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A new issue about stereotypes

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Edited by Stephanie Taylor, Friday, 7 July 2017, 10:59

Stereotyping is an ongoing social issue, as a glance as recent news headlines will indicate. Numerous stories centre on challenges to the unthinking use of national, racial and ethnic stereotypes, gender stereotypes, stereotypes of victims, voters, people who succeed and people who have problems. Stereotyping is one of the classic concerns of social psychologists, connected to the study of prejudice. But recently the topic has become the focus of disputes within the discipline, given an extra importance because of the social power of social psychological ideas and theory.

In this week’s blog for DD317 Advancing social psychology, John Dixon, Professor of Social Psychology at the Open University, introduces the debate:

The ‘unbearable accuracy’ of stereotypes?

Psychological research on stereotyping suggests that many negative beliefs we hold about members of other groups are false. They are the product of biases, preconceptions and other forms of faulty thinking.  In other words, they are expressions of prejudice. Over the last decade or so, however, this view has been increasingly challenged by a tradition of work on the so-called ‘unbearable accuracy of stereotyping’. According to Lee Jussim and colleagues (2009), we may find it uncomfortable to accept that many  negative stereotypes about ethnic, racial and gender differences are true; however, growing evidence suggests that such stereotypes often do reflect the objective characteristics and behaviours of target groups. As you can imagine, this claim has sparked a heated debate, raising questions about the ethics and politics of stereotype accuracy research and about the assumptions it makes about the relationship between social perception and social reality. For example:

  • Is it possible to establish ‘value free’ and objective criteria through which we can assess the accuracy of stereotypes?

  • Are stereotypes not in the eye of the beholder, reflecting particular interpretations of others’ behaviours?

  • Is the project of measuring stereotype accuracy ethical, given its potential to justify discrimination against others?

These are some of the issues discussed by John Dixon, Professor of Social Psychology at the Open University, in a paper recently published in the British Journal of Social Psychology.

Dixon, J. (2017). ‘Thinking ill of others without sufficient warrant’? Transcending the accuracy-inaccuracy dualism in prejudice and stereotyping research. British Journal of Social Psychology. doi:10.1111/bjso.12181. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com.libezproxy.open.ac.uk/doi/10.1111/bjso.12181/full


You can read more about the social and political power of psychology in our new module Advancing social psychology (DD317). You can watch a video on the module here  https://youtu.be/dbzF4hBeBkk

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