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Social Psychology II > Prejudice and Conflict > Stereotypes and Prejudice > Cognitive Models

Stereotypes and self-fulfilling prophecies

Stereotypes can do more than simply shape perceptions. They can actually create conditions that lead to their own confirmation through a process known as the self-fulfilling prophecy. In self-fulfilling prophecies, the expectations that accompany the stereotype trigger a chain of events that leads, almost inevitably, to their own confirmation.

Consider a study by Mark Snyder and his colleagues <REF>(1977) in which undergraduate men and women came to the lab to participate in an experiment on first encounters. All of the subjects arrived individually and were told that the experiment required them to have a telephone conversation with a stranger of the opposite sex. The men, but not the women, then had their pictures taken with an instant camera and were given pictures of the women who were allegedly their conversational partners. In fact, the pictures they received were not pictures of their partners. Instead, half of the men received a picture of a woman who was very physically attractive, and half received a picture of a woman who was physically unattractive. The subjects held brief telephone conversations, which were recorded, and then provided their general impressions of their partners. What emerged demonstrates the power the stereotypes have to shape behavior. The men who thought they were talking with an attractive woman rated their partners more positively. Perhaps that's not so surprising, given that we've already seen the power that stereotypes have to shape our impressions. But what is more remarkable is that the attractiveness stereotypes actually changed the behavior of the women targets. When judges later listened to the conversations, they found that women who had talked to a man who thought they were attractive behaved in more likeable, sociable, and animated ways then women who talked with a man who had been shown the unattractive picture. The men's stereotype-based expectations that beautiful women do beautiful things became true. Women who were the target of the beautiful stereotype came to behave more beautifully.

But how did this happen? Presumably it happened because the men who thought they were talking to an attractive woman, invested more in the conversation than men who thought they were talking with an unattractive woman. As a result, they behaved more sociably and their partners responded in kind.

Social identity theory

Another cognitive approach to stereotyping has it origins in Henri Tajfel's and John Turner's (1986) social identity theory. According to Tajfel and Turner, the mere act of categorizing someone as "one of us" (i.e., the ingroup) or "one of them" (i.e., the outgroup) has profound effects.

The minimal group activity is based on an experiment by Tajfel and Belig <REF>(1974) in which students were asked to evaluate a series of abstract paintings. All of the paintings were similar to each other, but after the students completed their evaluations, they were told that they tended to favor the paintings of Paul Klee over the paintings of Wassily Kandinsky. They were then told that they could divide some money between other people who also favored Klee and people who favored Kandinsky. Keeping in mind that all of the paintings were similar, did this simple division make a difference? Absolutely. The subjects consistently discriminated against the outgroup. They awarded more money to their own group than they did to the group that favored Kandinsky and this ingroup favoritism <glossary term> occurred even when it was clear that the categorization was random and that the person would not gain from the division of money between the two groups.

Thus the simple act of categorizing people into members of one's ingroup versus one's outgroup is enough to trigger discrimination. It's also enough to trigger stereotyping and prejudice. Members of the outgroup tend to be stereotyped and evaluated on relatively few dimensions ("They're all alike") <REF>(Linveille & Jones, 1980) and they are liked less than ingroup members <REF>(Perdue, Dovidio, Gurtman, & Tyler, 1990).

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