Stereotyping is the cognitive aspect of bias – most frequently studied for gender, race, and age – and it comes in both blatant and subtle forms, a difference that matters in both practical and theoretical terms.
Blatant prejudice can begin with realistic intergroup conflict over tangible resources, but even under these circumstances, perceptions matter. People have to perceive conflict, and they have to perceive that they belong to separate groups in the first place. Social identity theory describes how people categorize self into an ingroup and others into outgroups, maximizing differences between them and minimizing difference within. Discriminating elevates short-term (state) self-esteem but not long-term (trait) self-esteem. Self-categorization theory jettisons the self-esteem hypothesis and focuses on comparative fit to describe behavior differences between groups and similarities within them. Normative fit incorporates groups’ images. Optimal distinctiveness theory describes the balance between autonomy and belonging. Subjective uncertainty reduction theory describes the reassurance provided by group norms. The most cognitive features of these theories are ingroup favoritism (rewarding the ingroup relative to the outgroup) and perceived homogeneity (of outgroups most of the time and of ingroups under threat).
Threat enters into several theories of ideology, stereotyping, and bias. Social dominance theory describes endorsing group hierarchies under perceived economic threat to the ingroup. Right-wing authoritarianism describes endorsing status quo group boundaries under perceived threat to conventional values. Terror management theory describes adherence to cultural views that will outlast one’s own lifetime, under mortality salience. System justification theory describes people’s maintenance of hierarchies, even against their own self-interest, because stability may matter more. Essentialism imputes a biological basis to socially constructed groups, preserving the humanity of us and lessening the humanity of others. All these theories emphasize cognitions that resolve ambiguity, under threat, in the context of intergroup politics.
Subtle forms of stereotyping emerged as blatant forms of bias became taboo and as researchers developed more sophisticated measurement techniques based on cognitive psychology. Subtle stereotypes are automatic, ambiguous, and ambivalent. On the relatively automatic front, people unintentionally confuse other people within categories, and these confusions predict stereotyping. Aversive racism – bias abhorrent to the self – emerges in reaction time data showing instantly more favorable responses to ingroups and positive stereotypes, compared to outgroups. Aversive racism also emerges in discrimination when the prejudiced person can construct a non-racial excuse. Indirect priming also uses response times, but this technique focuses on valence matches between an outgroup and clearly positive or negative words. The implicit association test has an evaluative component (introduced in Chapter 10) and a conceptual (stereotype) component, the latter correlating with other stereotyping. All these reaction-time techniques correlate especially with nonverbal and other subtle, less-monitored behaviors.
Subtle forms of stereotyping also are ambiguous in that people interpret information to fit their expectations and hide these interpretations from themselves and others. Finally, subtle stereotyping is ambivalent: Many groups are liked but disrespected or respected but disliked. All these forms of subtle stereotyping result from internal conflicts between impulses to stereotype versus personal and social sanctions against it.
Bias affects dominant and minority group members alike. Attributional ambiguity describes the predicament of understanding when feedback reflects on oneself alone and when it reflects on biases regarding one’s group membership. Stereotype threat describes the double risk of performance in a domain stereotypically poor for one’s group; potential failure reflects not only on oneself but also on one’s group. Hence, people may disidentify with the domain or may underperform when the task is diagnostic and important and one’s relevant social category is salient. As a result of stereotypic biases, minority self-esteem is often disengaged from public regard for their ingroup, focusing instead on private regard, thereby buffering the ill effects of persistent bias. Although sensitive to bias, low-power groups rarely report bias because of the social and personal costs.
Dominant group members worry about how they are evaluated by minority groups, becoming self-conscious and self-absorbed in interactions. When both majority and minority group members make the effort to overcome prejudices, the effort can deplete executive control during and after the interaction. Nevertheless, interactions can often improve.