotypes, secondly, the function of stereotypes in intergroup conflict and co-operation, and thirdly the persistence of stereotypes. It does appear that from the large majority of research that stereotypes are used primarily to distinguish the individual from the other members of the in-group and the in-group from the out-group.
This does often have the unfortunate side effect of creating and reinforcing prejudice. However it should be noted that stereotypes serve an important cognitive function in that they allow the individual to process vast amounts of information received about other people as quickly and efficiently as possible, and in this case they serve a mental heuristics. Without them it is entirely possible that the individual would be overwhelmed by the sheer mass of information and this way they facilitate intergroup co-operation as well as intergroup conflict. REFERENCES: Ashmore, R. , D & Del Boca, F.
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