Functions of the Stereotypes

The psychological and sociological literature8 suggests that stereotypes function to organize into a kind of short-hand (by sorting out the salient features) the mass of data from the real world that confronts the individual. The literature also points out the self-enhancement function and suggests the self-actualizing propensity of stereotypes. Since stereotypes tend to “define” reality for us, the behaviour that is based on them affects the real situation and inclines it to conformity with our definitions.

An understanding of the self-other definitions of various groups is, therefore, a prerequisite for the successful prediction and management of future interaction between them.
Evidence of the influence of national images may be adduced from the history of twentieth century Canadian-American relations where the predominant stereotypes have been ambivalent.

Being neither wholly positive nor negative, a kind of “live and let live” policy has obtained between the neighbours. For example, the American tendency to spread the “American way” to alI the world (which was a prominent theme in almost aIl the students’ reports) may have fostered the Canadian fear of annexation. At the same time, the perception of America as a semi-admired, idealistic, overexuberant, do-gooder may have mitigated the genuine hostility and aggressive behavior that fear of subordination wou Id arouse in a threatened group who traditionalIy stereotyped the “other” in wholly negative terms.

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