A world of stereotypes

Italians love pizza and pasta, Americans eat fast food, Mexicans eat tacos and Chinese eat only rice. In our society different groups have a certain generalized and categorized picture about other groups of people. That is what we call stereotyping.

What does stereotyping mean? Why do we stereotype? What are pros and cons? And do all of us stereotype?

I would claim that every single individual is stereotyping.

Let’s make an experiment: I would like to ask you to picture the following persons in your mind:

  • An athlete
  • A top model
  • A mechanic
  • A manager

… and to keep those pictures in your mind …


What does stereotyping mean?

Cardwell described stereotyping in the year 1996 as a ‘fixed, over generalized belief about a particular group or class of people’. When we first meet a new person we automatically and unconsciously categorize the person by e.g. sex, race, age, sexual orientation, religion or physical ability (age, sex and race being the most common ones). This stereotype is a set of ideas we have about someone based on his/her characteristics, resulting from incomplete, distorted information that is accepted by us as a fact without questioning it.

One could describe stereotyping as a ‘oversimplified, usually pejorative, attitude people hold towards those outside one’s own experience who are different’.


Why do we stereotype?

There are a lot of factors influencing the stereotyping. It basically starts when we are born. Our parents teach us certain values and norms according to their personal experiences with particular groups of people. In the process of growing up, at a very young age we already see the world in categories, for example humans, animals, objects, etc.

Once grown up, in our society we receive much more information than we can process, for instance via mass media or word of mouth. Therefore, we tend to simply the complex information. This is what leads us to stereotyping. We are relying on cognitive short cuts in order to save time and energy. So, we no longer consider the information about each individual member of the group, but we categorize them.

pic 2

One of the strongest influences in stereotyping is prejudice. The problem is, that if we have prejudices regarding a particular group of people, then we will actually see in them what we are expecting to see.

Even those of us, who are open-minded individuals have to understand, that they are stereotyping every now and then. For us, it is just a way of navigating our social universe.


What are the advantages of stereotyping?

In contrast to many disadvantages, one could also see some positive effects of stereotyping, e.g. that it enables us to respond rapidly to situations, based on previous similar experiences. This is important, because sometimes we find ourselves in new situations where a quick judgment and fast decision is required. Furthermore, categorizing people into groups allows us to form expectations which makes our life more predictable and uncomplicated.

Another advantage is that some of us like to be stereotyped and belong to a certain group. Someone may dress in a certain way to be clearly identified by other people as a member of that particular group.


What are the disadvantages of stereotyping?

pic 3


The disadvantages of stereotypes are much more obvious then the advantages. For instance, when categorizing individuals into groups, we ignore their differences to other members and may assume things that are not true. The stereotypes we have are limiting the personalities and leave very little room for individuality. Therefore, stereotyping is an inaccurate social perception of different members of our society. It does not allow diversity within the group but may even result in discrimination if the stereotypes about a particular group are largely negative. This can go as far that it causes moral problems or serious rational problems.


Do all of us stereotype?

In order to answer this question, I would like to complete the experiment mentioned in the beginning. I asked you to picture an athlete, a top model, a mechanic and a manager. Please find pictures of the four personalities below and compare them to your expectations.



pic 4.png

Top model:

pic 5


pic 6


pic 7


Did you stereotype?




Written by Navina Frake

One thought on “A world of stereotypes

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