Prejudices and Stereotypes

Preconceived ideas

Stereotypes are common cultural representations that help us understand the world around us. In fact, the stereotype is a form of categorization that helps us organize our thoughts and consequently, our acts.

We view people on the basis of stereotypes to try to make sense of the world around us. In a way, these stereotypes help us navigate more easily in our environment by giving us an "image" of other groups:

  • Who is this other person?
  • How will I judge him or her?
  • Why do they behave that way?
  • What can I expect?
  • How are we going to get along?
  • Why are they like that?

We encounter stereotypes in every part of our daily lives (at school, at work, in the neighbourhood, in the media, etc.). But be careful! Though supposedly they are based on actual observations, stereotypes can distort reality when they are the result of personal judgments:

  • Reductive (excluding the ideological or cultural values of other groups);
  • Global (showing a lack of sensitivity to differences between groups);
  • Immutable (rejecting new information that would make it necessary to redefine them);
  • Tendentious (based on assumed, not real characteristics).

The word stereotype has taken on a secondary, pejorative meaning. Stereotypes are often a source of bias in interpersonal and intra-community relations.

Unlike stereotypes, prejudices are based on preconceived ideas, clichés, unfounded judgments that can make us adopt a negative attitude toward a person, group, institution or an entire social environment. A prejudice is also an inaccurate and inflexible generalization.

The feelings most often associated with prejudice can range from simple discomfort in the presence of a member of another group, to distrust, fear, disgust and hostility. Prejudices can also be expressed in verbal behaviour (insults) and nonverbal behaviour (avoidance) that demonstrate dislike of the members of a rejected group.