Using Social Psychology to Root Out Stereotypes

By Daniel Richardson

Part of Social Psychology For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Not all stereotypes are bad: Social Psychology recognises that some can have value. However, when a stereotype leads to prejudice and discrimination, it’s time to expose its inaccuracy – and say why it’s inaccurate. The following are some key ways to expose and combat prejudicial stereotypes.

  • Track them back to their sources: People notice patterns in the social world around them, but although people are very good at noticing these patterns, they’re also adept at seeing things that aren’t there. They jump to conclusions, and ignore evidence that contradicts their beliefs.

  • Discover the bias in social judgements: Many people are convinced that solid, physical differences exist between women’s and men’s brains, which explain and justify the different jobs and responsibilities that men and women tend to have. There’s no safe evidence for this, but it doesn’t stop researchers looking for and finding what they want to see.

  • Beware what you think you already know: People pay attention to information that supports their beliefs and ignore information that contradicts them. This confirmation bias feeds the habit of stereotyping people, and because your stereotype guides and labels your perception, you find confirmation of it everywhere.

  • Look out for illusory correlations: People and events that are unusual tend to attract your attention and stick in the memory. So say you see a Croatian football supporter starting a fight. You haven’t met many Croatians before and the event is unusual, and so you come to the conclusion that Croatian football supporters are very aggressive people. That’s an illusory correlation.

  • Don’t make all your predictions come true: When you have a certain belief, act in accordance with it and your belief is indeed confirmed, it’s called a self-fulfilling prophecy, which is another bias in behaviour that helps to perpetuate stereotypes.