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Concepts, Stereotypes, and the Totalitarian Ego . The Hot-Dog Vendors: Darrell Worthy Tyler Davis Anushka Pai Cindy Stappenbeck. Concepts: The building blocks of cognition. A concept is: A mental representation of a category. Things that belong together.

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Concepts stereotypes and the totalitarian ego

Concepts, Stereotypes, and the Totalitarian Ego

The Hot-Dog Vendors:

Darrell Worthy

Tyler Davis

Anushka Pai

Cindy Stappenbeck

Concepts the building blocks of cognition
Concepts: The building blocks of cognition

  • A concept is:

    • A mental representation of a category. Things that belong together.

  • Concepts can be about objects, people, or behavior

  • Can be accurate or inaccurate. They aren’t necessarily what the world is like, they’re what we think its like.

  • Other than concepts about people, can you think of some concepts that you have, or individuals in American culture hold that are inaccurate?

What concepts do
What concepts do:

  • Help us make sense of the world

    • Facilitate communication

    • Classification

    • Inference

    • Guide attention

    • Promote reasoning

  • Have you ever been in a situation where you were conceptless, as in Kunda’s example of being baffled by another cultures’ practices?

How you activate a concept
How you activate a concept

  • Activation depends on stimulus properties, the context, and the observer

  • Stimulus features.

  • Salience- what stands out

  • What goals you have

  • What has been primed.

    • Priming- a general term for activating a concept used to explain how a concept is activated. Comes in several varieties.

More about priming
More about priming

  • If a concept is primed, it is likely that it will be used to interpret subsequent events.

    • Example- Hearing a talk on a certain phenomenon and then seeing nothing but that phenomenon in your own research. Do you have any of your own?

  • Priming can be subliminal

  • Attitudes and feelings can be primed

  • Chronic accessibility (always primed)

    • Character traits. Example- Chronic paranoia that leads to classifying strangers’ behavior as suspicious.

    • Chronic way of classifying others. Example- Psychiatrists who see ADHD everywhere they turn.

Basic level categories
Basic level categories

  • Natural level to talk about objects

  • Highest level that someone can create an image of the category as a whole

  • Can be different depending on:

    • Expertise

    • Goals

  • Not as clear in social psychology

    • Very flexible

    • Context dependant

    • Impossible to create hierarchies

    • More like a tangled web

Models of representation
Models of representation

  • Social psychologists are not as interested in mapping the architecture as describing its implications

  • Associative network Models

    • Made up of links and nodes

    • Activation spreads to nodes via links

    • Activation gradually decays in activated nodes

    • Activation can only spread so far. It either just peters out or runs into some sort of barrier

    • Our interpretation of events is determined which nodes have been activated.

    • Explains priming phenomena

Parallel constraint satisfaction models
Parallel constraint satisfaction models

  • Connectionist models

    • Involve excitatory and inhibitory links. A node can be activated as well as deactivated.

    • Constrains spreading activation

    • Higher-level concepts are spread out

    • In addition to the phenomena that associative networks can explain, parallel constraint satisfaction models can explain higher level reasoning within the same models as mental representation.

  • Can you think of any phenomena where architecture might be important for social psychologists to think about?


  • Definition

    • “cognitive structures that contain our knowledge, beliefs, and expectations about a social group”

  • These stereotypes guide our expectations about group members and can color our interpretations of their behavior and traits.

Stereotype activation
Stereotype Activation

  • We may activate a group’s stereotype automatically, with little awareness and intention.

  • Study by Patricia Devine (1989)

    • Do White Americans activate the stereotype “aggressive” for African Americans automatically?

    • White participants exposed subliminally to words related to African American stereotype, but that weren’t directly associated with “aggressive”

Stereotype activation1
Stereotype Activation

  • Either presented with 80% or 20% of stereotype words out of 100

  • Then asked to form an impression of a person who performed a series of ambiguously hostile behaviors (ethnicity not specified)

  • Those who received 80% of primed words rated Donald as more hostile than those with 20% of primed words.

Stereotype activation2
Stereotype Activation

  • Devine’s finding is disturbing because if we are unaware of these associations, we have no control over them

  • How might this influence our behavior towards different groups of people?

  • Is there a way we can use this information to promote positive associations?

Fulfilling a stereotype
Fulfilling a Stereotype

  • As we behave in keeping with a stereotype, we may cause the stereotyped individual to respond in kind, thereby fulfilling the stereotype


    Behavior Of Our Behavior

    Stereotyped Person

Fulfilling a stereotype1
Fulfilling a Stereotype

  • White participants exposed subliminally to photos of either African American or white men.

  • Paired with partner to play a word-guessing game

  • Individuals shown African American photos were more aggressive.

  • Partners (not primed with photos) were also more aggressive

  • The behavior of one individual influences the behavior of another.

Inhibiting stereotypes
Inhibiting Stereotypes

  • When we want to, we can inhibit a stereotype that would otherwise be activated.

  • An African American man praised white participant’s abilities

  • These participants suppressed negative stereotypes to maintain credibility.

  • The opposite also true (negative feedback led to stereotype activation)

  • Do you think we can only inhibit stereotypes when it’s for personal gain?

Stereotypes on the rebound
Stereotypes on the Rebound

  • Suppressing a thought may make us especially likely to entertain that thought

    • White bear phenomenon

  • A series of studies in Britain focused on stereotypes of skinheads

    • Participants shown photo of skinhead and asked to write a brief description of his typical day

      • Half told to suppress stereotypical assumptions

Stereotypes on the rebound1
Stereotypes on the Rebound

  • Subsequent tasks revealed that initial suppression of stereotype led to increase in activation and use later on.

    • Word recognition tasks

    • Behavioral tasks

  • Is this really suppression of a stereotype (could it be activation)?

  • Given this finding, should people try to suppress stereotypes?

Differing interpretations
Differing Interpretations

  • The same ambiguous behavior will be interpreted differently for differently stereotyped groups.

  • Does this necessarily reflect prejudice?

  • How might this lead to racial profiling?

  • Is racial profiling useful?

Individuating information
Individuating Information

  • People can base their impressions on individuating information when it is there, and ignore stereotypes.

    • John the construction worker vs. John the accountant

    • Who is more aggressive?

  • Stereotypes may influence predictions about a person’s trait-related behavior even when individuating information impacts the trait.

    • Who is more likely to engage in working-class aggressive behavior in the future?

Ambiguity vs unambiguity
Ambiguity vs. Unambiguity

  • Stereotypes can determine the meaning we attach to the individuating information.

  • A construction worker or a housewife hits someone who annoys him or her.

    • A construction worker or a housewife

      • decked a neighbor

      • spanked his/her son

  • Most social behavior is ambiguous, how much can individuating information influence impressions?

Stereotype application
Stereotype Application

  • When our cognitive resources are strained, our impressions of individuals may be especially likely to be colored by our stereotypes.

  • Why do we become more likely to apply our stereotypes to stereotyped individuals when our cognitive capacity is taxed?

  • Should we have people judge crimes without knowledge of race or gender?

Motivated application and inhibition
Motivated Application and Inhibition

  • We may also be more likely to use negative stereotypes if we are motivated to disparage the individual.

  • However, we will only do so if we feel we have a good justification for this.

  • Can we make strides to avoid this when people are in positions of power?

The target s perspective
The Target’s Perspective

  • Attributional Ambiguity- After receiving positive or negative feedback, stigmatized individuals may remain uncertain about their abilities and how they are perceived.

  • So, what clues will people use to regulate behavior?

  • Is it better for the indiv. to remain in this uncertainty or to assume that negative feedback is always because of a negative stereotype?

Stereotype threat
Stereotype Threat

  • Stereotype threat- the fear that one will be reduced to the negative stereotypes of one’s group can influence performance.

  • Remedial vs. Honorific Programs

  • Do you think that stereotype threat has an influence in social behaviors? Friendships? Dating?

Stereotype change
Stereotype Change

  • The Contact Hypothesis

  • Subtyping counterstereotypic individuals

    • Extreme vs. moderate deviations

  • Stereotypes can evolve over time.

  • Is there a way to prevent certain stereotype formations in the first place?

  • Can we change a stereotype we don’t want to have?

Discussion questions
Discussion Questions

  • If you were in a negatively stereotyped group, would there be something you could do in your behavior to decrease the likelihood of being stereotyped?

  • Is it better to socialize with/work with people of your own stereotyped group?

  • Do we stereotype within our groups?

The totalitarian ego

The Totalitarian Ego

How your ego uses biases in a selfish and manipulative manner

Organization of knowledge
Organization of Knowledge

  • Self – defined by beliefs, goals, values etc.

  • Desire for unity, consistency, continuity

  • Resist major attitude changes

  • Self uses biases to preserve self-concept

Three cognitive biases
Three cognitive biases

  • Egocentricity – self as the focus of knowledge

  • Beneffectance – responsible for good, but not bad outcomes

  • Cognitive conservatism – resistance to cognitive change


  • Past is remembered from our perspective, necessary for autobiographical memories

  • Rogers et al. – information is well remembered if considered in relation to ourselves

  • Brenner – memory decline for persons preceding or following us

  • Better memory for things related to one’s self of social group


  • Take credit for success, deny blame for failure

  • Judging one’s contributions to the group

  • Johnson (1967) – subjects took credit for good scores, but blamed partner for bad scores

  • Vicarious beneffectance – fair weather sports fans

Cognitive conservatism
Cognitive Conservatism

  • Tendency to preserve existing knowledge structures (including stereotypes)

  • Confirmation bias – promotes information that confirms current judgments

  • Snyder & Swann – selected questions that were biased toward confirming hypothesis

  • Scientists biased to confirm existing theory

  • Memory search better for info consistent with current belief

More cognitive conservatism
More Cognitive Conservatism

  • Knew-it-all-along effect

  • Fischhoff – subjects first informed of the correct answer claimed to have known it all along

  • Rewrite memories without registering the occurrence of change

Fear of change
Fear of change

  • Orwell – “to change one’s mind, or even one’s policy, is a confession of weakness.”

  • Why are we afraid to admit that our opinions have changed?

  • Should it be considered ‘weak’ to change one’s mind?

  • Do people differ in cognitive conservatism like they do in political conservatism?

Scientific paradigm
Scientific Paradigm

  • Does the stability of a scientific paradigm reflect the stability of the ego?

  • Do we shift paradigms with the same reluctance that we change attitudes and let go of stereotypes?

  • Does a stereotypical belief mirror a null hypothesis that requires significant evidence to be rejected?

Is it advantageous
Is it advantageous?

  • Do people gain by possessing these biases?

  • Are people who don’t employ biases at a disadvantage?

  • Prolongs the life of an incorrect theory

  • Bandura – inflated efficacy expectations may lead to better performance