Understanding Prejudice
Understanding Prejudice
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The Psychology of Prejudice: An Overview

Consequences of Stereotyping

Once activated, stereotypes can powerfully affect social perceptions and behavior. For instance, studies on priming have found that when college students are exposed to stereotypic words and images relating to old age, they later walk more slowly and perform more slowly on a word recognition task (Bargh, Chen, & Burrows, 1996; Kawakami, Young, & Dovidio, 2002). Likewise, students primed with "soccer hooligan" stereotypes answer fewer general knowledge questions correctly, whereas students primed with professor stereotypes show improved performance (Dijksterhuis & van Knippenberg, 1998). One study even found that when students were asked to write an essay about someone named Tyrone Walker (a Black-sounding name), they subsequently performed more poorly on a math test than did students who were asked to write an essay about Erik Walker (Wheeler, Jarvis, & Petty, 2001). Although the reason for these effects is not entirely clear, it appears that when stereotypic representations of behavior are activated, relevant behavior also becomes activated (Wheeler & Petty, 2001).

Chopsticks In addition to the effects of priming, people who are stereotyped face a second burden: the threat that their behavior will confirm a negative stereotype. Claude Steele and his colleagues have shown that this burden, known as "stereotype threat," can create anxiety and hamper performance on a variety of tasks (Steele, 1997). For example, female math students taking a difficult test show a drop in performance when told that the test reveals gender differences in math ability (Spencer, Steele, & Quinn, 1999). An especially interesting study along these lines found that when Asian women were made aware of their ethnicity, their math performance improved (in keeping with the stereotype of Asians as good at math), but when they were made aware of their gender, their math performance declined (Shih, Pittinsky, & Ambady, 1999). And the same pattern occurred with young children: When Asian girls were made aware of their ethnicity (by coloring a picture of Asian children eating with chopsticks), their math performance improved, but when they were made aware of their gender (by coloring a picture of a girl with a doll), their math performance declined (Ambady, Shih, Kim, & Pittinsky, 2001).

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