The Persistence of Stereotypes

February 5, 2013

woman-in-boxLike all of culture, stereotypes have to be learned. But once they are, they are extremely difficult to purge from one’s mind, or even to subdue into cultural curiosities that have no power over our behavior or thinking. Neuroscientists have long known that it takes much longer to unlearn incorrect information than it takes to learn it in the first place. Holding on to stereotypes is especially easy because evolution wired us to look for patterns as a survival skill. Successful hunting, gathering, farming and escaping predators all rely on forming patterns from our observations.

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Boy Beats Girl

May 17, 2012

Few things drive me as crazy as adults inadvertently introducing or reinforcing stereotypes to children. Inevitably, around May or June, adults will playfully say things like, “I’ll bet you can’t wait to get out of school!” to young children. They do this in a chummy, jovial way, never considering that many young children actually love school and are bewildered when they first hear adults say this. Children quickly learn that they are supposed to hate school and hate teachers, and they learn this mainly from adults who are passing on their own school baggage from 20, 30 or 50 years ago. Thus, grown-ups extinguish a little bit of innocence with one friendly comment.

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