Stereotypes are fixed and oversimplified images or ideas about groups of people. Stereotypes, which are typically negative in nature, tend to lead us to respond to individuals based on unsupported assumptions about groups to which that individual might belong. Stereotyping diminishes our ability to “see” the uniqueness of the individual. By stereotyping, we infer that a person has a whole range of characteristics and abilities that we ascribe to all members of that group. For example, People who wear glasses are studious or “nerdy” or a certain demographic tends to be better at mathematics than the general population. Stereotyping can exaggerate certain features while oversimplifying others and resulting in the essence of an individual being distorted. The concept of “dumb jocks” is born from the notion of the stereotype that suggests athletes are not smart or committed to academics. 

Many racial and ethnic stereotypes are negative and thus have negative effects on the ways in which students are perceived and included in academic settings. Intentionally or unintentionally, stereotypes manifest in various discriminatory policies and practices that decrease the academic efficacy opportunities for students belonging to the marginalized stereotyped group. We tend to define it as “discrimination” when people act on their stereotypical beliefs toward a group of people.

As renowned author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie states in her TEDGlobal 2009, “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”

Now What

  1. Under what conditions does relying on a stereotype increase (or decrease) one’s interpersonal perceptions?
  2. Under what conditions can we ever actually ignore an individual’s personal characteristics when interacting, perceiving, and evaluating them?
  3. What role do blind spots play in perpetuating stereotypes?


The danger of a single story

Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald (2016) Blind Spot: Hidden Biases of Good People