In light of the delayed Trayvon Martin coverage this week, Fox News caster Geraldo Rivera excused the actions of Zimmerman because of the hoodie Martin was wearing. Not only was Rivera blaming the victim, but he used a cultural frame to dismiss this grave injustice. It wasn’t just Rivera that has expressed this sentiment; this week when I was expressing my frustration and anger about the case, a friend of mine said, “I understand that it is wrong, but I can understand why he looked suspicious.” I looked at her and explained that it was problematic to assume that a young boy, who was wearing a hoodie—which plenty of white boys wear—could be looked at as suspicious because he was standing, while being Black. I explained to her how the fact that we look at Black males and immediately think of violence is problematic in of itself.
After completing the IAT last week, I began to really think about the meaning of the test itself and whether the test is a reliable measure of someone’s unconscious thoughts. This thought became even more prevalent after reading the article by Blair (2002) and also the article by Karpinski and Hilton (2001). The articles seem to support the fact that implicit attitudes may be influenced and/or changed by environmental factors and outside forces. I have always perceived the IAT as a direct measure of the implicit biases that live in our unconscious thoughts and feelings. While I have never been convinced that implicit attitudes shape behavior, I always believed that the test itself measures the thoughts that someone has beneath the surface of explicit and conscious understanding. Blair’s article, however, shows that there are many factors that may influence the attitudes of someone and that the context of a situation is a determinant in implicit attitudes. Reading the article by Blair (2002) allowed for a new understanding of how are implicit behaviors are shaped.
In our class focused on aversive racism, we examined an article by Patricia G. Devine. Devine’s article consisted of three related studies which focused on the mental processes of both high-prejudice and low-prejudice individuals. Devine’s first study found that high and low prejudice individuals are aware of the same stereotypes. Devine’s second study looked below the surface of consciousness, and found that when people, whether they are high or low prejudice are not aware that they are being primed with stereotypes, they will behave in a way that is dictated by the stereotypes. The third, and (in my opinion) most important study affirmed that there are two distinct routes that people encounter when engaging in stereotypical thought (clarify: thoughts about stereotypes). The first route is the automatic route, that is, when a stereotype comes to mind, the mind automatically processes it, and people automatically use the stereotypes. The second route is the controlled route, which occurs when people get the opportunity to control their thoughts before using or not using stereotypes. It is through the controlled route that we see the distinction between high and low prejudice individuals. High prejudice individuals, when given opportunity to control their thoughts, still use stereotypes to direct their thinking. Low prejudice individuals, on the other hand, take the opportunity to control their thoughts and actively avoid the use of stereotypes in their thinking.
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.
At home over break, my parents of course wanted to hear about what use I am getting out of their tuition money and the asked me about their classes. I had the most to tell them about this one. For one thing, I have definitely done the most work and learned the most in this class in comparison with my others this semester. I also know that this subject material would be most unfamiliar to my parents and was excited to share everything I had been learning. My parents are both very academically-minded people and were intrigued by the nature of this course.
After reading the article Stereotypes as Energy-Saving Devices: A Peek Inside the Cognitive Toolbox, I have thought a lot about how stereotypes are formed. According to the article we stereotype automatically without being conscious of what we are doing. It makes sense that we put people into certain schema’s, we do it with everything else however it is much more problematic to stereotype or put people into a schema than it is for us to look at a desk chair and a couch and say they are both seats.
The Macrae experiment that we read in class this week, (Stereotypes as energy-saving devices: A peek inside the cognitive toolbox) found that the use of stereotypes is actually a cognitive tool our brain uses. In the study, whenever a stereotype label was present (regardless of whether the stereotype label was present consciously or unconsciously) participants remembered more stereotype consistent words and performed better on the additional task than participants who were not provided with a stereotype label. According to these findings, stereotypes are strategic tools used to enhance cognitive performance, so when the the stereotype is present we are able to effectively process other information at the same time. But what happens when these stereotypes take on a negative connotation?