Social Psychology

Student Learning Program

Chapter 5: Changing stereotypes: Overcoming bias to reduce prejudice (pp. 176–181)

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In this topic

  1. Barriers to Stereotype Change (pp. 176–178)
    1. Explaining away inconsistent information
    2. Compartmentalizing inconsistent information
    3. Differentiating atypical group members: Contrast effects
  2. Overcoming Stereotype Defenses: The Kind of Contact That Works (pp. 178–181)
    1. Repeated inconsistency: An antidote for “explaining away”
    2. Widespread inconsistency: An antidote for subtyping
    3. Being typical as well as inconsistent: An antidote for contrast effects
    4. Personal relationships: Combining the conditions that make contact effective
    5. Intergroup contact in the neighborhood
Barriers to Stereotype Change

The contact hypothesis suggests that stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination can be reduced under certain conditions by direct contact between members of different groups.

However, the reality is that even when contact contradicts a stereotype, this may not undermine it because some powerful mechanisms can be triggered.

Explaining away inconsistent information

The idea that a stereotype can be changed by a single inconsistent experience is called conversion.

A barrier to stereotype change is that people often explain inconsistent information away, for instance they interpret specific behavior as the result of special circumstances, instead of the actor's true nature.

Compartmentalizing inconsistent information

When information cannot be explained away, people can still defend their stereotypes by resorting to subtypes. We merely create an “exception-to-the-rule” subcategory, allowing stereotypes to hold for most members of the specific group.

Differentiating atypical group members: Contrast effects

Another way to defuse stereotypic inconsistent information is by seeing stereotype-disconfirming individuals as remarkable or exceptional people.

Stereotypic expectations serve as a background against which group members are judged. When a group member shows unexpected behavior, this causes a contrast effect. Through these effects, members who deviate seem even more different than they really are.

Overcoming Stereotype Defenses: The Kind of Contact That Works

People with more intergroup contact tend to be less prejudiced. This cannot be totally due to the possibility that low prejudice produces contact.

Repeated inconsistency: An antidote for “explaining away”

Stereotype change requires counterstereotypic behaviors to be performed more often.

Widespread inconsistency: An antidote for subtyping

Stereotype change requires counterstereotypic behaviors to be performed by more group members. This was demonstrated by Weber and Crocker (1983) (SP p. 179).

Being typical as well as inconsistent: An antidote for contrast effects

Stereotype change requires counterstereotypic behaviors to be performed by typical group members.

However, when getting to know an individual group member, feelings about this member may not generalize to other members of the group. Stereotype change is only possible when a member is not treated as an exception to the rule, so this member should repeatedly remind others of his or her group membership.

Personal relationships: Combining the conditions that make contact effective

Building up a close relationship with an opposite-group member can result in more positive evaluations of the group as a whole. In addition, knowing that someone from your group has a member of the other group as a friend reduces negative feelings towards this group. This was demonstrated by Wright et al. (1997) and Desforges et al. (1991) (SP p. 180).

Intergroup contact in the neighborhood

These results of laboratory settings can be generalized to other settings. Research shows that people feel relatively positive about groups that live nearby, and people who have friends who are members of other groups are less prejudiced against the out-groups.

Although not all stereotypes ought to be changed (see SP p. 181), contact of the right type can break down negative stereotypes.

So what does this mean?

The contact hypothesis suggests that stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination can be reduced under certain conditions by direct contact between members of different groups. However, stereotypes may remain unchanged because people can explain away inconsistent information, compartmentalize inconsistent information, or differentiate atypical group members. Contact situations must expose people to stereotype-inconsistent information that is repeated (thus cannot be explained away), involves many group members (thus subtyping is prevented), and comes from typical group members (thus no contrast will occur). People will evaluate out-groups more positively when a person from the in-group builds up a close relationship with an opposite-group member.

Back to chapter 5 introduction

In this chapter

  1. Chapter 5 introduction
  2. Forming impressions of groups: Establishing stereotypes
  3. Using stereotypes: From preconceptions to prejudice
  4. Changing stereotypes: Overcoming bias to reduce prejudice
  5. Chapter overview (PDF)
  6. Fill-in-the-blanks
  7. Multiple-choice questions