Understanding our world through Psychology: How do we explain ‘stereotypes’?
“Blacks are overrepresented as perpetrators of violent crime when news coverage is compared with arrest rates [but are underrepresented in the more sympathetic roles of victim, law enforcer]”. (Entman & Gross, 2008, p. 98, citing Travis L. Dixon & Daniel Linz, 2000)
The quote from the research above is one of the many negative ways in how African Americans are portrayed by the media. These form severely biased stereotypes for the general public, and eventually result in discrimination. Stereotypes, specifically defined, are oversimplified generalizations about a group’s behavior or characteristics, formed in many different ways such as social categorization, the grain of truth hypothesis, or illusory correlation. Stereotypes exist everywhere, from grouping multiple peers under one label to making assumptions about people of a major culture. And although some of these stereotypes may be positive, they are mostly negative generalizations of a group.
Social psychologists Steele and Aronson suggested that when an individual experiences stereotype threat, they go on to behave in a way which confirms their stereotype. First, an individual is informed of a negative stereotype about the group they are a part of. Then, if and when they are placed in a vulnerable situation (where they may be more likely to adhere to a stereotype previously made aware of), their behavior may be affected due to this awareness. Therefore, stereotype threat may additionally stimulate spotlight anxiety, a conception that one is being more closely observed or paid attention to by other people than in reality. This will also result in one manifesting a self-fulfilling prophecy, where they actually behave in a way that conforms to their stereotype.
In order to further explore the impact of stereotypes on human behavior, Steele and Aronson (1995) carried out a study which aimed to investigate the effects of stereotype threat on the academic performance of students in a test. They gave a 30-minute long verbal test to African American and European American participants. They found that African Americans who were told that the task was to test their English proficiency scored lower than their European American counterparts, whereas African Americans who were told that the task was a laboratory assessment of their problem-solving skills performed much better than the European American participants. Steele and Aronson suggested that the African American participants scored lower in the first experimental condition because they experienced stereotype threat, which expected them to perform worse. They could have known about the negative stereotype that African Americans struggle to excel academically than other racial margins of society, therefore behaved in a way which confirmed this stereotype that they were already aware of. Thus, this research implies that stereotype threat and spotlight anxiety can affect the behaviors of stereotyped individuals when they are put in particular situations which makes them more vulnerable to confirming a stereotype.
Like such, the vile portrait the media often paints of African Americans can actually end up being the reason behind their actions or can be the reason people form extremely inaccurate conceptions of a particular race due to a predisposed generalization. Acknowledging the fact that African Americans are subjectively reported on and discriminated against by the media would be a big step forward to dismantling unjust prejudice and eradicating racism.
김은 강남포스트 학생기자 firstname.lastname@example.org
<저작권자 © 강남포스트, 무단 전재 및 재배포 금지>