We explain what a stereotype is, how they are formed, at what levels and what types exist. Also, its relationship with prejudices.

Stereotypes exist because it is easier to think of reality according to categories.

What is a stereotype?

In social psychology, stereotypes are cultural constructions created around a group based on generalizations, prejudices, urban mythologies or perceptions simplified and exaggerated of it. Generally, they attribute characteristics, properties or interests to said community, of which third parties echo and often end up consolidating a social prejudice.

Although the term commonly implies negative connotations, the formation of stereotypes is part of a natural process of the human mind, since it is easier to think about it. reality based on categories and common places, given in advance, to know more or less what to expect from new situations.

The trouble It is when stereotypes replace or prevent knowing the reality of individuals: prior judgments are easy, but reality is always complex.

Stereotypes operate on three levels:

  • Cognitive. When it allows us to quickly recognize social reality from the previous concepts that we have of it.
  • Affective. When the feelings that we harbor towards this stereotype come into play, be they of contempt (negative) or of esteem (positive).
  • Attitudinal. When we act in a certain way or react to a social situation, starting from the two previous levels, taking them to the level of practice.

How are stereotypes formed?

Stereotypes are learned throughout the process of socialization of individuals, inherited from their culture or many times of their parents or families. Nobody is born with them, they are all 100% learned, but once incorporated into the idea we have of the world, they are particularly difficult to eradicate.

Even if you have rational access to information that denies them, stereotypes can be sustained. That is why they continue to broadcast.

The media and culture play an important role in the construction or destruction of stereotypes. For example, when the fictions that we consume most often insist on showing a type of person in the same and unique way, we are generally in the presence of a stereotype.

Stereotype classes

Stereotypes can be classified depending on the type of population about which they deal, for example:

  • Class stereotypes. Those that have to do with some social class, understood as a homogeneous set of individuals. For example: “The rich don't steal”, “The poor don't like to work”.
  • Religious stereotypes. Those that apply to a parishioner or practitioners of a religion, often in combination with ethnic or cultural criteria. For example: "Muslims are backward", "Buddhists are gentle and wise."
  • Racial stereotypes. Those that have to do with a certain ethnic group or human race, to which specific physical, mental or moral traits are attributed. For example: “Blacks know how to dance”, “Asians are good at math”, “Latinos are passionate and violent”.
  • Gender stereotypes. Those who assign certain roles, behaviors and characteristics to the two biological sexes, or to the sexodiverse communities. For example: "Women are not very rational", "Men are unfaithful", "Homosexuals are promiscuous".
  • Cultural stereotypes. Those that have to do with a specific nationality or cultural origin. For example: “Germans are racists”, “Colombians are criminals”, “Africans are poor”.

Stereotypes and prejudices

Stereotypes shape our perception of social reality to some extent, so that those experiences or individuals who do not conform to them, are usually considered "strange", "abnormal" or "eccentric", since they contradict what we had assumed. This, in the long run, causes us to "filter" the information from the world to ignore the information that contradicts our stereotypes and to cling to the information that reinforces them.

This is how prejudices are born, which are preliminary judgments, generally negative, that we make about unknown people, judging by their belonging to a specific social group. Prejudices often prevent us from judging people for who they are individually, and they often lead to attitudes contempt or outright hostility, which can translate into discrimination and other forms of intolerance.

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