Social Psychology: A Review of Four Studies on Stereotype Creation

The focus of this paper is the examination of particular causes of social stereotypes, with the specific question being: "what are the factors in society that create stereotypes?" I found several studies in which this or a closely related question was highlighted as the central focus of the research. Each of the studies has a unique approach to a different facet of stereotyping. My intention is to discuss the initial question, method, results, and implications of each study to show overall whether or not stereotyping comes from parenting, teaching, overall societal factors like television and adolescent relationships, self schemas, personal experiences, or even the simple verification that certain stereotypes exist. I do not focus on any particular group; rather I use examples from any group I can find to illustrate my points that stereotypes may be learned through cues in normal communication from peers and authority figures and that they may be borne out of the media.

Before discussing these complex studies, a few definitions of terms and ideas should be presented. Stereotype, in-group, out-group are terms that I will use repeatedly. A stereotype is a belief that associates a group of people with certain traits (Brehm et al, 133). Groups consist of two or more persons perceived as related because of their interactions with each other over time, membership in the same social category, or common fate. In the fifth edition of Social Psychology, stereotyping is attributed to social categorization into in-groups and out-groups. Social Categorization describes how people sort each other into groups on the basis of gender, race, and other attributes like intelligence, body weight, and physical ability. This social categorization breeds in-groups (groups you identify with) and out-groups (all groups other than your in-groups). Brehm also attributes stereotype formation to past events, political figures, and from real differences in social groups that manifest into exaggerated, perceived differences. Stereotypes have long been a topic of study as researchers try to attribute their formation to societal factors.

The first study to be discussed is "The Consequences of Communicating Social Stereotypes" by Micah S. Thompson et al. It is actually a compilation of the method and results of two studies done by the group, and the overall implications of the results of the studies taken as a whole. Here is the abstract:

"At the extreme, social stereotypes can be learned either from direct contact with individual target group members or from communications about the target group received from others. These two forms of stereotype acquisition have consequences for the nature and content of the stereotype that is formed (Park & Hastie, 1987). The present studies examine these consequences using, in the first study, a rumor transmission design and, in the second, group discussions. The first study demonstrates that stereotypes that are received from others are more extreme, contain less variability information, and have higher social consensus than stereotypes learned from contact with individual target group members. The second study demonstrates that stereotypes that are communicated and learned through informal group discussions manifest the same properties. We argue that stereotypes are fundamentally altered through social communication and these effects are in part responsible for the biases that stereotypes induce." (Thompson et al, 567)

In the introduction, Thompson points out that "the basic premise of work on communication is that there are certain norms that guide communication, that affect both the content and form of communications" (Thompson et al, 567). They go on to say that their work is based on the idea that communicated, or abstraction-based stereotypes ought to differ from instance-based or first-hand stereotypes in two distinct ways. One is that abstraction-based stereotypes contain less variability information. The other is that abstraction-based stereotypes are more extreme. Group stereotypes acquired by communicated abstractions, compared with those of instance-based should manifest similar differences: greater perceived streotypicality and less perceived dispersion (Thompson et al, 572)

PURPOSE: "The overall purpose of Study 1 is to understand how stereotypes are communicated by socializing agents (in written form) and how the stereotypes acquired from such secondhand communication differ from those generated by encountering group instances" (Thompson et al, 573). The purpose of Study 2 was "to elaborate on the first by testing whether or not face-to-face impressions, rather than just written, communications have similar effects of those in Study 1." (Thompson, 595)

METHOD: Groups of nine college students (ages 18 to 24) were broken into three subgroups (triads) of three people in each. Triad 1 was asked to form impressions of a hypothetical fraternity by reading 45 behaviors performed by different individual fraternity members. These behaviors conveyed information along three different trait dimensions (Thompson et al, 574). Each of the Triad 1 members were asked to read these traits, all over the same controlled amount of time. After reading the traits, they were given one piece of paper on which they wrote a one-page description of the fraternity "as if they were describing the group to a first year student on campus" (Thompson et al, 574).

Triad 2 was asked to form impressions of the same hypothetical fraternity based only on the 1-page descriptions from each of the Triad 1 members. Triad 2 read Triad 1 impressions and wrote their own one page impressions which were read by Triad 3, who were then asked to form their own impressions. All of the triads were required to complete three dependent measures to assess group impressions: a percentage estimation task, a mean/range task, and a frequency distribution task. This constituted the "abstraction-only" group. Other sets of 9 were given the "abstraction-plus-instance" condition. Triads 2 and 3 in this case read the Triad 1 impressions and read the 45 behavioral instances, and then they wrote their impressions and completed the same dependent measures (paraphrased from Thompson, et al).

In study 2, groups of four were randomly assigned to a discussion or no-discussion condition. Two people in these four person groups learned about a target group by reading behavioral instances while the other two learned about a second target group in the same manner. They wrote summary impressions, and for those in the discussion condition, all four came together to communicate their impressions of the target groups by reading off their written impressions and talking informally afterward to clarify their impressions (paraphrased from Thompson, et al).

RESULTS: Thompson et al believe their results to be consistent with their predictions: "group impressions formed through exposure to others' abstract impressions differ in a variety of ways from impressions formed through first-hand exposure to actual behavioral instances." Specifically, abstraction-based impressions are more extreme or stereotypic than impressions based on actual experience. They go on to say that those who learn about a target group from instances and tell others about the target group, along with those who form their impressions of the target group only from discussion, form stronger stereotypes than those who are simply exposed to behavioral instances without telling anyone else about it.

The results of the second study relate to those of the first. The authors found that face-to-face communications have similar effects to those of study 1 in that more extreme and less dispersed stereotypes of target groups are formed by people in group discussions about the target group. Their other premise is that the process of communicating about a group causes the communicator to perceive the target group more stereotypically as well.

IMPLICATIONS: The results of this study show that through the process of social communication of stereotypes, target group impressions are stereotypically exaggerated, and group stereotypes become consensually shared (Thompson et al, 595). Concluding on larger implications, the authors say that "it is the process of social communication that is in large part responsible for the inaccuracies that are typically associated with stereotypes. Social stereotypes are socially constructed…talked about, and passed over generations and reinforced by communication with like-minded others" (Thompson et al 596). Although not always harmful, this process fundamentally alters group impressions leading to some of the injurious consequences of stereotype application.

So, it can be said that stereotypes are perpetuated and intensified through discussion of target groups by like-minded individuals. It was scientifically proven in two different ways. But there is something missing in the Thompson et al experiments. The target groups that were actually being stereotyped were not involved in the experiment. In fact, they did not even exist. This was most likely done to keep precognitions out of the experiment and to aid the experimenters in getting untainted data. I will now explore a study that directly involves subjects being stereotyped. Entitled "Competency Beliefs, Positive Affect, and Gender Stereotypes of elementary Students and their Parents about Science versus Other School Subjects", the study focuses on 437 students (Grades K-6) and 347 parents (not necessarily parents of the children involved). Here is the abstract:

"This study focuses on the developmental pattern of student's attitudes and beliefs towards school subject matters during the elementary years and the relationship of student attitudes and parental attitudes. Some of the results of this study include: girls perceiving higher competence in reading than boys; boys perceiving higher competence in physical science; all children perceiving physical science competence lower than reading or math competence and parents perceiving boys as more competent in science and expecting higher performance form them." (Andre et al, 719)

This research has a wide range of implications in education, specifically science education, parenting, and child development; I will only focus on that data which has implications in stereotype formation. It is important that the target groups (elementary school boys and girls) are actually involved in the study because it allows us to see how stereotypes actually affect the target groups. The authors feel that these are the kinds of "stereotypes that cause females to take science courses less frequently than males, and less frequently pursue lucrative physical science and engineering careers" (Andre et al, 720). The authors want to learn how children learn social stereotypes early in life, and how these stereotypes may be perpetuated by parents. This is a unique approach to determining factors in society cause stereotypes.

PURPOSE: To study students' attitudes toward science in order to discover if these attitudes are borne out of stereotypes that children hold. The authors also want to find out if these stereotypes may or may not be attributable to parents' attitudes that may be directly or indirectly conveyed to the children.

METHOD: Three related questionnaires were developed in collaboration with teachers from four school districts who were not participating in the actual program. Of the three developed, one was for students in kindergarten through third grade, another for students in fourth through sixth, and the last for parents.

RESULTS: There were many results discussed in this study which have implications beyond the scope of my analysis. Therefore, I will only discuss the results that relate to children reflecting the ideas of their parents as a function of these stereotypes being passed from the parents to children.

Girls perceived higher competence in reading than boys, while boys perceived higher competence in physical science. Girls also perceived their weakest subjects to be math and physical science. Parents perceived boys as more competent in science, and saw it as more important, expecting higher performance from boys. In both children and adults, jobs related to math or sciences were seen as more male-dominated.

IMPLICATIONS: The results suggest that attitudinal gender equality should be extended to the early elementary school years and should also address parental attitudes (Andre et al 719). This relates more specifically to my topic in that the parents seem to be directly affecting the attitudes of their children in school. For example, there is a direct correlation between boys seeing themselves as more skilled in science than girls, and parents who see the same thing. These attitudes could be developing independently or from other factors, but at this age, children spend much of their time with their parents, so it seems likely that the parents, along with other authoritative influences like teachers are causing the children to unwittingly form these stereotypes (paraphrased from Andre et al).

From this study, we learn that parents have an important role in how their children develop attitudes. This is both good and bad. It is good because it can foster interest in school, and confidence in certain subjects. But as we see from the study by Andre et al, this can also be detrimental, perhaps causing girls to feel less secure in their skills in math and science and boys to feel pressured to do well in these subject areas. This study is also important because it helps us see how people can develop stereotypes about themselves due to these stereotypes being directly or indirectly communicated to them, a viewpoint not considered by Thompson et al.

This formation of gender roles is an interesting manifestation of stereotypes in society. Looking at the next study, "An examination of television and real life experience as sources of children's race schemas" by Mancuso, my aim is to find another possible influence on stereotype formation in society. Mancuso is interested in determining how younger school children develop racial schemas. Schemas represent the sum total of all the ideas a person harbors about themselves or another person or group and can become stereotyped, just like any other attitude (Mancuso, et al). In this case, the author is searching for how these schemas develop as a result of possible influences from the media. Here is the abstract:

"This study investigated fourth-, fifth-, and sixth- graders' schemas about
PURPOSE: The author's aim is to look at a relatively segregated part of the community and see if this segregation has led to members of a certain in-group (white, middle class, catholic school children) have formed racial stereotypes based on television portrayals of an out-group consisting of African Americans.

METHOD: 66 children received questionnaires dealing with stereotyped and non-stereotyped statements about African Americans along with questions about television viewing habits. Children's television viewing frequency, familiarity, perceived reality of television in general, perceived reality of African American portrayal on television, schemas for African Americans in real life or on television, and level of cross-race interaction were assessed (Mancusol). They were also asked to describe photos of African Americans along with other minorities and majorities. These descriptions and interviews were used to assess racial schemas.

RESULTS: Mancuso obtained results contrary to expected outcomes, and the full amount of the interview and questionnaire data showed that "children's schemas for African Americans were composed primarily of character traits and of comparisons of African Americans to others or to themselves, and were less attributable to the influences of TV than was expected" (Mancuso). Further, Mancuso found that even though some of some of the descriptions of included stereotypes or attitudes that were negative, no overall patterns of media influence presented themselves.

Little evidence was found supporting the idea that children's schemas for African Americans on television and for African Americans in real life would be different from each other. Also unsubstantiated was the idea that the amount, quality, or perceived realism of television were associated with subjects' racial schemas becoming stereotyped from such media.

IMPLICATIONS: The results of this study could mean that parental awareness of television viewing by children has risen, and in that regard made children's impressions from TV less pronounced. Also, it may mean that a particular element of the mainstream media, namely television, does not contribute as heavily as one may think in creating stereotypes, at least in children. However, Mancuso points to several limitations of the study, saying that the results might have been skewed because it was carried out in a highly ethnic, multi-racial area in the city of Los Angeles.

The study by Mancuso is related to the other studies I have discussed. In a way, Mancuso considers how social communication through the media is might be responsible for creating stereotypes, so it is somewhat of an extension of the work by Thompson et al. Mancuso wondered if television communicated stereotypes of African Americans to children, and found that they did not. There may be other forms of mass-media that affect the formation of stereotypes in children or other groups. This question is addressed in a study by Johnson et al called "Converging Interracial Consequences of Exposure to Violent Rap Music on Stereotypical Attributions of African Americans". This group explored the premise that mere exposure to a symbol or representative of a social category can be enough to activate stereotypic associations, often without attention or awareness. In this case, the exposure is rap music with violent topics. Here is the abstract:

"The present study explored how media, specifically violent rap music, may influence African Americans' and Whites' attribution of African Americans through stereotype priming. When compared to controls and participants exposed to nonviolent African American musicians, those exposed to violent African American musicians reported attributions of target African American male's violent behavior that was particularly dispositional relative to attributions of a White male's violent behavior or to any other condition. The findings also indicated that the impact of exposure to violent rap music generalized to judgments involving other stereotype-related traits (i.e., intelligence) but not to judgments of nonstereotypical traits." (Johnson et al 233)

So, Johnson et al studied a different group of people, and a different set of media influences to see if stereotypes were formed in much the same way as Mancuso was searching for.

PURPOSE: Johnson et al sought to determine the effects of exposure to stereotypical racial information about African Americans, in the form of rap music with violent topics, on stereotype application in the perceptions and evaluations of both African Americans and Whites.

METHOD: 52 white female and 38 white male college students, along with 50 African American female and 40 African American male participants were examined in a two-part experiment. The first part of the experiment was ostensibly a "public policy study" with the true aim of gaining insight into subjects' thoughts on the government's role in regulating rap music. In this first part, subjects filled out a questionnaire. In the control group, subjects did not listen to music, but in the experimental group, listeners heard one of two types of rap music, one very graphic and violent, or the other nonviolent and subdued. These subjects were then given scaled questions asking if they feel the music impacted their attitudes, beliefs, or behaviors. Finally, subjects were given a booklet of passages to read and react to. Both of these tasks were used to gauge subjects' reactions to specific actions by African American target groups.

RESULTS: The results of the study reveal that exposure to violent rap music can have significant judgmental implications for African Americans. These effects occur for both African Americans and White evaluators. When compared to control participants and those exposed to nonviolent African American artists, participants exposed to the violent rap music made more negative dispositional attributions of violence to an African American, but not to White, target persons (Johnson et al, 245). These results were consistent with the hypothesis by Johnson et al that although stereotype activation may occur universally among people who have common cultural associations when appropriately primed, the application of stereotypes in judgments may be governed by the association of the target and the evaluative dimensions to the stereotype (Johnson et al, 246).

IMPLICATIONS: The findings suggest that contextual factors that prime and activate cultural stereotypes of African Americans can lead African Americans to bias their responses to other African Americans in stereotypic ways as much as Whites do. Furthermore, these biases against racial in-group members may occur without full awareness. Perhaps this is because of the association of rap music with their race and culture and the consequences of general in-group biases, African American participants reported that they believed that violent rap music had less impact on their judgments than did White participants and that it had no more impact than did nonviolent rap music (Johnson et al).

The study also shows that there are factors in the mainstream media that impact stereotype formation in society. Also interesting is that stereotype formation occurred among in-group as well as out-group members. As we saw in the other studies, these biases occur generally without awareness. Overall, the findings suggest that the impact of stereotypical media exposure may be both significant and insidious, and its negative effects for African Americans can be perpetuated by African Americans as well as by Whites.

Future research in this area might directly examine the extent to which exposure to stereotypic information about African Americans automatically activates African American stereotypes the same way in African Americans as for Whites. Moreover, whereas the moderating effects of level of prejudice have been investigated for Whites, the effects of additional moderators, for example, level of racial identification or collective self-esteem could be considered for African Americans. With respect to the influence of rap music, future research might also explore the importance of the direct association of African Americans with violent lyrics. In the present study, the rap artists in both music conditions were African American. The study is limited in that is does not allow one to know whether it is exposure to violent rap music in general or violent rap music by African American artists that affects subsequent judgments (Johnson et al, 247).

One could even relate this to the study by Thompson et al in saying that violent rap music, in a way, perpetuates African American stereotypes through social communication and actually primes those who listen to it to activate these stereotypes, African American or White. It also relates to the work by Andre et al in that African American and White youth may see rap musicians as authority figures that are teaching stereotypes through violent lyrics; that these lyrics may implant schemas in the minds of kids that will affect decisions they make about target groups in the future.

Each of these studies relates to the others in ways too numerous to list. But, the overall idea is that various factors in society affect how stereotypes are formed and perpetuated. The examples I provide do not focus on a common group, or a common form of stereotype, but each provides a solid example of factors in our culture that lead to stereotype formation. It was interesting to find that where Mancuso failed to find a correlation between the media and stereotype activation, the group of Johnson et al found a strong correlation, but with a different type of media. This effect of the media is fascinating. If I were to study this subject further, my next question would relate more specifically to the effect of certain elements of the media in communicating and perpetuating stereotypes in American culture. I would likely focus on advertising or the sitcom as major role-players in this type of communication.

In the Age of Information, the media will continue to have a significant impact on our thoughts and ideas; it is after all just an extension of our culture as a whole, so it is to be expected that we see the stereotypes that exist in our culture manifested in different public expressions. In fact, Thompson et al proved that simple communication perpetuates stereotypes when they are activated in certain ways. Overall, I would have to say that it would be very difficult to avoid forming stereotypes and using them in their daily thoughts and in most forms of communication. Stereotypes make it easier to think and communicate. When we can add a little brevity to a conversation or thought by resorting to certain common thoughts in our culture, we can often make faster connections with people; we are sometimes unaware that these things are happening. The bottom line is that a perfect world is far from our reach. We are a long way from Utopia. It will be interesting to see if we ever get any closer.

Works Cited:

Thompson, Micah S et al. "The Consequences of communicating Social Stereotypes" accepted Oct. 29, 1999. Univ. Of Colorado. Academic Press, 2000

Andre, Thomas et al. "Competency Beliefs, Positive Affect, Gender Stereotypes…" accepted 15 Sept. 1998. Iowa State University. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 1999.

Marchant, Gregory et al. "Relations of Middle School Students Perceptions…" accepted 2001. Ball State University, IN. John Wiley & Sons Inc. 2001.

Byler, Patricia Lucille. "Middle School girls' attitudes toward math and science" From Dissertation abstracts International. Vol 61 (6-A). Jan 2000, 2181.

Mancuso, Allegra Concetta. "An Examintion of Television and real life experience…" Form Dissertation Abstracts International. Vol 62 (2-A) Aug. 2001, 461.Constantine,

Madonna G et al. "African American Adolescents' Racial Socialization…" Journal of African American Studies. Vol 32 (3) Jan 2002, 322-335.

Johnson, James D et al. "converging Interracial Responses to Violent Rap Music…" Accepted 1999. Colgate University. Academic Press, 2000.

Talbani, Aziz. "Adolescent Females between Tradition and Modernity…" Journal of Adolescense, Vol 23, 615-627. Association for Professionals in Service for Adolescents. 2000

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