Did you ever listen to someone saying something like "all men are chauvinists" or "all New Yorkers are impatient" or "all Moslems hate America?" Each of these kinds of characterizations represents a "typology"—a way of grouping individuals into what is sometimes called a "normative" category. Unfortunately, this way of talking about people is simply a form of stereotyping individuals. The problem with this approach is that it assumes that such stereotypes are accurate.
Lee, Jussim, and McCauley (1995) stated that "the idea that stereotypes may sometimes have some degree of accuracy is apparently anathema to many social scientists and lay-people (p. xiii)." These authors put forth the position that the "preponderance of scholarly theory and research on stereotypes assumes that they are bad and inaccurate (p. 3)." Yet, the work of Lee, et al. (1995) concluded that stereotypes about appearance, behavior, attitudes, skills, and preferences can support conclusions as to stereotype accuracy. It is this position with which I would like to take exception.
If one takes time to think about stereotypes, it becomes apparent that "typologies" work as self-serving constructs for those who espouse their use. Social comparisons are being made by individuals each day. It is apparently a very difficult job to respect each person as being unique. So, it becomes much easier to construct general pictures of others which make arbitrary stereotypes "energy cost expenditure" efficient. Stereotypes are all around us. Stereotypes compete with concepts about individual uniqueness.
Sherif (1936) wrote in his book The Psychology of Social Norms
that "in the course of the life history of the individual and as a consequence of his contact with the social world around him, the social norms, customs, values, etc., become interiorized in him... these interiorized social norms enter as frames of reference among other factors... and thus dominate...the person's experience and subsequent behavior in concrete situations" (p. 43-44). The position expressed by Muzafer Sherif about internalized "frames of reference" serves as the primary basis for faith in the persistence of stereotype assertions. In other words, they all are the same
because they all share the same common history,
the emphasis here being on the term "they" as if it represents an objective entity, instead of an abstract and an anonymous conceptualization.
It is very common today for fields like psychology to have special interest groups (SIGs) representing Black psychology, Hispanic psychology, Asian psychology, and so forth. Whereas the field of psychology used to focus on not "codifying" behavior and not categorizing individuals into pigeon holes, the field today has seemingly moved in the direction of sociology. While "cultures" can certainly be examined to differentiate different practices that are dominant or absent in one location versus another, human beings cannot be neatly "boxed" into "classes" based upon nationality, regional origin, racial labels, religious affiliations and so forth. Yet, if one comes out and states that psychology should be about "human beings, planet Earth," this position can be challenged as representing an affront to something called group identities. It is akin to being called prejudice for not wanting to subscribe to the adoption of stereotypical thinking.
It has become a common view that the idea of a "melting pot" in the United States has been replaced by the concept of a "tossed salad." The "melting pot" connoted that every American became assimilated into one common cultural body, whereas the "tossed salad" connotes that the United States is made up of "identifiable" subgroups, just as identifiable as small tomatoes, croutons, radishes, lettuce, and carrot shavings in a side dish. And, of course, as you might now sense, this exposition is leading up to the DIVERSITY mandates that characterize the academic landscape today and which are becoming woven into the fabric of psychology today.
Maton, Kohout, Wicherski, Leary, and Vinokurov (2006) examined trends in psychology education between 1989 to 2003 with respect to minority representation in programs. The Maton, et al. (2006) report stated that: (a) there has been a steady increase in the percentage of minority students receiving bachelor's degrees from 1989-2000; (b) the number of minority bachelor's degrees represent nearly one quarter of degree recipients in 2000, 2001, and 2002; (c) ethnic minorities represent more than one fifth of master's degree recipients in 2001 and 2002; and, (d) students entering doctoral programs have "achieved only one half or less of their population representation..." (p. 126). Maton, et al. (2006) concluded that undergraduate minority students apparently find psychology an important area of study, but, that there is a "disquieting trend" in minority representation in doctoral programs in psychology. Maton, et al. (2006) noted that the above situation might call for "student and faculty activism" to ensure that pipeline representation
matches up with population representation.
Bowman (2000) wrote that Canada has almost twice as many immigrants per capita as the United States and that it is the least culturally homogeneous of all Western nations. She noted that the U.S. and Canada differ profoundly in terms of how minority groups are defined. Bowman (2000) stated that these national differences in setting "diversity criteria" create a problem with respect to the American Psychological Association (APA) versus the Canadian Psychological Association (CPA) policies. Under both the APA and CPA codes of ethics, psychologists are required to respect the dignity and the worth of each individual. Bowman (2000) noted that Canadian psychology programs find the APA value mandating group-defined inclusiveness
to be a contradiction with their ethics code, even though there is an appreciation that the inclusion of individuals with diverse backgrounds enriches programs.
A few years ago, the APA Board for the Advancement of Psychology in the Public Interest (BAPPI), supported by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, initiated what has become known as the Valuing Diversity Project
(1999-2002). The final report of the project was produced for the APA by the Association for the Study and Development of Community (ASDC). The project yielded 11 "Principles" for conducting projects that "value diversity." The "Principles for Valuing Diversity" are actually guidelines for structuring projects that are in many respects social psychology exercises which have as their focus developing ways of dealing with or engineering intergroup conflict resolution. If Psi Chi, as an organization, would like to support diversity research, then the Valuing Diversity Project
can serve as one model.
Babcock (2006) has written about hidden biases in the workplace. Her article focuses on the development of the Implicit Association Test (IAT) which a Harvard University-led research team used to ferret out biases. The IAT represents a tool designed to detect bias based on several factors including "race, gender, sexual orientation, and national origin" (Babcock, 2006, p. 52). Clearly, bias serves as the "lens" through which any individual can screen and evaluate others. The IAT can also serve to be instructive about how biased group thinking
can be (Paul, 1998). You can test yourself at the following website: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/demo/
In 2004-05, I chaired a Psi Chi Diversity Task Force which developed a mission statement for the establishment of a Psi Chi Diversity Committee. I supported the ideas of the task force with respect to: compliance with EEO obligations, the elimination of barriers to opportunities, the comportment with laws as to "best" practices, sensitivity training for Psi Chi employees and leaders, and website information about diversity issues. I did not, however, support the idea of selection criteria being "quota based" for Psi Chi awards, grants, internships, programs, etc. Merit has always been the standard by which Psi Chi has appropriated its funding. Psi Chi should resist initiatives which attempt to set award selection standards based upon such things as "diversity" points, etc., which supplant decisions based on excellence or merit. To date, the Psi Chi National Council has tabled the matter, but it is still under study.
When I was an undergraduate, I had a professor who would write on the board every day—"Some Do, Some Don't, It Depends." Whenever a student in the class would express a generalization about others, the professor would point to the words, "Some Do, Some Don't, It Depends." It was a simple and an excellent way to teach about stereotypes and prejudice. The above words are a key principle to respecting individuality. Unfortunately, the field of psychology has become caught up in a period where "identity politics" reign. Such politics are serving to silence individuals who subscribe to dealing with others on terms such as being race-neutral, colorblind, ethnicity-neutral, gender-neutral, sexual orientation-neutral, and other nondiscriminatory criteria.
The above statements will no doubt upset some of those who might call themselves diversphiles. Some individuals dismiss individuality as a Western concept, as if Western concepts are not valuable concepts. There are those who promote the "celebration of diversity" in ways which have become ideological positions or fashionable dogma about privileges. This ideological position is also becoming institutionalized as the "correct" morality. Within this context, the "Some Do, Some Don't, It Depends" position faces an uphill battle. Stereo-typical thinking should never supplant the idea that psychologists should focus on individuals, and psychologists should respect the dignity and the worth of each individual.Note:
Dr. Youth would appreciate your contacting him with your views about the issues of stereotypes, diversity, merit, and individuality. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo Caption: Dr. Robert A. Youth, Psi Chi National President, works with diverse individuals at Dowling College on Long Island in New York.
Babcock, P. (2006). Detecting hidden bias. HR Magazine, 51
Bowman, M. L. (2000). The diversity of diversity: Canadian-American differences and their implications for clinical training and APA accreditation. Canadian Psychology, 41
Lee, Y-T., Jussim, L. J., & McCauley, C. R. (Eds.) (1995). Stereotype accuracy: Toward appreciating group differences.
Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.
Maton, K. I.,Kohout, J. L., Wicherski, M., Leary, G. E., & Vinokurov, A. (2006). Minority students of color and the psychology graduate pipeline: Disquieting and encouraging trends, 1989-2003. American Psychologist, 61
Paul, A. M. (1998). Where bias begins: The truth about stereotypes. Psychology Today, 31
Sherif, M. (1936). The psychology of social norms.
New York: Harper Collins.The valuing diversity project.
(1999-2002). Retrieved July 6, 2005, from http://www.apa.org/pi/valuingdiversity/