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Martina Petkova
Student (The Hague , The Netherlands)

I am Martina Petkova, originally from Bulgaria (Sofia) 20 years old, studying in The Hague University (The Hague, NL) - European Studies (bachelor). My interests and passions are - European Union, global issues, culture, history, art and intercultural communication. In the context of TH!NK 3, changing the whole world and influencing on people's beliefs is unrealistic for me. Therefore, I think that starting this particular change, first of all from my own environment and society will make difference and will lead to a certain degree of change.


Stereotyping - avoidable?

Published 19th April 2010 - 10 comments - 17573 views -

Stereotypes are actual sources of misunderstanding - prejudices, labeling, negativism , distortion of facts, often exaggerated. To avoid them while interpreting something unknown, there must be done mutual efforts toward a change, so that :

Stereotypes must be taken out of the collective unconscious and be incorporated in collective conscious, where they can be changed in positive and creative way.

The following text represents my analysis on what the word "stereotype" stands for and to what extend is it actually influencing people's opinion, in the context of the developing countries(nations). I consider the definitions below as starting points for further analysis on questions from this sphere - understanding nations, abolishment of sporadic types of aid and common nation definitions and correcting contemporary stereotypes. 

If we want to understand the different nation stereotyping in terms of nonverbal communication , we must define first what is ideological and signification content of the word stereotypes and how do they function in the society today.

Stereotypes are cognitive set of thoughts , beliefs , images and suggestions.

They are "invented" by the members of one group with the purpose of categorizing the members of other group,  treating them according the expectations of their behavior.

This cognitive set is known in psychology as generalized thinking. It is kind of cognitive distortion. It is based on mistake of thinking – to do global conclusions from one or several events. 

People make generalizations about various groups , gender , profession ,ethnic , religious groups ,cultures , nations. They create a group label : Greeks are civilized , Persians are barbarians – this prejudice from the ancient ages.

This group stereotype is transmitted from one generation to another. It is learned and imprinted in collective memory, in collective unconscious.

This knowledge is useful , adaptive for the group. When a person makes inferences about a new person or event he/she is using the existing knowledge to reduce the uncertainty and anxiety in the situation. The less it is known about the new people /event or their culture the more it is used stereotypical generalization. For example in Iran there is a system of rituals of courtesy , called “taarof” - unwritten rule of human relationship. According to the guest is very important to meet him the master of the house must be lower and to glorify him. From the opinion of the member of other group , who did not know Iranian culture it may be considered as hypocrisy./National Geographic ,Jan, 2008/

Cultural stereotypes are based on comparison between two different cultural groups .This difference leads to misunderstanding. That’s why more often cultural stereotypes are negative . Negative cultural stereotypes and xenophobia may feed each other and give rise to a vicious circle. Wide spread delusion is that black person are poor , uncivilized , animalistic, lazy - racial discriminatory stereotype. Other generalization is that all Islamic people are terrorist.Slavic nation is characterized by tall , blond and drinking vodka , lazy people. The Dutch nation is depicted of living in small windmills , wearing tulip clothes and clogs. Germans are accepted and often seen as strong , racist , nationalist and evil people .

Like individual self-concept , collective self-concept also may be in the same way descriptive and evaluative. So the stereotypes can be based on perception of others made by descriptive way /”we are honest “ , “we drink too much “/.Or evaluative / comparative / way , which compare some quality of one group with the respective qualities of some significant groups of others / we are more clever , more civilized “.

Other classification of stereotypes are described as follows :

When they concerned one’s own group they are called simple auto-stereotype : In our opinion we /my nationality are ….

When concerned other group it is simple hetero-stereotype ; We think that they are …

When a person is projecting his own prejudices onto the group of others this type of stereotype can be called projected stereotype .

It can be projected hetero-stereotype when they concerned other group ; We feel that they /other group /think that they are …

Projected auto-stereotype: We think that they /other group / consider us to be …

Stereotypes of other countries or cultures are typical exaggerations of actual difference between cultures.

Negative stereotyping may distort the image of other culture and intercultural communication can result with failure of success. Incongruence with the prevailing gender /ethnic /stereotypes may lead to discrimination and sexism or racism.

And in the end - is it right to judge and respectively apply stereotyping thinking while analysing a certain problem? How can we get rid of these thoughts?

Category: Education | Tags:


  • Luan Galani on 19th April 2010:

    A thoughtful approach…brilliant! I think you are right, Martina, and personally I believe most of this stereotyping outlook is due to the positivist system in which we grow up. We tend to cling to it, judging everything as quickly as possible based on a hierarchy of values. But, in my opinion, believing in a strict and definitive hierarchy is not right. About your question, and by the way, a great question, I reckon we should keep a watchful eye on our thoughts and attitudes. More, we have to.

  • Lara Smallman on 19th April 2010:

    Such an important topic to debate. Thanks for raising this!

  • Johan Knols on 19th April 2010:

    Hello Martina,

    I am not too sure that it is bad to stereotype a group or nation, as long as we realize that each individual of that group might not fit the description. You stereotyped the Dutch. I could not find anything negative apart from the fact that we do not live in SMALL windmills, grow tulips instead of wear them and that we ALL smoke cannabis. (Which of course is not true…
    Your article is food for thought.

  • Martina Petkova on 20th April 2010:

    Thank you all! I am happy that we all agree that stereotyping leads pretty often to needless prejudices.

    @Johan Knols - coincidently, I live since 2 years in The Netherlands as well, have Dutch relatives, so I agree, but the examples that I gave are not that much a description of the reality today. It is just from historical books that I have red and people I have talked about this nation as a whole,that are some how preserved until today. In fact this all actually makes me want to admire NL each day more and more, but that is another topic for discussion:)

  • Iris Cecilia Gonzales on 20th April 2010:

    Great post Martina. Let me just share that in the Philippines stereotyping is often a problem especially among journalists who do not study enough background on certain issues. They tend to stereotype—say—a certain group of people as violent, or rebellious if there isn’t enough knowledge on the issue.

  • Iris Cecilia Gonzales on 20th April 2010:

    Oh and yes Martina, to answer your question, it is indeed avoidable.

  • Martina Petkova on 20th April 2010:

    thank you for the remark, Iris!

  • Margret Roberts on 21st April 2010:

    Hi, Martina!It’s very important topic - projected stereotyping! The decision of this problem is to cultivate in ourselves big patience and deep knowledge about the others.Here it is a simple example :Imagine that you are on this other’s /people,country,nation / place !What would you think he likes, feels ,behaves ?Try to think , like , behave like him.This is called “change of roles technique”.

  • Martina Petkova on 21st April 2010:

    Thank you Margret!

  • Spas Pashov on 23rd April 2010:

    You have raised a really interesting and broad topic on which much can be said. In my opinion, you are right that many contemporary prejudices are rooted, as you hinted, in history or are connected with the lack of knowledge for certain customs. I agree that we are not to judge people before we meet them, as individuals, but on the other hand in some cases stereotypes describes various groups very accurately - may it be for good or bad. What I am trying to say is that very often, even if we don’t want to be biased to something or someone, we fall in the trap called stereotype.

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