Monday, December 11, 2006

Stereotypically Speaking

Stereotypes exist all around us. Every one of us has stereotypical thoughts in our heads. We might not express or act on these stereotypes, but they do lurk in our minds.

Two recent studies try to give us more insight to stereotypes - how deep do they run? are they conscious or more subconscious? and can stereotypes influence behaviors?

Psychologists Jennifer Steele at York University in Toronto and Nalini Ambady of Tufts University in Boston took one group of female students and asked them about phone service. The other set of girls were asked about co-ed housing. Both groups were then asked how pleasant it would be do read a poem, solve an algrebra problem, and other questions trying to see their preference for the arts or math.

The group asked about co-ed housing strongly preferred the arts. Why? Psychologists believe asking them questions that reminded them of their sex (co-ed housing) triggered a stereotype that the arts are more feminine and math is masculine.

In other words, very subtle and seemingly innocent cues can trigger these stereotypes.

The second half of the study involved college females to stare at a "plus sign" on a computer screen. At times, specific words would flash for 1/10th of a second - not long enough for the conscious mind to actually be able to read the word. But it was enough for the subconscious. The students that saw feminine words like "lipstick" or "doll" also recorded a much higher preference for the arts than math compared to the girls who were flashed words like "cigar" and "suit."

"It is disturbing to think I can show you words outside your awareness and that can influence your preference," Steele said.

Very recently, another stereotype study was conducted by psychology student David Butz of Florida State. He found displaying the American flag had an influence on white students on math and anagram tests. The white students outscored their fellow white students without the flag. Minorities saw no change with or without a flag. Almost all students didn't even notice the flag, but it seems subconsciously, it did influence performance.

So stereotypes are deep rooted, subconscious, and can influence our behaviors. Although the word "stereotype" has negative connotations, it's important to remember they can be positive as well. Also, this kind of generalistic thinking served early man well. Thousands of years ago, survival depended on creating very strong bonds with our "tribes" and also sensing danger from those outside our social circle.

Stereotypes are so common, they've infiltrated our everyday language. Others are age-old generalizations we don't even think about anymore. Here are a few examples:

Hood Rich: My mother works for the county, and the people she serves are all on assistance from the state. She talks about many of her clients being "hood rich." This is where a person spends so much money on bling, clothes, and other flashy accessories that they can't afford the basic stuff like food or a house. Imagine a beat up piece of shit hoopty car with $2,000 rims. "Hood rich" originally was placed on the African-American culture, but has recently seeped into the Hispanic realm as well. It's so fucked up seeing a family using food stamps put their groceries into their new Range Rover.

The Apu Factor: This stereotype is the belief that your 7-11 or other convenience store is owned by an Arab or Muslim. I have personally visited many of these great little shops all over the country, and I can say that perhaps 99% of them ARE owned by an Arab or Muslim. Damn they make some kick-ass Slurpees!

Jewish Miser: Jewish stereotypes include them being stingy, bickering, over-intellectual, and cheap. Often times, they're portrayed as having their secret exclusive codes. A sub-stereotype is the typical meddling and forceful Jewish Mother. Ever watch a Jewish comedian? 80% of their jokes are about their mother-issues. I don't believe as a group, Jews are stingy. You can call them "cheap" but I prefer "thrifty." Go Seinfeld!

White Rhythm: The white man can't dance or find a rhythm is a long-standing stereotype. I went to a college that was 98% white. And I was also a member of a fraternity where all but three of us where white boys. At all the parties and dances, let's just say only three of us could actually find the rhythm and dance. I find this stereotype endearing, however. I'm proud of the white guy that goes onto the dance floor and gives it all he's got. I'm often reminded of a person having Grand-Mal seizures, but I always give them an "A" for effort. (This stereotype does NOT apply to GAY white boys).

Run for the Border: All Mexicans are illegals. This stereotype is probably stronger now than it was even 10 years ago. The US wants to build a fence, but really, is that going to help? I grew up surrounded by Mexicans, and every single one was absolutely legal and was working to become full fledged Americans citizens. On the other hand, I know people in the restaurant business, and they pay their Mexican workers in cash. A mean trick would be to go to a landscaping business, a Chinese restaurant, a Mexican restaurant, or the Home Depot parking lot and scream, "INS! INS coming!"

Blacks and Basketball: In our country, many of us believe all blacks are good at basketball. I remember in gym class and having to pick teams for basketball, and all the black kids would get picked first. Why such an assumption? Basketball is prevelant among black communities, and if you watch the NBA, you'll see most of the guys playing are black. So it's easy to see how the sheer numbers would support such a stereotype. I knew one black guy, Eddie, that was plain awful at basketball. It was so comedic, and I felt sorry for him. He had the weight of African American basketball prowess on his shoulders. And he sucked. He DID yell at the movie screen
during scary movies, however.

Math Masters: Asians are superior in math. This stereotype follows the Asian geek or nerd idea. The math whiz. I am living proof not ALL Asians are good in math. I'm awful. But, the sheer number of Asians achieving higher math scores than everybody else makes this stereotype easy to support. However, here's the truth: Asians outperform every other race in EVERY subject, not just math. Statistically speaking, Asians score higher on SATs in the country than blacks, Hispanics, whites, and Jews. With the numbers supporting this generalization, I'm hopeful Asian intelligence will translate to better driving skills. If you see my aunt or uncle on the road, get the HELL outta their way!


OnMyWatch said...

Man, you're not kidding about the Home Depot parking lot! That trick would be mean (and funny) for so many personal reasons... I cannot divulge.


The Phoenix said...

You know, if we would just lighten up and laugh at our cultural differences, I think we'd all get along better. Political correctness divides.

This stuff IS funny (and cruel).

vani said...

when i worked in NYC, i ran into the "rich hoods" the girls were walking around in gucci and coach, but yet them and their 5 kids were on welfare..go figure!

Cari said...

very cruel
but true!

Anonymous said...

Someone should do a study as to what percentage of a population needs to exhibit a certain trait before it can be an official sterotype. We should get a government grant to do the study.

Anonymous said...

Political correctness divides

Wish everyone would realize this.

David Amulet said...

Hmm, reading your post is making me think about math. What's up with that?

-- david

Keshi said...

hehe very interesting post mate!

Im not so sure abt White Rhythm tho...cos I thought most white guys CAN dance :)

Asians and Math...hell yeah they r! Could it be related to the scientifically proven fact that ppl with darker hair and darker eyes r more academically gifted?


Sherri said...

I offended the new guy at work the other day....

He was bragging about how he had dickered with the guy at the store to get his new grill 50% off. I made a comment about him 'jewing' the guy down, he got ticked off at me.

Go figure, the guy who insults everyone would get insulted by that, then proclaim he isn't jewish.

Carmel said...

Rich hoods, we get those here too.
Interesting studies too!

ajooja said...

I'm a white guy and I used to have a 42-inch vertical jump.

I would have done anything to be black back then, but that's another story. :)

goddess said...

I once taught my choir kids a dance, and all of a sudden they started in with the "awww, teacher is doing the white boy dance" (they are all hispanic and I was infact doing the white boy dance)They then started battel dancing the white boy dance. (it's kinda like locking your lower half together, bouncing your knees around and doing weird hand movements) It was hysterical though. To see 30 hispanic girls trying to battel dance the white boy dance. I might be a bad teacher.

Jennifer said...

To me its the chicken and the egg argument. Is it a matter of stereotyping, or are we, as a society placing people in their little "compartments" because that is what WE are comfortable with.

Fated said...

The stereotypes made me giggle. Mostly because they're all ones I've heard of before. You missed the one about how people from all over the world think Canadians are nice? What's with that one?? Surely they've never been here or they would know better.

The Phoenix said...

I think stereotypes are just broad generalizations due to a specific culture's tendencies. I don't think they're made up.

There's a big difference between a myth and a stereotype. But stereotypes exist because the occurances are so prevelant.

Example: 90% of cab drivers in NYC are immigrants, and 80% of them are from India or Pakistan. So the stereotype that cab drivers are from India or Pakistan is derived by the sheer numbers.

But if you meet someone from Pakistan and you say, "Oh, so you must be a cab driver."

That's idiotic.

Pixie said...

Great post Phoenix.

Now what would you stereotype me as ?

Bruce said...

I've been a walking stereotype my whole life; the one where all people who have a physical disability are mentally challenged. It still pisses me off when I run into someone who thinks like that.

The Phoenix said...

Pixie, you definitely march to your own own drum's beat.

Bruce, I once saw a server at a restaurant talk to a blind guy as if he couldn't speak English. He spoke loudly and slowly, and the blind guy smiled and said, "I'm blind, not deaf and dumb."

KC said...

How about the stereotype that women in their late 30's (or older) with short hair, and who are a bit pudgy are all soccer mom's? I get that all the time. Dammit.

the weirdgirl said...

I've never understood why white boys can't dance. White girls can dance, so what's up? Of course, I'm half hispanic so maybe that's where I got my rhythm. But that also means I'm half illegal and can't do math or play basketball, right?

(OK, I really can't do math.)

Anonymous said...

Great Post! I have no patients for math, good rhythm, but my fashion sense is... challenged for a gay guy.

Individualism is the cure to broad and (sometimes) unjustified generalizations. Also, we should not be afraid to laugh at ourselves and others with good humor... pc culture be damed. There is no such right as the right not to be offended.

Jim said...

I'm Irish. And yes I will have another drink.

Jay said...

You can say anything about anyone, and tomorrow find 10 examples that it's true (you can also find 10 examples that it isn't, but people rarely look to discomfirm what they already believe).

starbender said...

Survey says------
The people conducting these-Kill Me.
I want a grant 4 booocooo bucks, to blow on stupid stupid research!!!

Hood rich: sheese, ain't it the truth...., and somehow-they even afford cell phones! :o

Apu Factor: scarry, very scarry!!!

Jewish Miser: A boy asks his dad for $20---The dad says $15, why should I give U $10?

White Rhythm: Hey---White boys CAN dance, and play the S#%T out of instraments!!! (No Rap Crap)

Run for the Border: SHOOT first, ask 4 I.D. later!!!

Blacks and Basketball: Hmmm, No Comment!!!

Math Masters: Hahahaaaa, That's it, I'm leaving my car in the garage!!!

' ]

Tai said...

Hood Rich!?!

That's a new one to me...maybe it doesn't happen in Canada so much?

Grafs said...

I was always convinced that we as humans need stereotypes in order to try to organize our worlds. Of course, they are mostly useless.

Big Pissy said...

I enjoyed this post. :)

and I'd never heard "hood rich" before~so I learned something! ;-)

The Phoenix said...

Stereotypes exist...and it's natural to think in such general terms.

But as far as practicality, they are completely useless.

Meeting a person means getting to know them as an individual.

Still, stereotypes are funny as hell.

mad said...

Some guy named Butz did a study on stereotypes. That's gotta be some kinda stereotype right there!

Anonymous said...

The two studies you mention at the beginning are very interesting... I wonder if it's because girls are still being subtly pressured in school that their male counterparts are better than they are in math and science...

You forgot to mention that black people can't swim. :)

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