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Updated: Jun 5, 2020



As a student in psychology, social psychology has become one of my first interests.

Understanding our behaviors and how we influence, and are influenced, on a daily basis was impressive. Along the way, we had to learn about stereotypes and their effects on our society. As they are constantly around us, about us, and in us they definitely impact us in many ways, making even the most intimate choice or thought biased.

Today, and to be honest since the beginning of the world, some groups are more targeted than others. Stereotypes increase the stigma they suffer. I am actually part of some of those

groups, as I am a black Muslim woman (cf "My Essence The Combo" to read about my experience). As a person part of a low status group (that's how they're called in sociology) I wanted to share a few things I’ve learned. I feel like now is the right time.

Nowadays, more than ever before, I feel like words matter. And their misuse definitely modifies their impact. In fact, words like stereotypes, prejudice, discrimination and racism merge and impose themselves in everyday speech. But what it is their true definition?


Stereotype: Set of beliefs linked to categories, groups of individuals concerning the

characteristics (attributes) of these groups, which are shared collectively (idea of social


Prejudice: Corresponds to a general positive or negative emotional reaction towards an

individual and based on the feeling that one has towards his own group.

Discrimination : Negative behavior expressed towards members of a given social group. There are 5 stages of discrimination: verbal, avoidance, segregation, attack, extermination.

History of Stereotypes:

Originally the word came to existence in 1798, and it is initially a printing term. It designates a PLM flow in an imprint intended for the creation of a typographic cliché.

Lippman, 1922:

He was the first to use this term in an article: "Stereotypes correspond to images in our heads that we construct about social groups." Then he uses this term again to express the idea of the rigidity of these mental images (rigid imprint in memory).

Stereotypes justify our emotional and behavioral reactions to a category (Jost & Major, 2001).

They facilitate the processing of information. They allow us to facilitate our interactions with

the world by reducing its complexity - which becomes more predictable, more controllable, and more manageable.

Transmission of Stereotypes:

A stereotype is a set of information (beliefs, knowledge) stored in memory and associated with a social group. Stereotypes are learned socially in the sense that they are transmitted by

socialization agents (parents, media, etc.). Once these stereotypes are learned (consciously or not) we all tend to convey them (consciously or not) in our turn in society, thus participating in their transmission, maintenance and rigidity.

Their Effects:

Self-fulfilling prophecy-

Described by Robert Merton in 1948, this concept generally designates an erroneous

expectation which leads to its own realization. A person who initially adopted false beliefs

about an individual causes that individual to behave in such a way that he confirms his initial

beliefs. - Snyder, 1992

This phenomenon involves, an interaction of a situation between 2 people: A and B.

A has (false or unfounded) expectations of B.

These expectations influence A's behavior towards B

In return, B behaves in accordance with A's expectations.

A's expectations are confirmed: his "prophecy" has come true.

Self-fulfilling prophecies can be expressed through verbal behavior (what is said) but also

non-verbal (posture, looks, etc.).

Non-verbal indicators of a positive attitude towards others:

- Interpersonal proximity (in terms of short distance).

- Numerous eye contact.

- Direct shoulder orientation (front position).

- Tilt of the bust forward (towards the interlocutor).

These behaviors reflect a relationship of immediacy by increasing proximity to the interlocutor.

(Cf. Word, Zanna, et Cooper (1974) )

( )

This phenomenon exist in an educational context and is refer as the pygmalion effects

(Rosenthal & Jacobson, 1968). Pygmalion effect characterizes any perception or expectation of the teacher, which modifies the behaviors of the pupils in a way that conforms with the original expectation.

Pygmalion Effect Stages :

The teacher develops expectations for students' future performance or attributes early in the

year. These expectations affect the quantity and quality of interactions with students. This

differential treatment is perceived by the latter. If it persists over time, it affects their motivation and performance in line with the teacher's initial expectations. This process can be positive or negative. For example, high expectations from a teacher can generate higher performance, just as low expectations can weaken student performance.

(Cf. Rosenthal 1968 )

Stereotype Threat:

Claude Steele and Joshua Aronson are researchers from Stanford. These authors confirmed the hypothesis formulated by Leyens: the stereotype itself, the "reputation" to which the groups are subjected, would have a direct effect on the group's performance, especially when it is made salient, activated. In fact, the salience of stereotypes increase a fear of judgement but also to confirm the stereotypes, which will lead the person to confirm it.

Threat of Stereotype Implication: the conscience and fear of being judged personally on the basis of this stereotype. The activation of the sense of threat requires the knowledge of negative stereotypes but also the knowledge of the field in which it applies. And the awareness that belonging to the stigmatized group means being judged on the basis of the stereotype.

However, this threat was highlighted by Jane Elliot, a teacher who decided to give her classroom a lesson on discrimination. She divided the classroom into two: blue eyes and brown eyes, giving more privilege to the blue eyed children one day and to the brown eyed children the next. The result are impressive. With only one day of feeling superior or inferior, the children’s test scores improved when they were privileged, and decreased when they were inferior. This experiment has been done again by Jane Elliott, but also by multiple teachers in different countries, and the result are the same.

What I want you to get after this, is that I’m only talking about the effects of stereotypes which aren’t prejudice, nor discrimination or racism. In fact, the process of categorization teaches us that stereotypes do lead to discrimination, which can then lead to racism. But I think we can all agree that the impact of those stereotypes can be destructive.

So, is it time for all of us to learn, and unlearn? Time to deconstruct a society built on the pain and death of those groups? Because looking the other way, denying what happened and what's happening, diminishing and sugarcoating people’s experiences won’t solve the issues. Here is an article that I really find interesting, it's about Jane Elliot's experience but also the reaction, especially the backlash she suffered. Let that sink in, isn’t the reaction some have right now? We shouldn’t deny the truth in front of us just because it makes us uncomfortable!

We have to stand together, to get the truth and justice out. We have to be united against oppression and racism. We have to do better, we have to be willing to be a little uncomfortable, to fight, to get what’s right for everybody. History is ours to make every day, with every step and every actions.

"[We] are personally responsible for becoming more ethical than the society [we] grew up in -Eliezer Yudkowsky"

credit photo : @ wetheurban

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