U.S. culture reinforces stereotypes

Sept. 29, 2011 at 7:02 PM
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ATLANTA, Sept. 29 (UPI) -- U.S. books, movies, TV, radio and the Internet may contribute to racism, sexism or ageism because they reinforce stereotypes, researchers suggest.

Paul Verhaeghen of the Georgia Institute of Technology and colleagues gave participants a questionnaire designed to rate the amount of prejudice -- both negative and positive -- they exhibited.

The researchers timed their subjects' response times to different types of word pairs. The first types were word pairs typically associated with stereotypes, such as black/lazy, female/weak or old/lonely. The second group paired words that contain the same first word but are not stereotypical pairings, such as black/goofy, female/uptight, or old/playful.

A third type were words that are highly related but do not reflect stereotypes, such as night/cool or summer/sunny. Social psychologists believe the very fast response times people tend to exhibit for stereotypical pairs are a reflection of an unconscious, gut-level type of prejudice, Verhaeghen said.

The researchers then examined a collection of books, newspaper and magazine articles -- about 10 million words -- believed to be a good representation of American culture.

The researchers looked at how often the words they tested their subjects on were paired together in the sample of books, newspaper and magazine articles.

The study found participants responded faster to the pairs that were more often found together in the literature, whether they were stereotypical or not; for example, words like black tended to be more associated with negative and positive stereotypes like lazy or musical than with words like goofy not associated with stereotypes.

Other pairs that had strong correlations were white with greedy and successful; male with loud and strong; female with weak and warm; old with lonely and wise; and young with healthy and reckless, the study said.

The findings are published in the British Journal of Social Psychology.

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