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How Stereotypes Take Shape

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Why do we do it? How do such stereotypes develop? In a fascinating new paper, a team of researchers led by University of Aberdeen psychologist Douglas Martin provides evidence that they are an unfortunate result of the way we process and communicate knowledge.

“The process of repeatedly passing social information from person to person can result in the unintentional and spontaneous formation of cultural stereotypes,” the researchers write in the journal Psychological Science.

In essence, they write, our minds are hard-wired to categorize information and create mental shortcuts (attribute A is associated with behavior B). This helps us retain knowledge using minimal mental effort, and provides a needed sense of structure to an otherwise chaotic universe.

We take complex webs of information and, in the process of sharing what we’ve learned, create “a progressively simplified, highly structured, and easily learnable system” of stereotypes.In doing so, however, nuances and complications tend to be discarded.

Stereotypes are shortcuts: they are for the lazy!

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