Bastards and Stereotype Accuracy
By Bryan Caplan
I’m a firm believer in stereotype accuracy. I just finished re-reading my favorite chapters from Lee, Jussim, and McCauley’s excellent Stereotype Accuracy: Toward Appreciating Group Differences. The book was published in 1995; Jussim’s recent summary brings us up to date. When scientists measure the correspondence between stereotypes and actual probabilities, they’ve found that…
accuracy — the correspondence of stereotype beliefs with criteria —
is one of the largest relationships in all of social psychology. The
correlations of stereotypes with criteria range from .4 to over .9, and
average almost .8 for cultural stereotypes (the correlation of beliefs
that are widely shared with criteria) and .5 for personal stereotypes
(the correlation of one individual’s stereotypes with criteria, averaged
over lots of individuals). The average effect in social psychology is
about .20. Stereotypes are more valid than most social psychological
Given my knowledge of this research, I felt a slight pang of guilt when I dismissed negative Westerosi stereotypes about bastards as thinly-veiled misanthropy. If the people of Westeros consider bastards “wanton” and “treacherous,” doesn’t the best social science tell us to presume they’re right?
Not really. Here’s a key caveat from Clark McCauley’s chapter “Are Stereotypes Exaggerated?” in Stereotype Accuracy:
[T]he strongest conclusion from the present review is that purely cognitive mechanisms of stereotype exaggeration are inadequate to explain the pattern of results…
It is still too soon to throw out the exaggeration hypothesis, however. Exaggeration of stereotype characteristics may be a powerful tendency in perceptions of a group seen as an enemy. U.S. perceptions of the Japanese in World War II, for example, certainly suggest the possibility of caricature and stereotypic exaggeration in perceptions of an enemy group. Thus, motivational mechanisms for stereotype exaggeration may be more powerful than the purely cognitive mechanisms featured in current literature. This possibility is not easily evaluated on the basis of available research, none of which contain any indication that the stereotyping group felt real hostility toward the stereotyped group.
Wise words. My only quarrel is that lots of “available research” does indeed confirm that popular stereotypes rooted in hostility toward markets and foreigners are not just exaggerated, but false.