Critically Evaluate the Cognitive Theory of Stereotyping. Essay

3274 Words Apr 10th, 2000 14 Pages
Critically evaluate the cognitive theory of stereotyping.

B231: Social Interaction, Exam Paper 1998, Question 4.

Graeme Gordon

Stereotyping is a form of pre judgement that is as prevalent in today's society as it was 2000 years ago. It is a social attitude that has stood the test of time and received much attention by social psychologists and philosophers alike. Many approaches to, or theories of stereotyping have thus been raised. This essay evaluates the cognitive approach that categorisation is an essential cognitive process that inevitably leads to stereotyping. Hamilton (1979) calls this a 'depressing dilemma'.

Brown's (1995) definition of stereotyping through prejudice is the 'holding of derogatory social attitudes
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However, stereotyping leads to more than merely placing an adjective onto a group or category. The cognitive processes that give reason to stereotyping are much deeper than this, giving rise to the above characteristics.

The cognitive approach to stereotyping is that we all stereotype, at varying levels - because of the essential cognitive process of categorisation (Brown, 1995). Howitt, et al. (1989) take this view also, and add that it is an ordinary process of thought to over-generalise, and then protect it.

We live in a complex social environment, which we need to simplify into groups, or categories. This simplification is present at all levels of life - it is part of our language, distinguishing between dog and cat, male and female, and even in the basic motives of distinguishing between food and non-food. Such categorisation may seem linguistically simple, but is essential - for example, the classification of elements and organisms by biologists and chemists: 'one of the most basic functions of all organisms is the cutting up of the environment into classifications' (Rosch, et al., 1976). However, the point must be made that, even though language suggests so, categorisation leads to different functions and features in non-humans and humans. For stereotyping is not present in non-humans, thus, we may come to the conclusion that stereotyping is possible through linguistics - this topic is discussed further later. This categorisation also

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