Tuesday 8 August 2017

How Stereotyping Leads to Misperception

In this post, Kathy Puddifoot, Research Fellow on Project PERFECT at the University of Birmingham, introduces her article, “Stereotyping: the Multifactorial View” recently published Open Access at Philosophical Topics.

Have you ever been sure that someone has made a false judgement about you because of how they perceive members of your social group? Have you ever suspected that you have made false judgement about someone else because you have applied a stereotype? Have you ever wanted to challenge someone else’s stereotyping on the basis that it will lead them to misperceive the people they stereotype? My paper identifies the conditions under which applying stereotypes about social groups leads to misperceptions like these.

One common assumption is that stereotyping only leads to misperception when it involves the application of a false stereotype. The idea is that if a stereotype accurately reflects an aspect of social reality then the application of the stereotype can only improve the chance of a correct judgement being made. Take the stereotype associating certain social groups with crime. If this stereotype reflects true crime rates then applying the stereotype will increase the chance of a person who engages in stereotyping making a correct judgement. I call this the single factor view of stereotyping.

According to another view, there are two factors that determine whether the application of a stereotype leads to misperception. The application of a stereotype increases the chance of an accurate judgement being made if the stereotype that is applied is accurate and good quality information about the individual to whom the stereotype is applied is sparse.

In my paper I defend an alternative view of stereotyping: the multifactorial view. According to this approach, that there are multiple factors, not only those just outlined, that determine whether or not an act of stereotyping is likely to lead to misperception.

The relevancy of the stereotype also determines whether or not the application of the stereotype leads to misperception. For instance, people apply stereotypes when their egos have been hurt or there is a threat to the social order. I show that these factors do not reliably co-occur with a stereotype being relevant, so stereotypes are often applied when irrelevant. When stereotypes are applied but irrelevant, they lead irrelevant information to influence a judgement, increasing the chance of misperception.

The application of a stereotype can also lead a person to fail to access or give proper weight to information about the individual who is stereotyped, increasing the chance of misperception. For example, one might only notice information about a person that is consistent with a stereotype. Or one might not listen to or take seriously the testimony of someone who is stigmatized, thereby missing important information that they would otherwise provide. In each case, one would be more likely to misperceive another person due to lacking of information about the person as a result of stereotyping.

There are consequently numerous factors that determine whether or not the application of a stereotype leads to misperception and numerous ways that the application of a stereotype can lead to errors.

There are important practical implications of the multifactorial view. It means that an act of stereotyping can lead to misperception even if the stereotype reflects some aspect of reality. It means that any assessment of whether a particular act of stereotyping is likely to lead to misperception should involve examination of whether multiple factors are present. It also means that if you want to challenge someone for stereotyping, showing that they are misperceiving someone due to applying a stereotype, there are multiple ways of doing so because there are multiple ways that they can make errors.

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