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How stereotypes affect people

Assumptions, we all make them. They help us. Yes, they do. But what happens when you assume someone’s opinions, their sexual orientation, their ability to do something, their financial status, and even their morals? Stereotypes are overgeneralized ideas of what a certain group of individuals should have in common. By stereotyping, we “assume” what a person of a certain group should or should not have as their characteristics.

There have been multiple studies that show how a stereotype can change a person’s behavior, their response to a situation, and even self-image. Stereotypes have undesirable effects on our personality development and the types of activities we do, as well as the way we live and the careers we choose.

There was a study done by Katz and Braly (1933) on Racial Stereotyping. They selected a group of people and gave them a list of characteristics that the group had to assign to a particular type of individual(s), who were differentiated based on their race. The study showed that most of the traits that indicated active lifestyle, hardworking and ambitious behaviors were assigned to white Americans. The characters that implied laziness and unprogressive behaviors were assigned to the individuals who were of African American race. In a related study, when individuals facing performance threat were given a test, it was shown that African American participants performed less well than their White American counterparts. According to Steele, stereotype threat generates “spotlight anxiety” (Steele & Aronson, 1995, p. 809), which causes emotional distress, “vigilant worry,” and “attributional ambiguity,” which can then lead to an underwhelming performance under stress situations.

In a similar study, two groups of women were selected. One group was then reminded of their Asian descent, and another was reminded of them being female, and the one reminded of their descent performed way better than the other one. The reason that came up the most for the result was stereotypical bias.

Stereotypes not only try to strip people of their individuality but also try to mold them into someone they are not. This type of bias, when applied to children, can affect their self-expression, academic success, body image, emotional health, etc. Kids learn from the people that surround them. Forcing young boys to be emotionally unavailable and young girls to be caregivers is something that when they take in their adult life causes a lot of distress not only on an individual level but also massively on a societal level. If they are taught to behave like a stereotype, they can sometimes grow up to not accept other people who do not act in the same way that they do. These things are also a big reason for the hate crimes that a specific group experiences due to stereotypical bias, whether due to their race, ethnic background, sexual orientation, etc.

Media also has a big role in feeding into these stereotypes that lead us to believe that this is the way of life. However, offering education free of stereotypes does not mean taking away all “boys’ toys” and “girls’ toys,” such as dolls or fire trucks. Rather, it means actively encouraging children to make choices usually associated with the other gender. Children should be taught that someone’s way of talking does not describe their sexual orientation. Someone’s sexual orientation or race does not define their ideologies. Everyone deserves a chance to be someone that they want to be without fear of being judged or experiencing hate for who they are, especially when they can’t change it.

Written by – Chaarvi Dwivedi

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