We are raised in a world full of stereotypes and preconceived notions. From "blondes have more fun" to "men don't cry" and plenty more, these phrases have affected society's perception for decades, yet no one has the slightest idea why they are part of human nature. Researchers from the University of Aberdeen theorize stereotypes have formed and evolved unintentionally as information is repeated from person-to-person.
Lead study author, Dr. Doug Martin of the Person Perception Laboratory at the University of Aberdeen, has conducted extensive research for the last decade examining how knowledge systems, such as languages, transform as information is passed on.
According to Dr. Martin, stereotypes help individuals make sense of the world. Although stereotypes prompt individuals to form an unfair judgment at times, they are also essential to how we organize and store information as well as lead our day-to-day lives.
For example upon meeting someone who may be an artist you may assume this individual is sensitive, eccentric and, probably the most famous one of them all, starving. However, you may discover your preconceived notion is inaccurate and the individual does not possess any of these qualities. Nevertheless, until proven wrong a stereotype can help give you basic information to form an impression.
"Stereotypes also have an impact on the way we perceive ourselves. For example, my parents are in their early sixties and when they forget something they tend to attribute it to getting older, whereas as someone in his thirties when I forget something I tend to attribute it to being busy at work. In reality there might be no difference in the actual number of memory lapses we have but merely in our stereotype-driven explanations of these," Dr. Martin said.
Dr. Martin is currently conducting experiments where he ask people to remember information about alien characters an pass this information on person-to-person, similar to the game telephone or Chinese whispers.
"If we can understand how stereotypes form and evolve then we can begin to predict how they might change in the future and possibly even manipulate this for the benefit of society," he said.
Dr. Martin presented his findings at the Festival of Science in Abeedeen.