Two recent studies try to give us more insight to stereotypes - how deep do they run? are they conscious or more subconscious? and can stereotypes influence behaviors?
Psychologists Jennifer Steele at York University in Toronto and Nalini Ambady of Tufts University in Boston took one group of female students and asked them about phone service. The other set of girls were asked about co-ed housing. Both groups were then asked how pleasant it would be do read a poem, solve an algrebra problem, and other questions trying to see their preference for the arts or math.
The group asked about co-ed housing strongly preferred the arts. Why? Psychologists believe asking them questions that reminded them of their sex (co-ed housing) triggered a stereotype that the arts are more feminine and math is masculine.
In other words, very subtle and seemingly innocent cues can trigger these stereotypes.
The second half of the study involved college females to stare at a "plus sign" on a computer screen. At times, specific words would flash for 1/10th of a second - not long enough for the conscious mind to actually be able to read the word. But it was enough for the subconscious. The students that saw feminine words like "lipstick" or "doll" also recorded a much higher preference for the arts than math compared to the girls who were flashed words like "cigar" and "suit."
"It is disturbing to think I can show you words outside your awareness and that can influence your preference," Steele said.
Very recently, another stereotype study was conducted by psychology student David Butz of Florida State. He found displaying the American flag had an influence on white students on math and anagram tests. The white students outscored their fellow white students without the flag. Minorities saw no change with or without a flag. Almost all students didn't even notice the flag, but it seems subconsciously, it did influence performance.
So stereotypes are deep rooted, subconscious, and can influence our behaviors. Although the word "stereotype" has negative connotations, it's important to remember they can be positive as well. Also, this kind of generalistic thinking served early man well. Thousands of years ago, survival depended on creating very strong bonds with our "tribes" and also sensing danger from those outside our social circle.
Stereotypes are so common, they've infiltrated our everyday language. Others are age-old generalizations we don't even think about anymore. Here are a few examples:
Hood Rich: My mother works for the county, and the people she serves are all on assistance from the state. She talks about many of her clients being "hood rich." This is where a person spends so much money on bling, clothes, and other flashy accessories that they can't afford the basic stuff like food or a house. Imagine a beat up piece of shit hoopty car with $2,000 rims. "Hood rich" originally was placed on the African-American culture, but has recently seeped into the Hispanic realm as well. It's so fucked up seeing a family using food stamps put their groceries into their new Range Rover.
The Apu Factor: This stereotype is the belief that your 7-11 or other convenience store is owned by an Arab or Muslim. I have personally visited many of these great little shops all over the country, and I can say that perhaps 99% of them ARE owned by an Arab or Muslim. Damn they make some kick-ass Slurpees!
Jewish Miser: Jewish stereotypes include them being stingy, bickering, over-intellectual, and cheap. Often times, they're portrayed as having their secret exclusive codes. A sub-stereotype is the typical meddling and forceful Jewish Mother. Ever watch a Jewish comedian? 80% of their jokes are about their mother-issues. I don't believe as a group, Jews are stingy. You can call them "cheap" but I prefer "thrifty." Go Seinfeld!
White Rhythm: The white man can't dance or find a rhythm is a long-standing stereotype. I went to a college that was 98% white. And I was also a member of a fraternity where all but three of us where white boys. At all the parties and dances, let's just say only three of us could actually find the rhythm and dance. I find this stereotype endearing, however. I'm proud of the white guy that goes onto the dance floor and gives it all he's got. I'm often reminded of a person having Grand-Mal seizures, but I always give them an "A" for effort. (This stereotype does NOT apply to GAY white boys).
Run for the Border: All Mexicans are illegals. This stereotype is probably stronger now than it was even 10 years ago. The US wants to build a fence, but really, is that going to help? I grew up surrounded by Mexicans, and every single one was absolutely legal and was working to become full fledged Americans citizens. On the other hand, I know people in the restaurant business, and they pay their Mexican workers in cash. A mean trick would be to go to a landscaping business, a Chinese restaurant, a Mexican restaurant, or the Home Depot parking lot and scream, "INS! INS coming!"
Blacks and Basketball: In our country, many of us believe all blacks are good at basketball. I remember in gym class and having to pick teams for basketball, and all the black kids would get picked first. Why such an assumption? Basketball is prevelant among black communities, and if you watch the NBA, you'll see most of the guys playing are black. So it's easy to see how the sheer numbers would support such a stereotype. I knew one black guy, Eddie, that was plain awful at basketball. It was so comedic, and I felt sorry for him. He had the weight of African American basketball prowess on his shoulders. And he sucked. He DID yell at the movie screen
during scary movies, however.
Math Masters: Asians are superior in math. This stereotype follows the Asian geek or nerd idea. The math whiz. I am living proof not ALL Asians are good in math. I'm awful. But, the sheer number of Asians achieving higher math scores than everybody else makes this stereotype easy to support. However, here's the truth: Asians outperform every other race in EVERY subject, not just math. Statistically speaking, Asians score higher on SATs in the country than blacks, Hispanics, whites, and Jews. With the numbers supporting this generalization, I'm hopeful Asian intelligence will translate to better driving skills. If you see my aunt or uncle on the road, get the HELL outta their way!