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UBC Theses and Dissertations

A conceptual and empirical study of issues in stereotype research : some reflections on the definition and measurement of stereotypes, and an experiment on reciprocity and stereotype formation McTiernan, Timothy John


The present study includes a critical evaluation of the traditional stereotype literature as well as an argument in support of a broader definition of the term. It contains a discussion of the appropriateness of the adjectival check list and the open-ended response format as research instruments. A preliminary model of the stereotype formation process is outlined and the method, results, and conclusions of a stereotype formation study are presented. The commonly espoused definitions of stereotypes as being either overgeneralizations, consensual beliefs, or rigid and irrational substitutes for thought were shown to be logically weak and to suffer from many of the limitations inherent in Lippmann's (1922) original conceptualization. A broader perspective was advocated in which stereotypes were defined as being social concepts which differ from other concepts in that they can include personality terms as well as terms referring to non-social, physical characteristics. As such, stereotypes were considered to be concepts about groups and individuals, the performers in the social environment. In discussing the nature of stereotypes, the distinction was made between personal stereotypes, the concepts in our heads, and cultural and social stereotypes, which are socio-cultural rather than psychological phenomena. Additionally, it was argued that, although they are the most frequently reported data, check list characterizations may not be appropriate analogues to the spontaneously produced personal stereotypes that are used by individuals in the course of their daily lives. The core components of these personal stereotypes, in that they are based on recall, are better measured by unstructured, open-ended instruments. Check lists, on the other hand, serve as indexes of those terms which we are prepared to endorse after they have been brought to our attention in the course of conversations and social activities. Consequently, check lists, because they are based on recognition rather than recall, provide a sample of the peripheral elements of stereotype characterizations. The point was made that in order to obtain a comprehensive understanding of the contents and structure of stereotypes it is necessary to use a combination of an open-ended and a modified check list procedure when conducting research. Further conceptual analysis indicated that a comprehensive account of the stereotype formation process requires at least two models, one defining the variables which govern the development of stereotypes about targets possessing clear cultural definitions, and the other delineating the form of individuals' more general "stereotype formation strategies." The second part of this thesis focuses on a preliminary, three-step model of the general, rule-governed stereotype formation process. The model postulates that : individuals use available information to construct demographic profiles of culturally undefined targets; attribute particular "world views" and value systems to the targets on' the basis of the inferred demographic characteristics; and then make trait ascriptions on the basis of their inferences about the targets' general perspectives, using reference group norms as their judgemental anchors in the process. The influence of "world view" variables on the stereotype formation process was examined in an experiment which employed information about a target's characterization of the respondents' salient reference group as an independent variable. Three versions of an audiovisual documentary about the Orkney Islanders were constructed and shown to groups of Canadian sea cadets. Sixty-seven respondents saw a control film containing a general description of the Islanders' way of life, sixty-eight saw a modified version of the film which included "examples" of the Islanders' "highly unfavourable stereotypes of Canadians," and fifty-eight were presented with a positive reciprocal script in which the Islanders were described as characterizing Canadians very favourably. The film scripts were balance with respect to length, organization, and the polarity of the reciprocal stereotype information. A post-film questionnaire was administered, and free response and check list instruments were used to measure the respondents' newly formed stereotypes one week after the presentation of the stimulus materials. The findings determined that the respondents made inferences about an unfamiliar target group's stereotypes of their own national group in the absence of definite information about the nature of these "reciprocal stereotypes;" that reciprocal stereotype information was attended to when it was included in a documentary script about the Orkney Islanders; and that the characteristics of the personal stereotypes varied (1) as a function of the type of reciprocal stereotype information presented in the stimulus materials, and (2) in relation to the manner in which this reciprocal stereotype information was construed by the respondents. The characterizations of the positive reciprocal group members were more favourable and more differentiated than those of the negative reciprocal respondents. Moreover, there was more agreement among the individuals in the positive reciprocal condition than among the members of the negative reciprocal group concerning which particular traits could be considered to be characteristic of the Orkney Islanders. The stereotypes of the non-reciprocal respondents fell between those of the positive and negative reciprocal group members on all of the measured dimensions. The implications of these results were discussed and refinements to the general stereotype formation model were suggested.

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