Why Do People Stereotype?

Why do people stereotype?” is something you may have asked yourself when faced with this human behavior. When you stereotype, you make generalizations about a group of people. To this group, stereotyping assigns a set of characteristics that are based on their appearance or on the assumptions of those who are stereotyping them.

You can begin to find answers to the question “Why do people stereotype?” if you first understand the factors that contribute to the stereotyping of a group of people. Many stereotypes began because of people who are unwilling or unable to get the information they should have in order to make a fair assessment about certain people or situations. In many cases, stereotypes are a shortcut that people use to fill the gaps in their information about a group.

Society makes and perpetuates stereotypes, which often lead to discrimination and persecution when stereotypes are unfavorable. If you were walking in a park at night and you saw three senior citizens wearing box coats and walking toward you, you would probably not feel as threatened as you would if you saw three young men in hooded jackets.

Why do people stereotype in such cases? Their generalizations come from the experiences they have had, from things they have been told by friends and family, from things they have read in magazines or books or have seen on television or in movies. Stereotypical generalizations can be accurate in many cases. However, it is prejudice to ascribe characteristics to a person based on appearance, without knowledge of actual facts about that person. People often stereotype someone who might be a member of a group with which they have not yet had firsthand contact.

You may ask, why do people stereotype if they know it is prejudice? Mass media has much power to endorse stereotypes because it gets information that people might not have, so people tend to believe the media.

People who judge others and groups of people other than themselves because of prejudices and stereotypes are discriminating against them with no basis in fact. The discrimination can take the form of pressure to discourage certain minority groups from living in a neighborhood. Minorities, along with women, are also victims of discrimination in education, employment, and social services. They are often excluded from high-level business positions.

Sometimes, a reason behind the question “Why do people discriminate?” is a particular bad experience. For example, plenty of people discriminated against Muslims after 9/11. Stereotyping is a serious matter when problems or conflicts occur. Others, particularly those whom people consider their opponents or enemies, would be viewed very negatively.

Posted at July 9th, 2011.

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