The word “stereotype” is very popular in everyday usage and we all have some intuitions about its meaning. It is also worth asking how social psychologist define it and what ideas do they have about mechanisms that lead us to stereotype or even discriminate other people?
Stereotypes are based on processes of categorization, which helps us simplify and understand many social situations. At the same time, it can be a source of serious biases, because using categories often makes us overlook someone’s individual characteristics. Although stereotypes have a strong cognitive base, they nature is much more complicated. As Henri Tajfel and John Turner demonstrated, we have a strong motivation to belong to groups and maintain positive social identity. We also differentiate between in- and outgroup members (between us and them), very easily. What may surprise, it can happen even on the base of very simple criteria (let’s note minimal group paradigm research). People tend to favor one's own group over other groups and that observation is of particular importance if we try to understand persistence of outgroup sterotypes.
During the talk we discussed associations between stereotypes and intergroup relations and psychological functions that stereotypes and prejudice may serve. We also took a closer look on consequences of stereotypical thinking from a perspective of a stigmatized person, for example stereotype threat or self-fullfing prophecy effects. There are still many questions about effectiveness of social interventions that aim to reduce prejudice and improve intergroup relations. Although our attitudes towards outgroup members can be changed, there are several conditions, that have to be met, for example cooperation or equal status of groups.
Last but not least, we conducted short perspective-taking experiment and wondered if thinking about being at someone’s place can change our attitudes towards that person.