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Do You Judge A Book By Its Cover?
Admit it, you too are guilty of stereotyping people even if you don't want to. Ever wonder why—and what you can do about it?
photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures (Mean Girls)

That giggly chick who likes to dress up a lot is most likely a slut. The genius brother of your friend probably won't make a great date. It's always the beautiful ones who get the Prince. Pink is a girl's color; blue is a boy's hue. "Made in USA" is more often better than "Made in RP." It's weird to see a male secretary or nurse. And Zac Efron will forever play the high school jock in his movies. True or not, these are just some of the stereotypes we come across every day.

Whether at home, in school, in the movies, or on TV, stereotypes are everywhere. Psychologists relate that the term "stereotype" goes way back to the 18th century and was used to describe a printing process used to duplicate several pages of type or text. It was also a metal printing plate cast from a raised printing surface. Author Russell Jones, in his paper "Perceiving Other People: Stereotyping as a Process of Social Cognition," says that in the 19th century, psychologists began using the term to describe a person's behavior that involved "persistent repetitiveness and unchanging mode of expression."

Now, stereotypes aren't necessarily a bad thing. In fact, psychologists say it's pretty essential to our day-to-day lives. Walter Lippman wrote in 1922 that we have no choice but to create "pictures in our heads...The real environment is altogether too big, too complex... We are not equipped to deal with so much subtlety, so much variety, so many permutations and combinations. And although we have to act in that environment, we have to reconstruct it on a simpler model before we can manage with it."

Every day, we're faced with a barrage of information that our brains have to process. For instance, when we're meeting people, instead of processing all the information about each individual's unique traits every time we meet them, our brains save precious mental resources by saving the information and categorizing the data. This makes it easy to call up the saved info when we meet the same people, or the same types of people, again.

And so, we deal with various groups of people differently: we relax with our barkada, we show some amount of deference to our grandparents or other elderly folk (we say "po" and "opo"). Or call our teachers "Miss" or "Ma'am." We behave a certain way when we meet a new classmate (welcoming, friendly) and another way when your class meets people from other schools.

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Celebrities, the advertising industry, and the media, also play on stereotypes to attract you to them or their products.

Click on to the next page to find out how stereotyping becomes a problem.

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