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Today, we are beginning a new discussion on the topic of stereotypes. You have probably heard the word many times. Many have blamed the racial issues in this country on the persistent racial stereotypes that are prevalent in our society.
So, what are stereotypes? According to The Dictionary of Psychology, a stereotype is “a fixed, over generalized belief about a particular group or class of people.” Some popular stereotypes include the beliefs that women are more talkative than men, that blacks are naturally better at athletics than whites, that Jews are shrewd, that Indians and Asians (or people who wear glasses) are smarter than others, or that the kid who will win the next National Spelling Bee will be Indian.
If you examine your own beliefs, you will find that you hold a variety of stereotypes about others that are not based on any proof that you have examined for yourself. You simply adopted those beliefs from your parents or other family members, and many of those beliefs are reinforced by movies and television.
Stereotypes can be a double-edged sword; they can be good or bad.
According to research psychologist Saul McLeod one advantage of a stereotype is that it enables us to respond rapidly to situations because of past experience or knowledge that we have gained from others. For example, if you are walking home at night and you happen to look behind you and find that a man wearing a ski mask is following you, a stereotype kicks in. Your mind will automatically begin to think that the man will try to rob you, rape you, or kill you, and you need to act accordingly -- run away, call the police, or get to a well-lighted area where a lot of other people are. That is an example of a stereotype working to your advantage. The stereotype tells you that men who follow people around at night while wearing a ski mask are up to no good.