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Social Psychology: Stereotypes

The stereotype is understood as a belief that is over-generalized relating to a particular category in consideration (Rosenthal & Overstreet, 2016). It is also explained as an expectation that people have from the other person or any group. Researchers have found that stereotypes are generally acquired in an early childhood age when the person influences parents, teachers, peers, and the media. Social values affect the stereotypes and stereotypes often change as per the changes in social values. Stereotypes are often associated with negative traits because they are targeted towards a specific group. Stereotypical thinking often leads to the person giving overreaction to any information that validates is in line with that stereotype. The person tends to ignore or give an under reaction to any stimulus or information that contradicts one's developed stereotype (Cardwell, 1999). Cognitive mechanisms such as illusory correlation (an inaccurate implication an individual holds about the relationship between two variables or events) lead to the development of stereotypes. Changing or modification due to the addition of new information on the distinctive trait of the group can lead to change in the stereotype that the person holds for a particular group. In social psychology, stereotypes are often understood in terms of the use of heuristics to make judgments (Alan, 2018).

Stereotypes tend to amplify or exaggerate the differences that exist between the groups even the difference or the number of variances that exist. In addition to this, stereotypes are considered to be dependent upon the context. This is explained as the assessment of a group is likely to be dependent upon the group that is it compared to. Stereotypes are also regarded as a phenomenon through reality or the information that is presented is somewhere distorted (Rosenthal & Overstreet, 2016). The continuance of the stereotype forces the individuals to actively ignore or under-react to the information that is inconsistent or not in line with the stereotypes held by that person. Only when the person is provided with enough information that contradicts the stereotypes, the person is willing to evaluate the information and the belief held by him or her. This requires a drastic re-evaluation of the data available.

The social cognitive theory that forms the basis of social psychology views that observation is the key process through which knowledge acquisition happens (Bandura, 2008). Observing within the context of experiences, social interactions and the influence of media are some of the channels through which knowledge is acquired. Social cognitive theory is an extension of the social learning theory developed by Albert Bandura. The social cognitive theory argues that the behavior of an individual is the result of the triadic structure the behavior of the individual, personal factors, and environmental influencers constantly have an impact on each other. This model as given by Bandura is called reciprocal determinism (Bandura, 2008). Thus, the theory provides a basis for how the knowledge and behavioral patterns are acquired and maintained and provides information about how the intervention strategies can be planned and implemented. 

The application of social cognitive theory has been in many areas of functioning in the sectors of education, career choice, classroom management, motivation, organizational behaviors, achievement, and learning. The foundations of the social cognitive theory can be understood in terms of human agency and human capability. The former proposes the idea that the behavior of the individual is not influenced by the inner forces and environment but individuals are also self-regulatory, self-driving, proactive, and self-reflecting. The latter assumption is that over the years, human beings develop advance neural systems which act as an agent for knowledge and skills acquisition through both direct and symbolic terms (Middleton, Hall & Raeside, 2019).

 Components of social cognitive theory included learning taking place through modeling, outcome expectancies, self-efficacy, and identification (Bandura, 2008). Modeling is explained as learning that takes place through acquiring behavioral patterns and knowledge by observing the models directly. Outcome expectancies are explained as the potential outcome that the person carrying out the behavior expects. The expectations from the behavior in terms of the rewards or punishments that one has incurred determine that whether the person would be repeating the behavior or not. The social cognitive theory also explains that whether the leaning would take place or not is also determined by the extent to which the observer and the one carrying out the behavior have a sense of identification in terms of self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is explained as the belief the observer as he or she has the skill to master the behavior that is observed. The fourth component of importance in the social cognitive theory that determines the process of acquiring behavioral patterns is the degree to which the observer feels one-to-one similarity or identifies with the model, thus a higher chance of carrying out the modeled action (Bandura, 2008).

Social cognitive theory is subject to several criticisms which include; the theory lacks unification among the different aspects of theory, thus leading to the absence of cohesiveness. The other criticism of the theory is that everything that is learned through social learning cannot be observed directly and thus making the process of quantifying the social cognitive effect on development very difficult. The third criticism of the social cognitive theory is that the theory nowhere gives attention to the process of how maturation and development take place. It does not also attend to the idea of change in personality and motivation over time (Schunk, 2012). 

 Social identity theory was originally formulated by social psychologist Henri Tajfel and John Turner in the 1970s and the 1980s. The basic underlying of the theory explains social identity as a portion of self-concept which is derived from the perceived membership of the individual in a pertinent social group that one is a part of (Turner & Reynolds, 2010). Group membership can help individuals instilling meaning in social situations. 

Social identity theory pertains that an organization that influences individual behaviors where it can modify or change self-identity or a part of self-concept which the source through which knowledge is driven and there is emotional attachment. The theory aims to explore and predict how the difference in the status of the groups, legitimacy, and stability of those differences in the status and the perceived capacity to shift from one group to another influence certain types of intergroup behaviors. Social identity theory is more than just categorizing or theorizing humans simply as "social selves" (Postmes, & Branscombe, 2010).

The development of social identity theory could be traced back to the twentieth century and undertakings of the collectivist approach in social psychology. The concepts of social identity theory pertain to understanding assumptions that are positive the interpersonal and intergroup continuum and positive distinctiveness. The theory put forth the point that there will be a social influence on the person that will make him or her change one’s behavior while being part of that group. The variation is found between the continuum of interpersonal behavior and the behavior demonstrated within the group that is intrapersonal personal. Pioneers of the social identity theory point out that the combination of both interpersonal behavior and intrapersonal is likely to be found in realistic social situations. A comprises of the two extremes is something that is expected. The focus of the theory has been on the social structural factors that help in making an assumption about which end spectrum has the maximum influence on the behavior of the individual. The other assumption of the social identity theory is that of the positive distinctiveness this explains that the behavior of an individual is not only influenced by the social environment to which one is exposed to but also has an intrinsic motivation to it. The intrinsic motivation is targeted towards achieving positive distinctiveness which is defined as the “strive for a positive self-concept” (Pajares, Prestin, Chen, Nabi, 2009).

 Social identity theories also detail the number of strategies that could be used to achieve positive distinctiveness. These include strategies such as individual mobility wherein the individual distances oneself from the group and pursue goals that tend to improve their being rather than the in-group that they are part of. Another strategy is that if social creativity which involves drawing a comparison between the in-group and the out- group and selecting an alternative out- group on some different and new dimension to compare it with the values and attributes of the in-group. Social competition is another strategy of positive distinctiveness in which positive distinctiveness is achieved by coming in competition directly with outgroup. The competition is in the form of in- group favoritism which takes place on a value dimension that is shared among all the relevant social groups (Haslam, Ellemers, Reicher, Reynolds & Schmitt, 2010).

Social identity theory has been subject to a variety of criticisms. One of the key criticisms is that social cognitive theory does not that why do some groups share-friendly rivalry while others have the extreme relationship between hostility and violence. Another criticism of the social cognitive theory is that inter- group rivalry is explained in terms of the need for self- esteem and the emergence of the feeling that one's group is positive and distinctive from others (Carillo, 2010). Considering this as true, some other factors that influence group relations should be taken to notice for instance competition can be over scarce resources or the reason for rivalry could be historical relations between the groups. All these factors are not addressed by the social cognitive theory.

Dual-process theory explains the process through which thought arises. The theory takes into consideration the two different ways through thought is processed. Often, the first process involves an implicit or automatic or what is regarded as an unconscious process. The other is the conscious process or an explicit or controlled way of processing the thought. Explicit or controlled processes or attitudes could be changed or modified with the help of verbalized persuasion or providing with education, whereas, implicit or uncontrolled attitudes or behaviors are harder to change and usually take a longer amount of time as it requires forming of new habits and attitudes. The impact of dual- processing theory can be observed in several fields such as sociology, clinical psychology, personality, cognitive psychology, and behavioral economics. The relationship between dual- processing theory and sociology is studied extensively through focusing on the cultural analysis (Lizardo, Mowry, Sepulvado, Stolt & Dustin, et al, 2016).

The basis of dual- processing theory is that there is an activation of the salient stereotypes relating to that individual the moment we observe the individual. Our behavior is then guided following the activation that has taken place this preventing us to direct our attention towards any other motivation or cognition. However, sometimes, we engage in controlled cognitive processes that act as inhibitions in making us use those stereotypes which in result determine our motivations and cognitions to doing so. 

The foundations of dual- processing theory go long back to the works of William James who considered thinking as of two types as associative and true reasoning. Growing researches in this filed, soon dual- processing theory gained significance in social psychological constructs such attitude change and cognitive psychology variables like memory, and attention. Post these; the elaboration likelihood model was formulated by Richard E. Petty and John Cacioppo in the year 1986 which explained different routes that could be followed in persuasion, thus making the base of the theory stronger in social psychology (Petty, & Cacioppo, 1986). The alternate to dual- processing model has been the dynamic graded continuum which proposes that the difference in how things are represented produces variations in how the reasoning would take place and one does not have to assume multiple framework systems.

Limitations with the dual processing theories have been also discussed widely. These include a grouping of too many models under the umbrella name of dual- processing theories which results in a lot of confusion. It has been proposed that instead of two types of processing there should be at least four types of processing that should be taken into consideration. This includes; implicit heuristic processing, implicit- rule-based processing, explicit heuristic processing, and explicit rule-based processing. In addition to this, instead of having a dichotomy of processing types, some studies have argued for a single – system framework that includes both explicit and implicit processes (Evans, 2012).

The developmental intergroup theory is proposed by Bigler and Liben in the year 2007. The theory has its basis in understanding the mechanisms which lead to the formation of stereotypes (characteristics) and prejudices (affective responses) from early childhood years. The theory seeks to explain the why of the development of stereotypes and prejudice in the children rooting its explanations based on human characteristics such as age, gender, race, and physical characteristics. The theory put forth the idea that all the children are driven towards understanding the world and this motivation to understand the world leads them to classify everything around them, both natural and non- natural stimuli into categories. After classification, what children do is to look for environmental cues that which of the categorization that has been done is important. Therefore, the initial step that is followed in the development of stereotypes and prejudice is focusing on the psychologically salient dimensions are established. Factors that are seen as affecting psychological salience are related to a person's attributes and include; 1) perceptual discriminability of social groups; 2) size of the group that is proportional; 3) use of social groups and explicit labeling; and 4) implicit use of social groups (Bigler & Liben,2007). It has been argued that characteristics of the people that are perceptually discriminable form the basis of stereotyping than the other characteristics. Despite the importance given to perceptual discriminability, it alone cannot be seen as the basis for developing or triggering psychological salience. For instance, if the young child can distinguish between the genders, it does not mean that this ability to differentiate will become the bases for stereotyping or prejudice. Instead, it has been proposed that for perceptually salient groups to become more salient psychologically, they have to possess some additional circumstances that can be regarded by minority status by adults by using different labels of different groups that can be functionally separated or segregated. The theory also takes into account the individual differences among the children to use a particular type of social category and develop them as their bases of stereotyping and prejudice. Bigler & Liben,2007). Factors have been identified as having an impact on the processes through which stereotypes and prejudice. These include 1) essentialism, 2) in- group bias, 3) explicit attributions attached to social groups, and 4) group- attribute covariation.

The stereotypes and prejudices of the children can be studied in the context of both social and cognitive development model. How children develop group identity along with the group norms determine their understanding of the concepts of fairness and justice. Therefore, it is is important to point that by studying the interplay between both morality and group identity results in a new perceptive that is not mentioned by the developmental intergroup theory (Rutland, Killen, & Abrams, 2010).

Social cognitive theory and social identity theory have been in existence for quite some time and researched widely to provide emphasis on the reasons to make an understanding of why the stereotyping happens (McLeod, 2015). Stereotypes often work as "energy-saving" devices which tend to get activated automatically. Stereotypes are seen as stable and often resistant to change. They tend to have a huge influence or effect on our behavior. Stereotypes are different from other schemas in the sense that their consequence is identified in terms of the behavioral tendencies or expectancies which function as a self- fulfilling prophecy. In very initial years of the research in social psychology and resulting researches on stereotypes, Allport (1954) explained stereotypes as an exaggerated belief that tends to be related to a category. He identified that the function of a stereotype is to justify or in a sense rationalize the belied or the conduct we have concerning that particular category. However, the Allport view faced a lot of criticisms due to its predominant underlying and emphasis on only the cognitive basis of understanding the concept of stereotypes and rejecting the social element or social basis to it.

In the initial years, Campbell (1967) explained that the stereotypes emerge from the two bases of reality these were identified as the personal experiences and interactions that one has due to coming in contact with the social environment and the members' social groups that one is part of and the second basis was the media, parents, and relevant others which he referred to as "gatekeepers". From these identifications, Campbell came up with a grain of truth hypothesis which states that an individual tends to generalize observations about the group also because even if when they that there is even one confirmation to back their generalizations. In addition to this, Stereotypes are also seen as emerging from illusory correlations are explained by Hamilton and Gifford (1976). Illusionary correlations are understood as phenomena were the relationship or associations between two variables are assumed even if they are not any. Series of experiments were conducted to provide a basis for the stereotyping. To further provide evidence about the phenomena, it was argued that humans tend to use confirmation bias to defend these stereotypes emerging from the illusory correlations. Confirmation bias involves humans looking for pieces of evidence and examples that tend to defend the beliefs they have and also ignore the examples and pieces of evidence that do not fit in this illusion. 

Social cognitive theory is rooted in the works of social learning theory given by Albert Bandura which maintains that acquisition of knowledge is through directly observing the behavior of others and replicates the behavior that is modeled (Bandura, 2008). The cognitive perceptive also argues that stereotypes are social schemas that are driven in theory, have internal organizational structures to it, consists of structures that are stable in one's memory and the learning of these stereotypes occurs from the early years in life. Thus, emphasizing on the idea that the cognitive mechanisms act as the foundation and the fundamental base of development of what can be explained as a stereotypic belief system. In addition to this, according to social cognitive theories, we live a complex world that has too much information. Therefore, to organize this information we develop categories. The process of categorization or the way through which we simplify the social world around us becomes the major reason for engaging in and developing stereotypes. The process of categorization relates to the social world and tends to simplify perception and cognition relating to developing inherits relationship and similarities within and between the group and the variables. Social categorization is based on the features of the person or the group such as gender, age, race, and ethnicity that are identifiable and salient (Liberman,  Woodward, & Kinzlerhe, 2017). The categorization is regarded as the result of the fundamental cognitive necessity to have a better understanding of the social world. Social identity theory which is seen as closely related to social cognitive theories somewhere works on these principles of categorization. The theory is regarded as an extension to the self- categorization theory. Social identity theory maintains that an individual develops in- group and out- group. The theory emphasis that stereotyping, categorization, and depersonalization all are the results of the differences that are assumed by an individual in terms of the in- group and out-group he or she is part of. This social- categorization leads to in-group favoritism and out-group bias, thus giving results to discrimination and prejudice as a result of stereotypes. The theories also explain the idea of the self- categorization which states the process of stereotyping itself is fluid, dynamic, and largely dependent on the social context (Liberman, Woodward, & Kinzler, 2017).The theory explains that the individual as a part of the social environment goes through several stages which results in developing the attitudes of stereotypes and thus behaviors of prejudice and discrimination. This starts with the categorization of objects to understand and identify them. For instance, classification can be based on categories such as Christian, Muslim, and Hindu. These categories tell us a lot about things around us. The next stage that individual passes through according to social identity theory is the social identification stage in which one tends to identify the group that one is categorized as belonging to or not. For instance, one identifies oneself as a Christian. The social identification stage leads to the development of the in-group and out- group. In- group is one which the feelings of "I", "we" and "us" are there, whereas, the feelings of "they", "them", and "you" are present in the out- group. A level of emotional significance or attachment is present in identification with one’s group which leads to the development of self- esteem in an individual. The last stage of the theory of social identity is the social comparison stage, which forms the basis of the formation of stereotypes and the behavior of prejudice and discrimination. If the identification of in- group is string there can be feeling of competition and hostility are often present towards the out- group at a higher intensity (McLeod, 2019).

The basis of stereotyping in the social identity theory is also explained in an experiment conducted by Ferrucci & Tandoc (2018) through focusing on Black and White quarterbacks. In the study, the participants were supposed to providing with the rating of the quarterbacks in association with the stereotypes identified in previous literature. In addition to this, the participants were also asked to rate the credibility of messages that were stereotype- consistent or stereotype- inconsistent. The results of the study indicated that stereotyping happened by both the races, however, participants of the Black race stereotypes more strongly than the Whit participants. In addition to this, messages that were only concerning to the stereotype- consistent descriptors or indicators of White quarterbacks were rated as more credible.

Apart from this, motivational influences on stereotypes, and its effects are also being studied. The basis of the literature has been drawn on the understanding of stereotype threat. Stereotype threat is understood as the situational predicament. In this, the individual is at risk of confirming to the existent stereotypes about their social groups (Thoman, Brown, Chase, Justin &Young, 2013). Stereotype threat is experienced most visibly in the area of racial and gender gaps in academic performances. Stereotype threat is also regarded as a type of social identity threat which emphasizes that there is a tendency among people to maintain a positive identity of their group and collectives. Drawing from this, a devaluation of one's social identity can be experienced and triggered in several ways. All this time and again can put the individual in a position in which they are prompted to treat others and sometimes themselves in a way that is consistent with the existent stereotypes. All these are regarded as the motivational processes and outcomes associated with the formation of stereotypes (Thoman, Brown, Chase, Justin &Young, 2013).

Stereotypes tend to reduce the amount of processing or thinking that is required when we meet some person or interact with a group. In this way, stereotypes are seen as simplifying the social world in which we live (McLeod, 2015) Where stereotypes help in enabling us to rapidly respond to the situations as we have had experienced it in the past, the disadvantage of engaging in stereotyping is that we tend to ignore the differences that exist between the individuals or within the groups and we make assumptions about the groups that are not true or have no basis in reality. This results in us making generalizations. Nonetheless, people engage in stereotypes, form assumptions, generalize, and often find themselves engaging in behavioral representations of these stereotypes such as discrimination and prejudice. Despite stereotypes being predominantly negative, certain positive stereotypes have also been identified such as "sober with judge" explanatory of having a very respectable set of characteristics, "overweight people" individuals who are regarded as jolly. All these are certainly examples of positive stereotypes that are very minimal in the field of stereotypes.

References for Social Cognitive Theory of Mass Communication

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Alan, L (2018). The Cambridge Handbook of Psychology and Economic Behavior. Cambridge University Press. 43.

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Campbell, D. T. (1967). Stereotypes and the perception of group differences. American Psychologist, 22(10), 817–829. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1037/h0025079

Cardwell, M. (1999). Dictionary of psychology. Chicago Fitzroy Dearborn. 

Carillo, Kevin. (2010). Social Cognitive theory in IS research – Literature review, criticism, and research agenda. Communications in Computer and Information Science, 54. DOI. 10.1007/978-3-642-12035-0_4.

Evans, J. (2012). "Questions and challenges for the new psychology of reasoning". Thinking & Reasoning, 18 (1): 5–31. Available at doi:10.1080/13546783.2011.637674.

Ferrucci, P., & Tandoc, E. C. (2018). The spiral of stereotyping: Social identity theory and NFL quarterbacks. Howard Journal of Communications, 29(2), 107–125. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1080/10646175.2017.1315693

Hamilton, D. L., & Gifford, R. K. (1976). Illusory correlation in interpersonal perception: A cognitive basis of stereotypic judgments. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 12, 392-107. Available at doi:10.1016/S0022-1031(76)80006-6

Haslam, S. A., Ellemers, N., Reicher, S. D., Reynolds, K. J., Schmitt, M. T. (2010). Postmes, T.; Branscombe, N. R. (eds.). "The social identity perspective tomorrow: Opportunities and avenues for advance". Rediscovering Social IdentityPsychology Press, 357–379.

Liberman, Z., Woodward, A. L., & Kinzler, K. D. (2017). The Origins of Social Categorization. Trends in cognitive sciences, 21(7), 556–568. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2017.04.004

Lizardo, O., Mowry, R., Sepulvado, B., Stoltz, D., Taylor, M., Ness, J. V., & Wood, M. (2016). "What are dual process models? Implications for cultural analysis in sociology". Sociological Theory, 34 (4): 287–310. Available at doi:10.1177/0735275116675900

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Postmes, T. & Branscombe, N. (2010). "Sources of social identity". In T. Postmes & N. Branscombe (Eds). Rediscovering Social Identity: Core Sources. Psychology Press.

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Rosenthal, L & Overstreet, N. (2016). Stereotyping. Encyclopedia of Mental Health (Second Edition). 225-229. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-397045-9.00169-5

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Thoman, D., Brown, E., Chase, J., & Lee, J. Y. (2013). Beyond performance: A motivational experience model of stereotype threat. Educational psychology review, 25, 211-243. Available at 10.1007/s10648-013-9219-1.

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