Sunday, September 9, 2012

Insight into how stereotypes arise

Around the world there are many different cultures and customs, and that has lead to a great variety of stereotypes. It describes attributes given to individuals belonging to a certain group, while such commonly held beliefs may not accurately reflect reality. Although stereotypes can be a source of comedy, they can also be used in a negative way, for example by leading to racism. Nevertheless, it is interesting to find out how such commonly held beliefs about a group of individuals arise, and scientists from the University of Aberdeen have done just that.

A simulation program was set up in order to be able to mimic the natural process by which stereotypes arise. In their study, the Scottish researchers devised a set of aliens who were assigned different colours, shapes and character attributes. The latter included behaviour such as arrogance or trustfulness. Participants in the study were then asked to memorize all of the alien characteristics and pass on the information to the researcher. In turn, the researcher passed on the information to a second participant, thereby creating an information chain. 

As the information was passed down to fellow participants, the scientists noted that the alien characteristics were quickly oversimplified. The information was unconsciously changed, and became more structured, probably in order to make more sense of it all. It is likely we do the same thing with distinct populations in real life. Our observations are passed down to others, thereby creating a pattern that leads to a stereotype. The scientists think their study can help predict future stereotypes and how to set up campaigns in order to change perception of certain groups that are victim to negative stereotyping.

By looking at the way the experiment was set up, some of you may actually recall this is done more often. Starting off with a particular set of information and passing it down to fellow participants in order to observe the changes is often done to study language. It is an interesting concept that seemingly plays a big role in our way of assessing the world around us. The study regarding stereotypes is another example of that, providing us insights into how we create these particular character attributes.

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