(1) Stereotypicality and Social Categorization. In my lab, we have developed a method called the I-CAT (the Indirect Category Accessibility Task) based on a classic learning paradigm. The I-CAT measures category accessibility without reliance on self-report, and it has been useful for examining the impact of stereotypicality of behavior on categorization processes. In the I-CAT, participants are exposed to a number of pictures and are told that pictures come from two categories (typically, we call these “Category A” and “Category B”). In our studies, a picture is a member of one category if a woman is present anywhere in the image and is a member of the other category if no woman is present (e.g., if it is an inanimate object or a picture containing only men). After being shown each picture, participants indicate whether the picture comes from Category A or B, and they are given feedback after each trial. We have varied the stereotypicality of the women’s behavior across conditions. In several experiments, we have found that the stereotypicality of behavior affects gender category accessibility. Gender appears to be most accessible when women perform behavior that either strongly confirms or strongly disconfirms stereotypes. We are currently performing studies examining variables that moderate these effects.
(2) Vigilance and Stereotyping. A second line of research pertains to the relationship between perceived threat and stereotype endorsement. Using Higgin’s (1997, 2000) Regulatory Focus Theory, we have pursued the implication that exposure to negative stimuli or events would likely induce a prevention focus (i.e., a failure to prevent an undesired endstate produced feelings of anxiety and fear). Regulatory Focus Theory has suggested that individuals under prevention should show caution in information processing, and research using benign or neutral stimuli are consistent with this claim. However, we theorized that a prevention focus combined with negative or threat-related information in the environment would change the typical information-processing tactics associated with the prevention state. This might occur because a failure to detect threats would pose a direct challenge to the activated state. In other words, maintaining security when there is a threat in the environment might require an active rather than passive form of vigilant behavior. We have now conducted several studies showing that the “typical” information processing style associated with prevention focus is reversed when the available information is negative rather than benign. Specifically, we have shown within a recognition-memory paradigm that judgments under uncertainty by individuals in a prevention focus tend to be more “risky” (i.e., reflect a larger number of errors of commission) when the stimuli are negative than when they are neutral or positive.
We are planning to conduct studies to test whether prevention focus (i) increases reliance on stereotypes, and particularly stereotypes relevant to threat, (ii) leads to a bias to categorize ambiguous stimuli as belonging to threat-related categories, (iii) tends to increase the riskiness of decisions when individuals frame their current state as one of loss, and (iv) increase willingness of individuals to tolerate restrictions of rights that are associated with preserving safety and security.
Plaks, J. E., Stroessner, S. J., Dweck, C. S., & Sherman, J. W. (2001). Person theories and information-seeking: Preferences for stereotypic vs. counterstereotypic information. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80, 876-893.
Scholer, A. A., Stroessner, S. J., & Higgins, E. T. (2008). Responding to negativity: How a risky tactic can serve a vigilant strategy. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 44, 767-774.
Sherman, J. W., Stroessner, S. J., Conrey, F. R., & Azam, O. (2005). Prejudice and stereotype maintenance processes: Attention, attribution, and individuation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 89, 607-622.
Stroessner, S. J., Mackie, D. M., & Michalsen, V. (2005). Positive mood and the perception of variability within and between groups. Group Processes and Intergroup Relations, 8, 5-25.
Wyer, N. A., Sherman, J. W., & Stroessner, S. J. (2000). The roles of motivation and ability in controlling the consequences of stereotype suppression. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 26, 13-25.
Stroessner, S. J., & Scholer, A. A. (2007). Making things better or worse: Multiple motives in stereotyping and prejudice. In J. Shah and W. Gardner (Eds.), Handbook of Motivation Science. New York: Guilford.
The Psychology of Stereotyping and Prejudice
The Psychology of Stereotyping and Prejudice
Steven Stroessner Department of Psychology
Barnard College, Columbia University
New York, NY 10027-6598 United States
Phone: (212) 854-8272
Fax: (212) 854-3601
Last edited by profile holder: December 2, 2007
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