We all stereotype immediately and unconsciously all the time but what exactly is happening in the brain? Why do we stereotype at all?

SeekerPublished: July 10, 2018Updated: July 11, 2018
Published: July 10, 2018Updated: July 11, 2018

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Each week on TestTubePlus, we cover one topic from multiple angles. This week, we are covering stereotypes: why do they exist, why does it seem so hard to get rid of them, and how did they become such a big part of who we are? For the first episode of this five-part series, Trace will be discussing: does our brain force us to stereotype? 

Stereotyping is actually something our brains are constantly unconsciously doing. Obviously, making sweeping generalizations is a bad thing to do. But what the brain initially intended stereotyping to be was a way to help us interact socially in a more efficient manner. Our brain developed a filing system to store pretty much anything we absorb (whether it is true or not) into similarities. Everything that can be viewed, heard, read, smelled, tasted, or touched is interpreted first through the temporal lobe of our brains, which processes sensory input into meaning. Then it moves to the anterior temporal lobe, which stores knowledge about people and social groups. From there, it movies to the dorsal medial prefrontal cortex, which supports the formation of impressions which are then used in the inferior frontal gyrus, which decides if the situation is safe or not. 

As this complex pattern bounces around inside our brain, we make predictions in ways that are supposed to make us comfortable in the world. Stereotyping is merely a byproduct of this system; they're essentially "brain shortcuts" that help us conserve energy. We don't just do this with people, either: we do it with objects, too. When we see a fork, for example, can tell what it's made of, what it feels like, and what its purpose is... without even touching it. Imagine how tedious it would be if you had to learn what a fork was every time you sat down for a meal? Unfortunately, brain didn't take into consideration is that--unlike utensils--categorizing people can hurt people's feelings. 

Do you think you don't stereotype? Chances are that you do. Trace explains why. 

TestTube Plus is built for enthusiastic science fans seeking out comprehensive conversations on the geeky topics they love. Each week, host Trace Dominguez probes deep to unearth the details, latest developments, and opinions on big topics like fear, terrorism, alcohol, survival, black holes, the history of religion, dreams, space travel, and more. 

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Figure of the Stereotyping Network (Nature.com) "Neural structures that underlie components of intergroup stereotyping. Semantic information stored in the lateral temporal lobe - especially representations of stereotype-related knowledge about people and social groups in the anterior temporal lobe (ATL) - is recruited into the dorsal medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) to support the formation of impressions (that is, stereotypes) and, in conjunction, into the inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) to support goal-directed actions that are guided by these stereotypes."

Your brain on stereotypes and brand identities (The Brain Alchemist) "What comes to mind when you read the following list: 'Emigrant Savings Bank, Dakota Roadhouse, St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church, Starbucks, Equinox, Club Remix, Bank of New York, Shinjuku Sushi, New York City Law Department, Amish Market'? How about this one: 'Ground Zero Mosque'?"

The Power of Categories (NPR.org) "Alix and Lulu examine how categories define us - how, if given a chance, humans will jump into one category or another. People need them, want them. This show looks at what categories provide for us."

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