Stereotypes, aight so boom. At one point psychology believed that only bigoted people play into different stereotypical beliefs but now the study of unconscious bias has them realizing that tbh we ALL use stereotypes. And we do it like all the time and usually aren’t aware of it. 

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Photo by cottonbro

What Is A Stereotype ?

Okay so what is a stereotype exactly and wtf is unconscious bias right ? A stereotype is according to Google Dictionary, “a widely help but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing”. Now usually when we make these statements, we mention that we’re just speaking ‘in general’. So what’s the difference between the two ? Put simply: generalizations are helpful and stereotypes are hurtful. 

Generalizations vs Stereotypes

When we’re making a generalization we’re attempting to look at seemingly random things or people and group them together by their similarities. The focus is on being descriptive instead of being judgmental. Stereotypes lock people into categories so it’s very limiting and not too much descriptive.

Unconscious Bias

So what’s unconscious bias ? It’s actually described wildly well on the Virgin website. It says “They are learned stereotypes that are automatic, unintentional, deeply engrained within out beliefs, universal, and have the ability to affect our behaviour. For example, if you’re stuck in a car park with a flat tyre, chances are you’d be most likely to approach a man, rather than a woman, if you needed assistance in changing it.”

This seems like it’s pretty innocent. You might think like, “well I mean, more men know how to change tires than woman,” but do you know this to be a fact ? Have you researched this and came to a solid conclusion ? Usually not. Many of these things aren’t inherently true or they’re only true because of the widely held belief. It may be that women really don’t know how to change tires as often but the only reason they refrain from learning is because they’ve been led to believe that it’s a mans job.

Types of Unconscious Bias

There’s several different types of unconscious bias’. Affinity bias where we warm up to people that’re most like us. For example, when you walk into a sea of strangers alone, you’ll probably gravitate to other Indian people if you’re Indian or other women if you’re a woman or other children if you’re a child. There’s the halo effect where you start thinking everything about a particular person is good just because you like them. Perception bias, where you fall into stereotypes so hard that you cannot think objectively about people. Confirmation bias where you only consume information that agrees with your pre-existing assumptions. Lastly, there’s group think. Think of the book 1984. Groupthink is when you try too hard to fit in and mimic others instead of forming or acting on your own thoughts and opinions resulting in a total loss of identity. Scary.

Overcoming Stereotypes

The best ways to overcome stereotypes and unconscious bias are awareness and exposure. You have to be aware of the way you think about people. What stereotypes do you notice come up in your mind when you’re around a ton of people ? Pay attention to your thoughts. Get out and talk to people who are different from you. Knowledge is power. Knowing firsthand what other people think and say and how they behave gives you the power needed to overcome stereotypes.

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