Are Stereotypes True? Franchesca Ramsey Explains Why Your Brain Thinks They're Legit, Even Though They're Not — VIDEO
You've probably encountered those who will defend the harmful perpetuation of stereotypes by saying, "Well, it's a stereotype because it's true!" Here's the thing, though: They're not true. As Franchesca Ramsey of MTV's Decoded explains in her latest video, stereotypes only seem true because of the powers of perception. Your brain has been tricked — so let's put the "stereotypes exist because they're true" myth to rest.
First, though, let's be clear on what a stereotype is before we get into the technical aspects of how it works cognitively: A stereotype is "an oversimplified generalization that's used to describe an entire group of people," according to Ramsey. There are also both negative and positive stereotypes, but no matter what, each accomplishes the same thing: Labeling people without taking their individuality into account.
Ramsey uses the example of the positive stereotype, "Black people can dance" and the negative stereotype, "White people can't dance" to illustrate how we're tricked into thinking stereotypes are true. A lot of stereotypes come down to social conditioning and the media, which can be illustrated in this case with Eddie Murphy's comedy film Raw. The movie featured Murphy's now-famous "white people can't dance" joke, which then took on a life of its own in the '90s, becoming a notion held my many.
So, why does this happen? Essentially, it's because your brain can't discern TV from reality, meaning that yes, what you watch has an influence on how you think.
When things get really tricky is when stereotypes turn into bias. Remember that stereotypes are generalizations — but your brain often wants to use those generalized ideas when it's convenient, kind of like taking a shortcut. The problem is that this shortcut often results in the creation of a bias, which immediately leads you to believe that, say, a Latina woman is sassy, a white, middle-aged man is professional, or a teenage white girl has an affinity for Starbucks.
If you're thinking, "Well, some stereotypes are true because statistics support it! You can't argue with numbers, right?"... Well, let e introduce to a psychological phenonemon called "stereotype threat." Basically, this means that when you're presented with a stereotype, you internalize that belief, which can then lead to underperformance. We can see stereotype threat at work in a number of studies, including one that found a group of black college students performed worse on standardized tests than a group of white students did when their race was emphasized. When their race was not emphasized, they performed as well as or better than the group of white students. The biases that result from stereotypes can often lead to self-fulfilling prophecies, which in turn might make us think those stereotypes are true.
But this still doesn't make stereotypes legit. Say it with me, now: The idea that stereotypes exist because they're true is a myth. For more, watch the full video below:
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