This chapter examines the psychological processes involved in stereotyping, or categorization. As the American psychologist Gordon Allport noted, the ability to categorize is critical to survival, helping people process information and respond in a timely way without reinventing the mental wheel. That said, such heuristics, or mental shortcuts, sometimes lead to false hypotheses and/or self-fulfilling prophecies. Moreover, in the cognitive approach to stereotyping, prejudice is a byproduct of categorical thinking—a person’s way of simplifying information, and not from pathological personality traits or conditioned behaviors. Therefore, by understanding the cognitive processes and “redirecting them,” prejudice might be eliminated. One way to accomplish this is through decategorization strategies that encourage people to see each other as distinct individuals. Personalization, that is, relaying information that expresses a person’s unique qualities, is one method researchers suggest might help people recognize that their stereotypes of another group are incorrect. This has led some researchers to use controlled psychology experiments to study “implicit” prejudice, or subconscious bias. The most common of such measures is the Implicit Association Test (IAT), which assesses strengths of associations between concepts by observing response latencies in computer-administered categorization tasks.
Keywords: stereotyping, categorization, Gordon Allport, prejudice, categorical thinking, cognitive processes, decategorization strategies, personalization, subconscious bias, Implicit Association Test
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