Study demonstrates evolution of stereotypes

Sep 07, 2012 by Lin Edwards report

(—Researchers from Scotland suggest that stereotypes form and evolve over time through social transmission of information, similar to the way in which languages evolve.

The research team led by Dr. Doug Martin of the Person Perception Lab at the University of Aberdeen used a technique they have used previously to study the evolution of language. They invented a series of aliens and randomly assigned them different colors, shapes and attributes such as selfishness, adventurousness, or trustfulness.

A volunteer was then called in to learn about the aliens and memorize their personality traits and . The volunteer then relayed this information to the researchers, who passed it on to the next volunteer, and so on down a communication chain.

What they discovered was that stereotypes began to form almost immediately and particular shapes and colors became linked with . As it passed down the communication chain the information was unintentionally changed and simplified, and became more structured and thus easier to learn.

Dr. Martin said the process seen in the research reflects the oversimplified nature of stereotypes, with (and ourselves) categorized and assigned attributes, and he suggested that they form to help us make sense of the world around us and to give us some basic information as a starting point. The stereotype may turn out not to be applicable to a particular individual, but is nevertheless useful initially.

Dr. Martin also pointed out that stereotypes are not fixed and do change over time. For example, a hundred years ago boys were traditionally dressed in pink, while blue was regarded as a "dainty" color more suitable for girls. Both genders wore dresses and played with dolls.

The Person Perception Lab team studies many aspects of the transmission of information from person to person and the way in which the brain processes this . Dr. Martin said their work on stereotypes could lead to being able to predict and even manipulate changes to in the future, which could be of benefit to society.

Dr. Martin presented his findings in a talk earlier this week at the British Science Festival, which is held in a different city each year. This year the Festival is being held in Aberdeen from 4-9 September.

Explore further: Long-term survey to follow college students' experiences with faith, diversity

More information:

Related Stories

More to facial perception than meets the eye

Jun 15, 2012

People make complex judgements about a person from looking at their face that are based on a range of factors beyond simply their race and gender, according to findings of new research funded by the Economic and Social Research ...

Studies refute common stereotypes about obese workers

Jul 18, 2008

New research led by a Michigan State University scholar refutes commonly held stereotypes that overweight workers are lazier, more emotionally unstable and harder to get along with than their "normal weight" colleagues.

Autistic children could learn through stereotypes

Jun 18, 2007

Autistic children have a capacity to understand other people through stereotypes, say scientists at UCL (University College London). The research shows that autistic children are just as able as others to predict people’s ...

Dominant East Asians face workplace harassment, says study

May 08, 2012

When they don't conform to common racial stereotypes, such as being non-dominant, even people of East Asian descent are "unwelcome and unwanted by their co-workers," says a new paper from the University of Toronto's Rotman ...

How stereotypes can lead to success

Apr 22, 2008

Stereotypes can boost as well as hinder our chances of success, according to psychologists from the University of Exeter and St Andrews University. Writing in the new edition of Scientific American Mind (out in the UK 22 ...

Recommended for you

Study reveals a common beat in global music

Jun 29, 2015

A new study carried out by the University of Exeter and Tokyo University of the Arts has found that songs from around the world tend to share features, including a strong rhythm, that enable coordination ...

When times are tough, parents favor daughters over sons

Jun 29, 2015

In tough economic times, parents financially favor daughters over sons, according to researchers at the Carlson School of Management and Rutgers Business School. Their study, forthcoming in the Journal of ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (1) Sep 07, 2012
The world is totally dripping with steretypes since forever and they first now do experiments with it? Guess that's another byproduct of the same issue.
1 / 5 (2) Sep 07, 2012
Another example of an experiment at best suspiciously engineered to produce a desired "result". How many remember the game "Gossip", where one person is given a message and told to repeat it on down the line? By the end, the final message can bear no resenblance to the original? Any transmission method like this can produce alterations in the information, whether by "stereotyping" or not? And do the "researchers" really think a test subject given the information that alines are Caring will, on their own recognizance, make up that theiy're arrogant? Or that someone receiving only a relayed message would take it on themselves to change some of the specifically stated qualities of the aliens? What is called "stereotyping" comes from experiencing something firsthand and drawing your own conclusions, personally. Which means many stereotypes come from actual observation, not the reports of others! And that means that many stereotypes can be true! The "experiment" is a fraud.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.