There’s a natural human tendency to stereotype: to combine cultural and real-life knowledge about correlations between superficial, easily-observed characteristics and traits we cannot immediately observe, like trustworthiness, tendency to violence, and intelligence.
Famously, Jesse Jackson once commented on his own use of stereotypes about young black men: “There is nothing more painful to me at this stage in my life than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery. Then look around and see somebody white and feel relieved…. After all we have been through. Just to think we can’t walk down our own streets, how humiliating.”
This is a good example of use of heuristics — simple rules for deciding which may not always be correct but help shortcut the time to decide. Mr. Jackson, like everyone else, discovers he is a little bit racist — he is using a stereotype about his own race to decide whether to be afraid about the man coming up behind him. He may decide to take evasive action if the young man is black, and not if it turns out to be a middle-aged, well-dressed white man.
And who can blame him? While there is some chance the white man is a mugger, the chance is far less than if it is a young black man in urban thug-style clothing. Note that it is not only race that people use to jump to conclusions on limited evidence — clothing, mannerisms, age, and walk also come into play.
Prejudice and stereotyping can harm those whose superficial characteristics are associated with negative judgments. The young black man who is hurt when others cross the street to avoid him is the least of the problems — the black man or woman who applied for a retail clerk’s job in the South in the 1950s would often be discouraged; even employers who were not themselves prejudiced would assume some of their customers would be, and hire the less qualified white person instead.
The civil rights movement, and other movements of the 1960s and on, tried to eliminate the harmful effects of prejudice and stereotyping by teaching everyone to internally reject stereotypes as a basis for making decisions. This has worked so well that now when we say the word “stereotype” it is assumed that what we are talking about is false and damaging. This makes us Better People because we do not treat others badly because of some irrelevant superficial characteristic, but may have gone too far.
The problem with today’s politically correct rejection of the entire idea of stereotypes is that cultural stereotypes and generalizations are actually remarkably accurate in many areas. Social scientists who study them have reams of data showing this, but rejection of stereotypes is now an article of faith impervious to any contrary data. So we all still make judgments based on stereotypes internally but pretend that we don’t! Jesse Jackson’s moment of shame was in realizing the inconsistency. And well-meaning white people in the same circumstance will try to avoid taking any action which might be seen as implying they fear the young black man — hoping to avoid hurting an innocent person’s feelings. Which can lead to being mugged.
Lee Jussim, Ph.D, writing for Psychology Today, discusses this problem:
I suspect that, when many of you saw the title, you assumed I would be discussing how inaccurate stereotypes are impervious to change in the face of data. That is how social scientists have been discussing stereotypes for nearly 100 years.
But we agree that being impervious to data is a bad thing, right? Liberals routinely rail against conservatives’ supposedly anti-scientific stands, right? Liberals, in sharp contrast, don’t ever oppose data and science, do they?
Great! In that case, you will be interested to discover that:
1. Stereotype accuracy is one of the largest and most replicable effects in all of social psychology
2. The fact that this is true has had almost no effect on the frequency with which social scientists claim, assume, or imply that stereotypes are inaccurate.
You probably find this hard to believe. After all, you have been told, over and over and over and over, that stereotypes are inaccurate. This has been part and parcel of the liberal project of fighting oppression and prejudice.
Stereotype accuracy is an empirical question. You can claim anything you want. Your interpretation of your experience is whatever you believe. But combating the well-established flaws and limitations of subjective interpretation of experience is exactly why science was developed.
Which gets us to, not your personal experience, but the science. What has scientific research found about the accuracy of stereotypes?
Stereotypes are (Usually) More Valid Than Most Social Psychological Hypotheses
Over the last 40 years, there has been a ton of research assessing the accuracy of stereotypes. The findings are astonishing, at least if you have bought the longstanding line that “stereotypes are inaccurate.”
The following data are from my recent review of this area of research (Jussim et al, 2014). It gives the proportion of results for various types of research that are greater than correlations of .30 and .50, respectively, because Richard et al (2003) provided these figures for all of social psychology, which then constitutes an excellent standard of comparison.
Which is more accurate, social psychology or social stereotypes?
Percent of Correlations that are >.30 >.50 All of Social Psychology 24% 5% Race, consensual stereotype accuracy 95% 95% Race, personal stereotype accuracy 47% 18% Gender, consensual stereotype accuracy 100% 94% Gender, personal stereotype accuracy 79% 58%
These results are based on over 20 studies of stereotype accuracy conducted by multiple independent researchers and laboratories (see Jussim, 2012; Jussim et al, in press, for reviews). Results for other stereotypes (e.g., age, occupation, politics, etc.), are similar. As such, stereotype accuracy is far more replicable than many far more famous “effects” in social psychology (large effects are inherently more replicable, but understanding why that must be involves an arcane statistical discussion that is beyond the scope of this blog entry).
To be sure, there is some evidence of inaccuracy in stereotypes, especially national stereotypes of personality. There is also good evidence that political ideologues exaggerate each others’ views. Nonetheless, the BIG picture remains intact: Stereotype accuracy is one of the largest and most replicable findings in all of social psychology.
Why, then, have social scientists been declaring and decrying the inaccuracy of stereotypes for nearly a century? The data don’t now, and never have, supported such a claim.
Social scientists don’t go around making stuff up to advance their leftish narratives of oppression. Do they?
Disclaimer II: I AM a social scientist. There are LOTS of other social scientists out there who go to great lengths and do a good job of not allowing their politics to distort their science. I admit that making claims that are unhinged from data does no credit to our field and, if taken out of context, can lead people to dismiss the field’s value and importance. However, the solution to bad science is not to kill science. It is to pressure and advocate for, and push, enhance, and support good science. Such efforts, which include exposing bad science, should count as a CREDIT to the social sciences.
So, my liberal friends who embrace science, you are now outraged at the anti-scientific stand of all those who deny the scientific evidence demonstrating stereotype accuracy, right?
His data show that groups have averaged stereotypical beliefs that are remarkably accurate, while individuals are less accurate but still doing much better than chance.
The takeaway lesson: the first-order reaction against stereotypes, while very useful in correcting poor treatment of individuals, is far too simple. A second-order or even more nuanced understanding of the mechanism of stereotyping can salvage their utility while still removing most of the harm to individuals.
The Enlightenment values of individualism and justice are best served by recognizing the real world utility of heuristics based on superficial factors, while always doing more to determine true characteristics of individuals in truly important matters. All of us are judged constantly and may do more or less well in interacting with others based on superficial characteristics and snap judgments; this cannot be completely removed. Those who wish to gain the trust of others will always need to signal their reliability. It may not be fair, but it is human.
Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations
[From Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations, available now in Kindle and trade paperback.]
Corporate HR Scrambles to Halt Publication of “Death by HR”
Nobody gets a job through HR. The purpose of HR is to protect their parent organization against lawsuits for running afoul of the government’s diversity extortion bureaus. HR kills companies by blanketing industry with onerous gender and race labor compliance rules and forcing companies to hire useless HR staff to process the associated paperwork… a tour de force… carefully explains to CEOs how HR poisons their companies and what steps they may take to marginalize this threat… It is time to turn the tide against this madness, and Death by HR is an important research tool… All CEOs should read this book. If you are a mere worker drone but care about your company, you should forward an anonymous copy to him.
For more on SJWs, modern feminism, and memetics:
Culture Wars: Peace Through Limited Government
Divorced Men 8 Times as Likely to Commit Suicide as Divorced Women
Life Is Unfair! The Militant Red Pill Movement
Leftover Women: The Chinese Scene
“Divorce in America: Who Really Wants Out and Why”
View Marriage as a Private Contract?
Madmen, Red Pill, and Social Justice Wars
Unrealistic Expectations: Liberal Arts Woman and Amazon Men
Stable is Boring? “Psychology Today” Article on Bad Boyfriends
Ross Douthat on Unstable Families and Culture
Ev Psych: Parental Preferences in Partners
Purge: the Feminist Grievance Bubble
The Social Decay of Black Neighborhoods (And Yours!)
Modern Feminism: Victim-Based Special Pleading
Stereotype Inaccuracy: False Dichotomies
Real-Life “Hunger Games”: Soft Oppression Destroys the Poor
Red Pill Women — Female MRAs
Why Did Black Crime Syndicates Fail to Go Legit?
The “Fairy Tale” Myth: Both False and Destructive
Feminism’s Heritage: Freedom vs. Special Protections
Evolve or Die: Survival Value of the Feminine Imperative
“Why Are Great Husbands Being Abandoned?”
Divorce and Alimony: State-By-State Reform, Massachusetts Edition
Reading “50 Shades of Grey” Gives You Anorexia and an Abusive Partner!
Why We Are Attracted to Bad Partners (Who Resemble a Parent)
Gaming and Science Fiction: Social Justice Warriors Strike Again