It is characteristic of all human societies and many animal species as well to classify their individual members into collectivities or groups. Often, those groupings are based on ostensible physical features such as sex, skin color, or size, whereas other groups are constituted with reference to qualities such as age, language, religion, origin, ancestry, monetary wealth, property ownership, political party membership, or sexual orientation. Associated with the various ways of classifying people are certain behaviors on the part of the members of a group and certain attitudes, beliefs, and prejudices concerning the group that are held by other members of the society as a whole. In addition, a social status, rank, or perceived value of the group is assigned, either implicitly or explicitly, to individuals belonging to various groups. Members of these groups are then treated by other people in accordance with that status. Finally, individuals, and entire nationalities or races outside a particular society itself are often viewed negatively or positively and accordingly valued or devalued for their general characteristics or traits. These characterizations are almost always overgeneralizations, which may or may not be manifested by individual members of the society. For example, according to one writer, the English are "men of action," the French "men of reason," and the Spanish, "men of passion" (Ortega y Gasset, 1957/1932). Other nationalities and ethnic groups that have been assigned a general or stereotypical character are Germans, Jews, Blacks, Hispanics, Japanese, and Chinese. Even scholars such as Ruth Benedict (1960/1946) have overgeneral-ized in typifying the behaviors and philosophy of entire populations. Americans, for example, are said to be proponents of the philosophy "Trust in God and keep your powder dry."
American society has become increasingly diverse during this century. In the past 150 years, there has been a multifold increase in emigration to the United States by people of other nationalities, races, religions, and backgrounds. To many of these immigrants, this nation held out a promise of personal status, affluence, and happiness they could not hope to achieve in their native countries. Unfortunately, the differences between these people and those who had already settled in the United States formed the basis for attitudes that favored the dominant, mostly white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant resident group over the newcomers. In many cases, these attitudes led to discrimination and prejudice.
This chapter is concerned with classification of people according to gender, race, social class, and age, and the behaviors and conditions associated with those classifications. These are four principal ways in which Anglo-American society, and many other societies as well, classify people and develop sets of attitudes and behavioral expectations corresponding to those classifications. Although these characterizations or stereotypes are rarely completely false, their overgeneralized nature does not allow for the many exceptions and changes occurring in particular groups. People tend to attend to and use information that is consistent with their stereotypical beliefs and to discount information that is inconsistent with those beliefs or to view it as an exception to the general rule (Stephan, 1989). In addition to nurturing distorted perceptions, stereotypes often lead to self-fulfilling prophecies in which prejudices and resulting behaviors create the very situation that one presumes to exist.
The study of differences in the characteristics and behavior of the sexes, races, social classes, and chronological age groups stems from the field of differential psychology, which was inaugurated by Sir Francis Galton in 1883. As conceived by Galton, differential psychology is concerned with differences in the abilities and personalities of a variety of demographic groups, not just sex, race, social class, and age. Galton and the psychometricians who followed him were interested primarily in the measurement of these group differences and their origins. This chapter focuses on describing these differences and some of their origins and consequences.
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