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Social encounters can create, support or nullify a behavioral expectation about another group. If a target exhibits behavior that is consistent with his group, then a stereotype will manifest. This leads to a phenomenon known as the self-fulfilling prophecy. Numerous researches exist on why a person would confirm a certain stereotype about them. The focus of the literature review will be on theoretical and psychological models that explain how expectancy confirmation occurs.
Models and theories
Self fulfilling prophecies may occur prior to an interaction with a member of the stereotyped group, during and after the interaction. Prior to an interaction with a target from a biased group, a perceiver may already form opinions about the target as explained by Darley and Fazio (1980). This perception may cause the respective perceiver to cancel any interaction with the target if he is in a position of power. As a result, the perceiver will not give the target the benefit of a doubt and will maintain the stereotype.
Furthermore, a lack of interaction with the target will deny him an opportunity to change the behavior and thus negate behavior expectancies about his group. Conversely, Kiefer & Sekaquaptewa (2006) believe that self fulfilling prophecies occur prior to an interaction owing to behavioral expectations in the targeted group.
If a person fears that examiners will evaluate his performance on the basis of his social group, then this could create apprehensions, which undermine the subject’s performance. These implicit expectations about one’s behavior often emanate from social cues, such as television and newspaper programs or advertisements (Lee et. al., 2011).
For instance, most media outlets will market engineering and math as male-oriented subjects. Therefore, a subject will enter the examination room with that stereotype in mind. She will worry that her examiner will also possess these biases and this will lead to negative outcomes. While Darley and Fazio (1980) blame perceivers for behavior confirmation prior to an interaction between the perceiver and the target, Kiefer & Sekaquaptewa (2006) think that the targets are responsible for self fulfilling prophecies.
Lee et al. (2011) bring in another dimension to this debate. They believe that stereotype threat, or the belief that others will judge one in accordance to group stereotypes, will cause a target to avoid an interaction altogether. However, this largely depends on whether the potential target is a member of the stereotype out-group or in-group. In these circumstances, a perceiver will assume that the target refrained from interacting with him or her because they possess the stereotype and this will cause them to maintain the bias.
During an interaction, it is possible for the target to behave in a totally different manner from the concerned stereotype. However, the perceiver may still maintain the stereotype because of a series of reasons. Scholars use their theoretical backgrounds to explain why this occurs. Gurwitz and Dodge (1977) explain that contact can maintain stereotypes if the pattern and the content of evidence, in the interaction, are in line with the behavior expectations.
These researchers carried out a study among a group of university students concerning sorority membership. They found that the pattern of dispersion, as well as the magnitude of the evidence, led many perceivers to hold stereotypes about a group even when behavior contradicted these expectations. If contrary evidence about the perceiver’s expectations is prevalent in several people as opposed to one person, then the perceiver will hold the stereotype.
The scholars believe that a person will believe in a stereotype every time a stereotype manifests regardless of the magnitude of the stereotype. On the other hand, if the degree of disconfirming evidence is quite large, then this will lead to nullification of the stereotype irrespective of the pattern of dispersion.
According to Gurwitz and Dodge (1977), a perceiver will not change his mind about certain stereotypes regardless of whether the target exhibits non-stereotype behavior because the magnitude of the change is not sufficient to warrant modification. Additionally, the number of interactions that the person has with members of the stereotyped group also comes into play.
Conversely, Allen et. al. (2009) as well as Darley and Fazio (1980) believe that a perceiver will still hold certain views about a target irrespective of contrary behavior because of nitpicking evidence. The individual will claim self fulfilling prophecies by interpreting the behavior of the target unfairly.
In other words, the perceiver will rely on situational factors to explain the inconsistency. Alternatively, the person may simply choose certain patterns that are consistent with the stereotype and deliberately ignore the ones that contradict them. Allen et. al. (2009) use the regulatory focus theory to explain why some people may choose to hold the self-fulfilling conviction even when subjects act in contravention to their expectations.
These authors believe that when a perceiver has a depleted mental capacity, he or she will focus on stereotype inconsistent information. However, when operating under full processing capacity, a person will only dwell on facts that are consistent with the stereotype.
According to these scholars, perceivers will change their perception about targets if their mental capacity is overfull. Once they are operating at full processing capacity, they will have more time to look for stereotype confirming behavior.
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In certain circumstances, it may appear that a target has confirmed the behavior, if an external observer were watching over the interaction between the two parties. This scenario is objective behavior confirmation, where a neutral observer would concur with the perceiver concerning a target’s behavior.
The observer would notice that the subject is supporting the stereotype. According to Darley and Fazio (1970), Lee et al. (2011), Chen and Bargh (1997) and Leander et al. (2011), a person may engage in self fulfilling behavior because he is merely responding in kind to the behavior of the perceiver.
However, these scholars disagree on the reasoning behind that response. Darley and Fazio (1970) explain that if a subject believes that he should respond in kind to the perceiver’s behavior, then he will do so even if this leads to the exhibition of a certain stereotype. For instance, if an interviewer is cold towards a woman interviewee, then this individual will respond to the disconnectedness in kind.
This may cause the interviewer to presume that females are unenthusiastic job candidates even though the person caused the reaction. Leander et. al. (2011) affirm that people may create certain behaviors in others when they mimic their behavior. Mimicking another person for social lubrication causes that person to become sensitive about the opinions of others.
This causes the individual to act in a way that substantiates stereotypes. Lee et. al. (2011) believe that an interaction between a person with a bias and one who is aware of the bias will lead to confirmation of the behavior because this creates a state of tension and apprehension concerning the interaction.
For instance, female purchasers will be anxious about price inflation by male mechanics because they perceive females as ignorant in this field. Their anxiety causes them to underperform or fail to show up. In essence, this confirms the behavior of the perceiver. Chen and Bargh (1997) carried out an experiment in which they wanted to establish causes of self-fulfilling prophecies. They designed a test in which perceivers saw African American faces and received implicit cues on the same.
The perceivers rated the African American subjects as hostile even though the perceivers caused those reactions by their negative reactions towards the group. Therefore, self-fulfilling prophecies may simply be by-products of certain stereotypes that lead to a perpetual stereotype cycle concerning the group. The observer underestimates his role in causing the stereotype and simply attributes it to the target.
Perhaps one of the most critical aspects of the interaction between a perceiver and another person, who belongs to a disadvantaged group, is the capacity of the perceiver to alter the target’s behavior permanently. In essence, self fulfilling prophecy becomes a permanent observation in the stereotyped group because of past interactions.
Keller (2007) uses his regulatory focus theory to explain why one interaction may lead to future behavior confirmations in targeted groups. He explains that when an individual holds a prevention-focused approach to behavior modification, then he will use past experiences to protect himself. Prevention-focused people dwell on security rather than gain as their primary motivator.
Therefore, if a situation increases their level of security, then they will engage in it even it perpetuates a certain stereotype about them. They will use past experiences to judge how effectively an interaction protects them. Therefore, if a perceiver or the general situation threatened their security, then they will react in a stereotypical manner.
Darley and Fazio (1980) believe that when a target has interacted with a perceiver in a way that led to the stereotype, the target will form an opinion about such interactions. In the future, this target will bring those experiences into similar situations and thus perpetuate the stereotype.
For instance, an African American male may have experienced negative interactions with law-enforcement officials in the past. He or she may have responded aggressively towards the officer. It is likely that such a person will be aggressive whenever he comes in contact with other law enforcers because of experience from his past.
Kiefer and Sekaquaptewa (2006) also have their own explanation on why a negative interaction between a perceiver and target can lead to perpetual self fulfilling prophecies.
These scholars argue that women who believe themselves to be biased through previous experiences, will perform poorly in tests even in the absence of stereotype cues. Therefore, the interaction between them and their assessors affected their association of task performance and membership in a disadvantaged group. These scholars thus believe that negative interactions with stereotypical groups leads to negative identity formation and self fulfilling behavior in the future.
Literature shows that stereotypes are not what they seem. Mental processes in the target or the perceiver that lead to the exhibition of the behavior cause self confirming behavior. This may sometimes lead to a permanent display of the stereotype and thus cause a reign of error.
Allen, T., Sgerman, J., Frederica, C. & Stroessner, S. (2009). Stereotype strength and attentional bias: Preference for confirming versus disconfirming information depends on processing capacity. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45(2), 1081-1087.
Chen, M. & Bargh, J. (1997). The self fulfilling consequences of automatic stereotype activation. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 33(JS971329), 541=560.
Darley, J. & Fazio, R. (1980). Expectancy conformation processes arising in the social interaction sequence. American Psychologist, 35(10), 867-881.
Gurwitz, S. & Dodge, K. (1977). Effects of confirmations and disconfirmations on stereotype-based attributes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 35(7), 495-500.
Keller, J. (2007). When negative stereotypic expectancies turn into challenge or threat: The moderating role of regulatory focus. Swiss Journal of Psychology, 66(3), 163-168.
Kiefer, A. & Sekaquaptewa, D. (2006). Implicit stereotypes and women’s math performance: How implicit gender-math stereotypes influence women’s susceptibility to stereotype threat. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 2(12)1-15.
Leander, P., Chartrand, T. & Wood, W. (2011). Mind your mannerisms: Behavioral mimicry elicits stereotype conformity. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 47(9), 195-201.
Lee, K., Kim, H., Vohs, K. (2011). Stereotype threat in the marketplace: Consumer anxiety and purchase intentions. Journal of Consumer Research, 8, 1-17.