Stereotypes surround us and are in our heads almost every minute of our lives. Is it bad? Not necessarily. Thanks to them, we make decisions faster, we recognize things or people easily, and we can tell if something is good or bad for us. When you see a thing consisting of a weighted “head” made of steel fixed to a long handle, you can say it’s a hammer, whatever it looks like. When you are walking home alone through a park at night, and you see a group of people coming from the opposite direction, you are usually trying to look for other people around you to help you, just in case. But imagine other situations: you sprained your ankle and needed to go to the emergency room at the hospital. Unfortunately, you need to wait for the doctor. The waiting room is full of people, and the only free seat available is by a man with darker carnation, and you decided not to sit by him as he might be Roma. Well, this is what we call microaggression or “invisible racism” (sometimes also “subtle racism”), which is based, on stereotypes.
In social science, stereotypes are specific cognitive representations of different groups of people. Stereotypes are usually very durable and not prone to change. These cognitive representations are very generalized and reductive, simplifying the reality. All these are connected with strong evaluative feelings (this is good, that is bad).
Not all stereotypes are the same. Some of the stereotyped groups are considered useless (e.g. the elderly), some are seen as threatening (e.g. some national or ethnic minorities), some are seen as “sweet” (e.g. women), some are cold and inhuman (e.g. rich people), and some are considered disgusting (e.g. LGBT people). In 2002, Susan Fiske and her colleagues developed the Stereotypes Content Model (SCM) that assumes that all stereotypes form along two main content dimensions: warmth and competence. These are two dimensions on which individuals and groups are assessed.
Warmth relates to someone’s trustworthiness and also a person’s intentions towards another person. This can be either warm (feeling of trust and connection) or cold (mistrust and no connection). Competence is about someone’s capabilities – when someone is perceived as capable the emotions related to admiration appear (but sometimes also jealousy) and when someone is seen as incapable, the feelings of rejection or disgust may appear. For example, poor people may be blamed for their condition (lack of resources) due to their incompetence (poor education) while other factors that influence poverty may be neglected (such as economic injustice, loss of income due to illness or death of a partner). It should be noted, that a low or high score in one of those dimensions, can be combined with either a high or low score in another dimension.