Stereotypes are generalized and widely accepted notions such that certain established set of characteristic traits are attributed to a particular person, group of individuals or things. These ideas or oversimplified images could be positive or negative in belief. Stereotypes define the purpose of establishing social interactions and communication between people.
By incorporating scripts and associations, the ability to identify a particular idea as for right or wrong and thus the interpretation of certain notions in determining our responses, explains the significance of stereotyping. Stereotypes are recognized based on their identifiable attributes more easily.
Despite the various negative implications, stereotyping influences the ability of people to interpret the pre-existing beliefs and act accordingly. It can often bias our decisions due to its subconscious persistence in the mind, but may not necessarily be associated with negative feelings rather it defines the flow of conversation between people on topics which are underrepresented.
The psychological framework of human minds has evolved to stereotype to govern responses and behavior towards the social environment. Stereotyping thus becomes necessary for the brain to function normally and to be able to process and preserve information in response to certain situations and circumstances.
The problems attributed to stereotyping crops up when it results in discrimination and biased decisions against a person or a group of people interfering with and suppressing their basic right to equality and fair judgment.
Most of the negative attributes of stereotyping are applied on the grounds of religious, political and racial differences detrimental to the well-being and safety of these people in the society.
The most common example of negative stereotyping is judging a person on the basis of his caste, creed, and color and in worse scenarios, to be associated with criminal activities on the grounds of their religious and racial beliefs. However, stereotypes are associated with both positive and negative attributes.
It cannot be eliminated from our lives altogether since it governs our decision-making abilities as humans, helping in the processing of relevant information. But, it is essential to understand that stereotyping should not be used against people to hurt their sentiments by unfair means.
To elaborate further on how stereotyping can help us, it has to be viewed with the perspective that it determines the factors or parameters to be observed for identifying people who would have a positive influence in our lives, a well-wisher or a friend and those who could have a negative influence or could cause potential harm to us.
It is vital for our well-being and safety to understand these differences facilitated by stereotyping, before engaging in a social relationship or communication of any form.
Stereotypes can, therefore, be treated as the references or the shortest possible route for recognition of people we have encountered previously to relate past experiences to the present situation, thereby helping to establish new social association on the basis of this judgment.
To think of interpreting the intentions of every new person we come across by individually judging each of them would be very emotionally and physically demanding without the help of stereotypes.
On the downside of it, these widely held beliefs may be associated with certain individuals in a group who may not necessarily be associated with the expected characteristics, thereby, letting stereotypes cloud our judgment.
Also, an idea of our own judgment and opinion about people or things driven by stereotypes helps us avoid or ignore people who could affect our lives adversely owing to unfair bias and discrimination.
For instance, often due to our own personal insecurities we assume all men and women to be unfaithful and insincere in their personal relationships. The inception of this notion arises from our personal opinion and the thought process behind it at the subconscious level, thus requiring careful assessment and avoidance of any interference in taking important decisions in personal relationships.
Psychological research indicates that reminding people with the negative stereotypes related to racial groups or gender biases, it helps promote the benefits of one group at the expense of another.
Defined as ‘stereotype lift’, targeting the weaknesses of competitors more often in sports, can help the opponent team strategize their motives of victory by identifying the inferiorities of the other team. Similarly, countering stereotypic threats can be mediated seeking solutions to the shortcomings due to stereotypes so that it does not stall our actions.
Stereotypes are flexible and can be modified on the basis of comparison or reference we use for it in our frame of thoughts. For instance, a doctor who has not been previously trained in acting will feel lowly about performing on stage for his own weaknesses relative to an actor.
However, when judged on the basis of his skills as a surgeon he will feel more certain and assured about his capabilities. Exemplified by the term ‘social creativity’, referring to the context of stereotypic lift can evoke confidence and motivate us to perform efficiently and feel better about ourselves.
Having discussed the multifaceted role of stereotypes in influencing our judgment and decisions- both good and bad, we realize that it is impossible to push aside any assumption or pre-existing notions in our heads.
However, accepting the existence of stereotypes and emphasizing more on their content to ignore any element of inequality or unfairness in it is the key to becoming a competent and rational individual.