Before focusing on differences, we will begin by defining each of them. Stereotypes would be those beliefs we have about the characteristics of a group, and prejudices would refer to the negative assessment made with respect to the group. The former are more related to our cognitive side, and the latter to our emotional part. The stereotypes would be born of a general knowledge of the group, and the prejudices would appear when one attributes these general characteristics to each member of this group and that we make inferences which facilitate the acceptance or the rejection.
Stereotypes reduce our energy expenditure at the mental level since they form groups and assign similar characteristics to belong to them. This assumes a saving of energy and these characteristics do not have to be negative, if it is something of general that refers to broad characteristics which in no way represent a total reality nor totally adjusted.
An example of stereotypes could be the belief that Parisians are stressed, or that the Marseillais always take a nap. These are broad groups that we generate and to which we attribute characteristics. The problem arises when we think that the stereotype is always true.
Prejudice, on the other hand, speaks to us emotionally or negatively. Just as we said that having stereotypes is something normal and social, prejudices have an implicit negative connotation. To stay on the previous example, one could have a stereotype, the one that the Marseillais always take a nap, and the negative prejudice that they are feigners.
The last part that we would miss to complete the loop, would be that after the stereotype, which refers to the cognitive part and its correspondent, the prejudice, calling the affective part, we tend towards discrimination. Discrimination would tell us about prejudice, what everyone does.
What role do stereotypes play?
Social psychology has studied stereotypes, the way they arise and the differences that might be found between them, prejudices and discrimination. The functions that have been found in this cognitive activity are:
- Systematize and simplify reality: by making broad groups with which to categorize and classify, mentally transforming the world, in some way, into a more predictable place.
- Defend the values of the person: the groups allow me to assign the broad features with which it is easier to compare them than if I did it individually.
- Maintain some social control: if you have large groups, it is easier to control the outside than if you do it individually.
Is it possible to limit stereotypes and prejudices?
If we understand that stereotypes arise as a cognitive economy, in other words, to facilitate the work of grouping and social understanding, we can benefit. But what about when stereotypes limit us? Well they prevent us from discovering that these categories do not always reach, and that if we take the time to observe the groups more closely, we will find different nuances.
Limiting stereotypes and prejudices is possible if one observes rather than evaluates.Share
Stereotypes are by no means there to limit us; what we must do, on the contrary, is to limit and manage them with caution. They help us organize, but in no way do they constitute a model without error. Stereotypes, as we have seen, are also based on prejudices, so if we can limit stereotypes, we will help to ensure that prejudices are not determinative for us.
Changing a stereotype or a prejudice is only possible if we get closer to the group and try to observe without applying filters or trying to confirm the preliminary ideas. In fact, it is a question of trying to distort them, to devote new efforts to fix ourselves in these ideas and these situations which break with the previous ideas.