Changing One Stereotype Can Alter Another Stereotype

Stereotypes tend to be bad, and therefore understanding what causes them is worthwhile. Research shows that a variety of information about a particular group or its members can change a stereotype, but that’s not the only thing. A new study finds the stereotypes of two groups can become interdependent and therefore one group’s stereotype could change based on information about a different group.

More specifically, when there are two mutually exclusive groups (e.g. men and women) with different stereotypes (e.g. men are  dirtier, women are cleaner) information that is incongruent with the competent group’s stereotype (e.g. Sara and Stacy are messy) can alter the stereotype of the other group (Men aren’t that dirty). This is not a good thing for society. When a reputation is based on something irrelevant, suboptimal decisions are bound to be made.

I also can’t help but think this is a bad sign for the U.S political system. According to reasoning laid out in the study, when a Republican is shown to support government spending it would not only weaken the stereotype of Republicans as fiscal conservatives, it would also lessen the stereotype of Democrats as big spenders. The depressing takeaway is that enforcing party discipline is even more important because any deviation will harm your reputation and improve the reputation of your opponent. It’s yet another reason that we’re bound to arrive at an equilibrium in which both parties voluntarily censor themselves.

Maris, S., & Hoorens, V. (2012). The ISI change phenomenon: When contradicting one stereotype changes another Journal of Experimental Social Psychology DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2012.01.001


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