On the Pervasiveness and Logical Incoherence of Defining Stereotypes as Inaccurate

Lee Jussim

in Social Perception and Social Reality

Published in print April 2012 | ISBN: 9780195366600
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199933044 | DOI:
On the Pervasiveness and Logical Incoherence of Defining Stereotypes as Inaccurate

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This chapter defines stereotypes. Part of doing so involves explaining why stereotypes should not (indeed, logically, cannot) be defined as inaccurate. This claim is so controversial that the chapter begins by considering whether it is immoral to even suggest that it might be unwise to define stereotypes as inaccurate. This chapter concludes that it is both scientifically and politically irresponsible to suggest that social beliefs (including stereotypes) are inaccurate when, in fact, those beliefs are accurate. Next, definitions that presume stereotype inaccuracy are considered. All such definitions are found to be scientifically dysfunctional either because they are logically incoherent or because they would lead to the dismissal as irrelevant nearly all social science research that has addressed stereotypes. A discussion then follows demonstrating numerous situations in which social scientists take for granted the reality of group differences and accuracy in perceiving them. This is one type of incoherence: Social scientists do not have the option of defining beliefs about groups as inaccurate and then treating their own beliefs about groups as accurate. The chapter speculates that sociopolitical motives (promoting oneself as an unbigoted egalitarian, expressing concern for inequality) create the social pressure that has sustained such problematic definitions. The chapter also points out that many perspectives providing a seemingly neutral definition of stereotypes (ones that do not define stereotypes as inaccurate) often reimport an emphasis on inaccuracy through the “back door”—by relentlessly emphasizing stereotypes’ inaccuracy upon further discussion. The chapter concludes by providing a truly neutral definition of stereotypes (allowing them to be accurate or inaccurate) and by emphasizing the scientific benefits of a genuinely neutral definition, without back-door distortions.

Keywords: stereotypes; defining stereotypes; accuracy; inaccuracy

Chapter.  19245 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Social Psychology

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