Related on TestTube:
How Our Brains Force Us to Stereotype
Do Video Games Enforce Stereotypes?
Each week on TestTubePlus, we cover one topic from multiple angles. This week, we are covering stereotypes: why do they exist, why does it seem so hard to get rid of them, and how did they become such a big part of who we are? So far, Trace has discussed how our brains are wired to stereotype, and how video games enforce them. Today's episode discusses how we may believe certain stereotypes and bigoted views without being aware of it.
Chances are you don't think you're a bigot. But that doesn't mean you don't have bigoted views. Maureen O'Brien is a psychologist who focuses on childhood development and education. In her research, she's found that most children don't show any gendered toy preferences: boys are just as likely to play with dolls as girls are likely to play with guns. Yet almost all of toys are marketed to either boys or girls. Toy manufacturers have started to realize this and--ever so slowly-- have been moving away from gender-based signs and signifiers on toy boxes. For example, Mattel released a Barbie-branded set of Mega Bloks construction sets and Hasbro released a line of Nerf crossbows geared towards girls.
Racial stereotypes happen quickly in child development, especially in communities that lack diversity. In isolated communities, the only exposure children get to other cultures is via word of mouth and media. Researchers used to simply ask people to record their feelings about minority groups and then used those answers as an index of their attitudes. However, if someone hears this question in a clinical setting, there is a good chance they won't tell the truth. How progressive an individual might be on the surface wouldn't necessarily reveal more deeply held inner prejudices. Therefore, tests have been developed that can indicate someone's hidden biases--biases a person might not even be aware they have.
For example, one test involved a screen that projected a stereotypically white name or a stereotypically black name, and showed a positive or negative word alongside it. The subject has to press a button saying whether they felt this was positive or negative. Most people, including some African Americans, responded more quickly when a positive word is paired with a white name and when a negative word was paired with a black name. In this experiment, the words and names are practically subliminal: they come up so quickly that the subject's ability to make a deliberate choice is gone. Tests like these reveal people's unconscious bias.
Yale University professor Mahzarin Banaji found that stereotypes may emerge from what social psychologists call "in-group/out-group" dynamics. Humans--like every other species--need to feel that they are part of a group and our identities have attached themselves to certain categories, like race and class. In his research, Banaji said:
"We want to feel good about the group we belong to--and one way of doing so is to denigrate all those who aren't in it. And while we tend to see members of our own group as individuals, we view those in out-groups as an undifferentiated--stereotypes--mass. The categories we use have changed, but it seems that stereotyping itself is bred in the bone."
It's important to reiterate that this doesn't mean they're bad per se, but pretending they don't exist is disingenuous. Trace further explains why in this episode.
TestTube Plus is built for enthusiastic science fans seeking out comprehensive conversations on the geeky topics they love. Each week, host Trace Dominguez probes deep to unearth the details, latest developments, and opinions on big topics like fear, terrorism, alcohol, survival, black holes, the history of religion, dreams, space travel, and more.
TestTube Plus is now available on iTunes! Click here to subscribe.
Where Bias Begins: The Truth About Stereotypes (Psychology Today)
"Psychologists once believed that only bigoted people used stereotypes. Now the study of unconscious bias is revealing the unsettling truth: We all use stereotypes, all the time, without knowing it. We have met the enemy of equality, and the enemy is us."
Figure of the Stereotyping Network (Nature.com)
"Neural structures that underlie components of intergroup stereotyping. Semantic information stored in the lateral temporal lobe - especially representations of stereotype-related knowledge about people and social groups in the anterior temporal lobe (ATL) - is recruited into the dorsal medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) to support the formation of impressions (that is, stereotypes) and, in conjunction, into the inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) to support goal-directed actions that are guided by these stereotypes."
Your brain on stereotypes and brand identities (The Brain Alchemist)
"What comes to mind when you read the following list: 'Emigrant Savings Bank, Dakota Roadhouse, St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church, Starbucks, Equinox, Club Remix, Bank of New York, Shinjuku Sushi, New York City Law Department, Amish Market'?
How about this one: 'Ground Zero Mosque'?"
The Power of Categories (NPR.org)
"Alix and Lulu examine how categories define us - how, if given a chance, humans will jump into one category or another. People need them, want them. This show looks at what categories provide for us."