Critical Evaluation of the Cognitive Theory of Stereotyping
The difference between two groups affects other attributes of the out-group, including those that are similar to the in-group. By subdividing further such similarities, we are initiating a defence against change in our attitudes and categories. This inventiveness is another example of the flexibility of categorisation. In the most extreme cases, this can lead to an inventiveness demonstrated by racial theorists, which in fact, contradicts their prejudice and rigidity of categories. This flexibility can be illustrated further by studies that have shown that in stereotyping, people imply that most of a group posses a stereotypic trait but not all members. Thus, is the need for 'special cases', realisation of individualisation and tolerance (Billig, 1985).
According to the cognitive approach, stereotyping is a group process. It may occur in groups, but it is the individual psyches that make up the group, that project their stereotypes through a group. We do have the ability to see people as individuals and particularise their unique characteristics. We can change, as even categorisation is flexible, which undermines the cognitive approach with categorisation, although it may take time on a social level.
To conclude, the cognitive approach alone does not give us an understanding of stereotyping. However, it does anchor the fact that through our 'natural' thought processes we do categorise, which leads to stereotyping. It also highlights the importance of the individual and the group. There are, however, problems that have been overlooked by cognitive psychologists which we need to understand, in order to fully understand the 'changing dynamics and nature of stereotyping in our society' (Howitt, et al., 1989). There is also the need to look further than the causes of stereotyping and into its effects in order to understand the processes of our thought, of stereotyping.
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