The Importance of Stereotyping

July 2006
"What I hate most is when people don't stereotype me."
- Jesse Phillips

Let us first get a definition, "A metal printing plate cast from a matrix molded from a raised printing surface, such as type." Hold on sorry about that, wrong one. Wikipedia says, "a stereotype is a simplified mental picture of an individual or group of people who share certain characteristic (or stereotypical) qualities." We already know this, with all the different ways of saying it, it is nothing new. When it is said it even sounds wrong, "simplified" view of people. People are complex and simplifications make for poor models. I would like to broaden this definition because stereotypes are used on more then just people, and then I will attempt an explanation as to what makes stereotypes an important part of human survival.

Stereotyping is done from just about anything: race, sex, hair color, hobbies, clothing, and even what time you go to bed. Steve Baker has a nice short page on, "How we Stereotype." Stereotyping isn't the enemy, its what we do with it.

To me, stereotypes are a way for humans to bring the complexities of the world to manageable size of references. Dog. What did you see? A dog, right? "But dogs have a definition, very specific characteristics, seeing a dog wouldn't be stereotyping." I bet your thinking something like that, you have to be I made you read it :). Here's the thing though, you probably only saw one or two dogs, you didn't see every type of dog that is out there. You have a stereotypical view as to what a dog is like, depending on how you feel about dogs it could be a positive or negative view. If you try to visualize all the traits a dog could have you would be consumed.

Simplifications occur in many areas because details make things to complicated. If you go to Google maps you will see that the initial map does not show all the roads. Its a simplified view that allows for a quick reference, and quick understanding of the land.

Stereotypes are found to usually be true to the group that they are applied. This is very difficult to believe with all the propaganda about stereotypes. And my proof, comedy uses stereotypes to get people to laugh; comedy also uses real-world situations/beliefs as comical material. Therefore, stereotypes are true. Really this doesn't cover it, but there is truth to that too. What I really am trying to go for is a stereotyped group, be it the, Cool kid, nerd, Asian, guy, gal, or 'black,' will define characteristics where at least one characteristic can be found in a person of that group.

Personality tests. If you have ever taken one you probably noticed that it was able to got pretty close to how you perceive yourself, but it couldn't quite get it exact. Usually these tests come back with general statements and don't get to specific, much like a stereotype. About stereotypes: "We have each a system of rules that tells us which characteristics go with other characteristics." (Baker) This is much the same way the personality tests work, given a set of input we give out these results. The personality test is considered scientific, but stereotypes are bad.

Let us take a look at what stereotypes do for us. You meet a Doberman Pincher in a junk yard, stereotypically the dog will defend by barking and biting, we stay away. You see a gang in an ally way smoking, stereotypically they are willing to fight one that comes by, we stay away. Stereotyping gives us a lot of information about a person that we only just met. Though it is not limited to strangers as we will still stereotype our closest friends, we know more about them so the stereotype will be close.

There is one thing that makes Stereotypes scary for me, "we will try to twist the truth to fit in with our prototype, often ignoring traits which do not fit into our neatly imagined pattern of characteristics. This will particularly happen as time passes and we have time to forget things that do not fit in. This can lead to enormous differences between our perceptions of people and the reality." (Baker) The problem that people have is when they stereotype they don't make adjustments for when they are proven wrong, instead they ignore and twist evidence to make the person match the mold. What needs to be done is to let stereotypes be a source of information that changes as we receive more.

Here is what I do, when I meet someone new I take whatever information I can get and try to predict other characteristics. I can then use those characteristics to decide how I may need to handle the person. If I assume the person is likely to steal, I wouldn't handy cap his ability to steal. This is a little extreme because I don't actually assume anyone is going to steal.

The stereotype on blonds I feel is false, but have a theory as to why it exists. Men tent to watch blonds more then other women, yes I am stereotyping here. This means that men are going to notice the stupid things that blonds do and miss out on those of other women. Then the stereotype is so well known that when someone, with non-blond hair, does something stupid, "It's the blond in me." Now you might be thinking, "So, your saying women are stupid then?" Yes, very good you caught that. No, really I think this is explain in the same way, men "look for" the stupid things women do, women look at all the good things in a man.

In conclusion, I think I have just confused more then help explain myself. If you understood what I'm saying great, if not I can answer questions. I would love any constructive feedback be it positive or negative.

Baker, Steve How Stereotypes Work