We tend to automatically judge other people and put them in a box by attributing certain characteristics to them. There are different ways of categorising people, for example by their profession. We believe that politicians, teachers, doctors or policemen have typical character traits. There are also gender stereotypes, which ascribe certain characteristics to men and women. And national stereotypes refer to the typical traits that members of the same country are assumed to share, which can be positive or negative. The following posts on the social news website Hacker News provide some illustrative examples of national stereotypes:
andybak on June 19, 2017
There's an old joke where in Heaven the cooks are French, the policemen are English, the mechanics are German, the lovers are Italian and the bankers are Swiss - whereas in Hell the cooks are English, the policemen are German, the mechanics are French, the lovers are Swiss and the bankers are Italian.
bitwize on June 19, 2017
I've heard the joke told as: Canada could have had English culture, French cuisine, and American industry... instead it has American culture, English cuisine, and French industry.
The causes of stereotypes can be complex and multifaceted, and are influenced by a range of factors, including individual psychology, social dynamics, and cultural norms. Some common causes of stereotypes include
- Limited experience: Stereotypes often arise from limited experience and knowledge of individuals or groups, which can lead individuals to make generalisations and assumptions based on their limited understanding. This lack of knowledge and experience can lead to inaccurate and distorted ideas about someone.
- Cognitive biases: Stereotypes often arise from cognitive biases, which are mental shortcuts that individuals use to simplify complex information and make judgements about others. These biases can lead individuals to categorise others based on their appearance, behaviour or other characteristics, and to form stereotypes based on these perceptions.
- Social conditioning: Stereotypes are often reinforced by social conditioning, the process by which individuals are taught to accept and internalise cultural norms and values. Through social conditioning, individuals may learn to view others in ways that conform to cultural stereotypes and to act on these views without question.
- Media and entertainment: Stereotypes often arise from the portrayal of individuals and groups in the media and entertainment industries, which can reinforce and perpetuate existing stereotypes.
The ideas we have about ourselves are called self-stereotypes, while the word hetero-stereotype refers to the way we perceive people from other cultures. For example, what are common stereotypes
about Germans? And what can they reveal about the person who holds them?
The sketch When an exchange student comes to Germany (2022, 3:19 min) gives us an idea of Irish stereotypes of Germans (and perhaps not only Irish stereotypes). It was produced by Foil Arms and Hog, an Irish sketch comedy group formed in 2008 that performs on TV, radio, online, such as YouTube and Instagram, and at gigs. The sketch has been well received by viewers, as the following comment shows:
As a former exchange student in Germany, this is spot on. So many fond memories of the beautiful country. So many well organized, orderly, and efficient times :)