Primetime Stereotyping:  Social Psychological Effects on an Impressionable Culture
Pamela Davis, Lisa Russell
Amber Ruth, & Robert Woods

If I were to tell you that I resemble a hippy woman from the 60's, you would definitely be able to come up with a mental image of me, right!  Flowers in my long, flowing hair, a tie-dyed T-shirt, and bell bottom pants.  I am a free spirit, and an open minded Liberal.

      Perhaps the description helps you get a mental image of myself.  By creating such mental pictures and having a preconcieved notion of what a hippy looks like, and what characteristics he or she has, you are using the cognitive short cut called stereotyping.  We utilize stereotypes in everyday life to reduce the amount of information we need to analyze.  Our world is so complex that we need to categorize who and what we come into contact with on a daily basis.

     Who are you?  What groups do you belong to?  From the most specific to the general, the groups you associate with have their own stereotype and function.  Remember high school?  People seperate themselves into groups: athletes, academic over achievers, geeks and freaks.  How a person is perceived to fit into the group, and which group they choose to be in can affect the way the individual interacts with other group members.  When you meet another Miami student, one thing that can be discussed between the two of you is, what each of your individual majors are.  Since you both attend Miami, you share the same in-group.  If you have different majors, the other person is a member of an out-group.  During your brief conversation you are processing information about the individual.  You could be thinking that other psychology majors are so different from each other, while the person you just met (who happens to be a business major) are all alike.  This is the out-group homogeneity effect, as stated in our text by Abraham Tesser (1995).  People tend to use stereotypes to "fill in" details about a person if they are not a member of their in-group and the do not possess the motivation to get to know them on a more personal basis.

     Television, is one type of media that invites the viewer to utilize the stereotypes they have made and gives little or no motivation to analyze out-group members any deeper.  Shows such as, That 70's Show, may have  influenced your perception of a hippy.  These shows depend on the stereotype as a basis for much of their comedy.  Television can be a source for the out-group homogeneity effect, or serve as a function for promoting diversity.

  Rome, Wisconsin is a little town depicted in the show Picket Fences.  Through their various shows, we are invited to realize the stereotypes we make and at the same time they visualize issues that are not normally dealt with in television.  A series of shows, depicted the integration of inner city black students being bussed to the small town's school.  The fear and frustration of the town's people and the students were both discussed. 

     Unlike the typical television "happy ending", this particular series of episodes left the issues unresolved, yet left the viewer feeling better for having watched the show.  Through television shows such as this, we can address sensitive issues without the directly harming any group, and increase the awareness of the viewer.  Other shows have attempted to enlighten television viewers through counter-stereotpying, which can reduce some negative effects of stereotyping minority groups.

      What is Stereotype threat?  The threat comes from internalizing stereotypical images as a part of your own personal identity.  These traits, portrayed on television, may seem unrealistic to some, but for others there can be real damage done when an individual feels like that is a standard up to which they must live.

    When we begin to realize that each person has their own story, history, and culture we can come to a mutual respect for one another.  The first colonies of America were founded as an outcome of religious conflict in their own native countries, and has since become a "melting pot" of cultures, races, and individuals.  The differences among the individuals in our country should be a source of diversity, instead of the frustration that occurs in the name of stereotypes.

Primetime Home Viewer Impact Stereotype Threat Counter Stereotyping For Your Information References

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This tutorial was produced for Psy 324, Advanced Social Psychology, Spring 2000 at Miami University.  All graphics are from the public domain, used with permission, or were created by the authors.  Social Psychology / Miami University (Ohio USA).   Last revised: Tuesday, March 11, 2014 at 23:37:43. This document has been accessed 1  times since April 15, 2002. Comments & Questions to R. Sherman