Why do we stereotype? I’ve asked myself that question numerous times in my life. The reality is: stereotyping is a method of using our minds more efficiently. By placing people and things into categories, we are able to make certain generalizations related to a member of that category. I’m certainly not suggesting it’s purely constructive, but when used under appropriate circumstances, it certainly seems to make sense. Logistically, when each of us addresses something new and unfamiliar, our Frontal Cortex is prompted to scrutinize this new stimuli in order to determine whether it belongs in a category or not. If it determines that it belongs in a group, then it delegates some of the mental and emotional responses to other portions of the brain (the Hippocampus, the Hypothalamus, the Amygdala). By dividing up the functions of this experience, the brain is used more efficiently, and the Frontal Cortex is freed up to concentrate on new stimuli rather than be engrossed in the existing one. This functionality makes full use of the entire brain simultaneously.
Unfortunately, this same exercise that we perform on daily operations is also performed on our daily social encounters. The hazard behind this otherwise efficient application is making assumptions about people based entirely on appearances. These assumptions are oftentimes derogatory assumptions. I’m not referring to just race assumptions, religious assumptions and sexual orientation assumptions. I’m referring to every assumption that can possible be made based on the immediate observations made by the perpetrator. These also include assumptions based on clothing worn, assumptions based on hair color, assumptions based on the car that one drives. I can go on. Why must we reduce everything down to such simplistic terms? Are we that ignorant, or simply that lazy?
This is a topic that has lingered throughout my life, notwithstanding the fact that I am Anglo-Saxon. I think that in the end, although we reflexively choose this behavior in order to concentrate on other things, categorizing people deprives each and every one of us of the opportunity to learn something entirely new and enlightening. I think that we should exercise our minds and always consider the less likely, stimulating our brains to more effectively learn from our environment. Thanks for reading.