Saturday, February 1, 2014

Social Representations and Stereotypes

Social Representations

Social representations are defined as the shared beliefs and explanations help by a society in which we live, or the group to which we belong. (Moscovici, 1973). Moscovici argued that social representations were at the foundation of social cognition: social representations help us make sense of our world and master it, enabling communication to take place among members in a group. That is to say, cultural schemata are funamental to the identity of the group, and provide the group with common understanding and a ground for communication.

Cultures have different views and ideals: cultural schemata are what influence these differences. Adler (1990) asked a Russian mother what it meant for her children to share something: "to use it together". He asked an American mother what it meant for her children to share something "to take turns using it independently".

Howarth (2002) carried out focus-group interviews with adolescent girls in Brixton, to study how these girls described and evaluated themselves. Howarth found that the girls had a positive view of being "from Brixton" which was contrasted with the views of people outside of Brixton. This may be a sign of positive social identity due to ingroup favoritism.

Stereotypes and their effects on behavior

A stereotype is defined as a social perception of an individual in terms of his or her group membership. Stereotypes are generalisations that are made about a group that are then attributed to each individual member of a group. These generalisations can end up being positive or negative. Example: "women are talented speakers" vs "all women do is gossip"

Stereotypes are able to influence the person who believes it, as well as who the stereotype is referring to. Researchers explain stereotyping as a result of schema processing.

Stereotype threats: the effect of stereotypes on an individual's performance:

A stereotype threat is something that occurs when an individual is in a situation where there is a threat of being judged or treated stereotypically, or a fear of doing something that might inadvertently confirm the stereotype. 

Steele and Aronson (1995): A study on stereotype threat
Aim: to see the effect that stereotype threats had on performance.
Procedure: They carried out an experiment to see the effect of stereotype threats on performance. A 30 minute verbal test made up of difficult multiple choice questions were given to African American students and European American students. In the first trial, the researchers told the students that they were being "genuinely tested of verbal ability". As a result, the African American students did much worse than the European American students. However, in the second trial, when the researchers told the students that they were being tested to see "how certain problems were generally solved", the African American's scores increased compared to the first trial's, and were up to par with the European American students. This shows that stereotype threat can happen to any member in a group that is stereotyped, and can affect the way that they perform or behave. This may explain why some racial or social groups seem to identify themselves as more inept than other groups. Believing in such stereotypes can actually lower ability or performance.

Steele (1997): stereotype threats turns on spotlight anxiety which causes emotional distress and pressure that may undermine an individual's performance ability. This is why students under stereotype threats can under-perform, and fulfill the stereotype that is being place on them. Additionally, stereotypes and stereotype threats can limit student's education prospects. 

Spencer et. al (1977): Testing the effect stereotype threats have on intellect
Spencer et al tested how stereotype threats can influence a student's intellectual capability.
Procedure: the researchers gave difficult maths test to students who were strong in mathematics, predicting that women under stereotype threat would underperform compared to the men taking the test. (Stereotype: women are worse at math than men). The stereotype threat causes women taking the test to see mathematics as an important part of their self-definition, so that a stereotype threat might result in an interfering pressure under test conditions.
Result: stereotype threat had caused women to significantly underperform against men, while their mathematics capabilities were the same as the men's. The validity of the experiment is justified through the same experiment occurring with literature tests: women did not underperform as they were not under any stereotype threats.

How stereotypes form

Tajfel argues that stereotypes are a natural cognitive process from social categorisation (categorising who is in the ingroup / outgroup), it does not explain how stereotypes form. Stereotypes are a salient part of our social and cultural environment: we learn stereotypes through daily interactions, conversations and the media. Additionally, they are not based only on an individual's experience with a member of a group. They are also influenced by cultural and social factors: stereotypes are contextualised, and not simply the results of an individual's cognitive process. Stereotypes are often held by large groups as social representations (=social representations: the beliefs that are held by a group). Campbell (1967) maintains that it is this convergence with personal experience and the influence of social and cultural environments that cause stereotypes to form. His grain of truth hypothesis argues that an experience with an individual from a group will be generalised to the whole group. 
Hamilton and Gifford (1976) have another hypothesis as to how stereotypes were formed: Hamilton and Gifford argue that stereotypes are a product of illusory correlation: people see a relationship between two variables even when they are not related. This occurs when people associate a social group to the specific behaviors of those that belong to that group. This illusory correlation lead people to make false associations and links between unrelated variables. They come in many forms and some culturally based prejudices are a result of illusory correlation.
Once illusory correlations are made, people seek out or remember information that supports that relationship of variables. This is an example of confirmation bias: when people look for evidence that supports their theory, and ignore all evidence that goes against it. In context to stereotypes, the individuals in a group that do not conform to the stereotype given about that group are ignored, or dismissed as outliers. Confirmation bias is why stereotypes are unlikely to disappear. 
Snyder and Swann (1978) conducted a study in which they told female college students that they would meet a person who was either an introvert or an extrovert. They were then asked to prepare a set of questions for the person they were going to meet. Participants came up with questions that corresponded to the type of person that they were told that they would meet. Those that thought they were meeting an introvert had questions like "What do you dislike about parties?", "Are there times when you wish you were more outgoing?" and those that thought they were meeting extroverts prepared questions like "what do you do to liven up a party?". Snyder and Swann concluded that the questions confirmed the participants' stereotypes of the personality types that they were told they would meet.

It was also found that a stereotype may be adopted by a person in order to be in consensus with an ingroup. Rogers and Frantz (1962) found that white immigrants to Zimbabwe held more prejudices and stereotypes of the people there than were held back in America. This was thought to be so that the immigrants could be in agreement with the ingroup (whites) in Zimbabwe. 

The Princeton Trilogy

1. Katz and Braley (1933) performed an experiment investigating how traditional social stereotypes had a cultural basis by asking 100 males students that attended Princeton University to choose 5 words from a list of 84 words to describe different ethnicities. Results showed that there were many words chosen for certain ethnic groups, and that they confirmed negative stereotypes. Additionally, they were extremely positive about their own ethnic group (ingroup favoritism to maintain a successful social identity). Conclusion: as most of the Princeton students never came into contact with the ethnic groups that they categorised, it was assumed that stereotypes were formed through gateways such as media and cultural views. 
2. Gilbert (1951) replicated the experiment of Katz and Braley but found that more people were reluctant to categorise ethnic groups into words that defined them. There was also less uniformity of agreement about unfavorable traits compared to the 1933 study. However, the conclusion from the 1933 study was also concluded in this study as the students held extremely negative views of the Japanese ethnic group (most likely due to Pearl Harbor) and this information was relayed to them from television, radio and news. 
3. Karlins et. al (1969) the most recent replication of this study was one where students objected to classifying ethnic groups. When the task was completed, there was greater agreement on the stereotypes assigned to the different groups compared to the 1951 Gilbert study. Researchers concluded that this was a reemergence of social stereotyping but in the direction of a more favorable stereotype image.

Stereotype formation

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