Stereotypes as a Cognitive Tool

I found the findings of the article “Stereotypes as Energy-Saving Devices: A Peek Inside the Cognitive Toolbox” by Macrae, et. al incredibly depressing. The researchers’ studies on both implicitly and explicitly presented stereotype cues revealed that stereotypes, like any kind of schema, save cognitive energy. Rather than analyzing the different traits of a new person, we subconsciously label them as part of a group. That way, we can instead use cognition to process what they are saying, or something else that is going on in the environment. Physical traits such as ace, gender, and disability status obviously stand out as markers about what group somebody belongs, and we make judgments based on our preconceived notions of these groups. Our brains do this automatically; without meaning to.

I found these findings so disheartening because they show that we use stereotypes without meaning to. Our brains are wired to use stereotypes because they are a type of schema; a very basic cognitive tool.

My question based on this article is: how can we unlearn stereotypes and teach our children to judge based on the individual instead of the group? Since we are wired to use stereotypes automatically, I think the best we can do is to at least make ourselves aware that we do this. That way, even if we do find ourselves making snap judgments based on obvious external characteristics (such as gender and/or race) we can hopefully go back make a conscious effort to get the know the individuals we are judging based on these things.

This is, of course, easier said that done. In our dynamic, multi-dimensional world, how can we remind ourselves to go back and think about the automatic cognitive judgments we make?