Stereotypes – the word itself seems to have an ugly face. We are so used to seeing and using it in the negative context that it’s hard to believe it can be positive.
And yet there are positive stereotypes. Even more – all stereotypes have certain positive functions. In fact, stereotyping is a psychological process that can’t and shouldn’t be replaced. When people act on such stereotypes is a completely different story, of course.
That’s why, if assigned to write essays about stereotyping, we recommend you to take a different angle – the one with the positive connotation.
What are positive stereotypes?
What is easily concluded from the name itself, positive stereotypes are positive beliefs that concern a certain group of people. Like Asians being good at solving math problems or African Americans being better athletes.
The thing with positive stereotypes is that they can cause a positive or negative reaction, depending on the situation, the cultural environment and the person stating it. While in some cases they can be considered a compliment, in others they only irritate the object of such stereotyping.
This last conclusion was made after a corresponding experiment was held and described in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2013. During the experiment, participants of Asian descent were subjected to a positive stereotype by a Caucasian participant. According to the results of the experiment, such stereotyping caused them the feelings of:
Yet due to their positive nature, positive stereotypes are much more difficult to fight. Perpetrators don’t realize the harm they might be causing the objects of stereotyping and thus are less attentive to what they say.
In fact, it has been proven that being positively stereotyped in one domain will lead to negative stereotyping in another domain (African Americans’ athletic achievements and their supposed intellectual inferiority).
But we were going to focus on the positive side, weren’t we? In some cases, positive stereotypes can be beneficial. The primary condition is subtlety. People like being a part of the group that is positively stereotyped, but they don’t like the stereotype being voiced and applied directly. Therefore, the key to applying a positive stereotype with a positive effect is not applying it directly.
There is an example to illustrate it. In a corresponding experiment, two groups of Asian Americans were subjected to a positive stereotype about their math abilities before taking a test. The control group was not subjected to any stereotype at all. After the test results were evaluated, it turned out that the group that was reminded about their math abilities through subtle hints performed much better than the other two.
Receiving a simple hint and feeling a part of the group that was positively stereotyped helped them be more confident and give more correct answers.
Positive functions of all stereotypes
In fact, both negative and positive stereotypes have important psychological functions. Early studies suggested that stereotypes were a characteristic of rude, authoritarian people. Later discoveries proved that a stereotype is nothing else but a simplified perception of the reality. In simple words, stereotypes help people understand and extract meaning from what is happening. With the help of stereotypes, people categorize and systematize information. Once a stereotyped category has been created, people rely on it to identify an appropriate response in certain situations.
In addition to this, stereotypes have certain social functions. They help people feel included, which then helps them believe in their own abilities (see above for Asian Americans and math example).
Stereotypes help people justify certain actions, which can be positive or negative depending on the situation. They also help to understand certain events in a certain context.
To sum up
Taking the road less traveled is always more work, and academic papers are hardly ever an exception. However, if you want to write an outstanding piece and make a real contribution to science, you have to think innovation.
Take a different perspective. Look for facts that contradict common beliefs. Don’t be scared to be the lonely voice in the dark (that’s a dramatic overstatement, of course; people certainly did write about positive stereotypes). If you fail to overturn the established point of view, you will at least study the subject from all possible perspectives, which is an achievement in itself.