Understanding Prejudice
Understanding Prejudice
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The Psychology of Prejudice: An Overview

Reducing Stereotypes

As the foregoing review suggests, stereotypes are learned at an early age and can be stubbornly resistant to change. Even when people encounter a stereotyped group member who violates the group stereotype, they often continue to maintain the stereotype by splitting it into subtypes (Judd, Park, & Wolsko, 2001; Kunda & Oleson, 1995; Richards & Hewstone, 2001; Weber & Crocker, 1983). For example, when encountering a Jewish philanthropist, people with anti-Semitic stereotypes may distinguish philanthropic Jews from "money-hungry Jews" by creating a subtype for "good Jews." As a result of subtyping, stereotypes become impervious to disconfirming evidence.

Yet all is not lost. Studies indicate that stereotypes can be successfully reduced and social perceptions made more accurate when people are motivated to do so (Fiske, 2000; Neuberg, 1989; Sinclair & Kunda, 1999). One of the most effective ways to do this is with empathy. Simply by taking the perspective of outgroup members and "looking at the world through their eyes," ingroup bias and stereotype accessibility can be significantly reduced (Galinsky & Moskowitz, 2000). Research also suggests that stereotype threat can be lessened with a change in orientation. For instance, one promising experiment found that when African-American college students were encouraged to think of intelligence as malleable rather than fixed, their grades increased and they reported greater enjoyment of the educational process (Aronson, Fried, & Good, 2002).

Timothy McVeigh and Bill Cosby Even implicit stereotypes can be modified (Blair, 2002). In a study on the effects of counter-stereotypic imagery, for example, Irene Blair and her colleagues found that implicit gender stereotypes declined after people spent a few minutes imagining a strong woman (Blair, Ma, & Lenton, 2001). Likewise, Nilanjana Dasgupta and Anthony Greenwald (2001) found that pro-White biases on the Implicit Association Test declined after people were exposed to pictures of admired Black Americans and disliked White Americans (e.g., Bill Cosby and Timothy McVeigh). Still another study found that implicit and explicit anti-Black biases were reduced after students took a semester-long course on prejudice and conflict (Rudman, Ashmore, & Gary, 2001). As these findings show, stereotypes may be widespread and persistent, but they are also amenable to change when people make an effort to reduce them.


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