Stereotypes: review of an idea from Nicholas Epley’s book ‘Mindwise’

Throughout my life I have very rarely read books. The Witches and Harry Potter (1 through 4) are the only books I can truly remember reading from start to finish. As an example of my inability to pursue reading, in my second year at High School one of my English teachers let us read every Friday of the week for an entire period (45 minutes). Every Friday I took the same book out of my backpack and would read it. By the final Friday English lesson of the year I still hadn’t quite finished reading the book (I read slower than a sloth moves). But I was close! There were about 15 pages left to read – the equivalent of a chapter or so. Alas, it was a bridge too far… I never finished the book. Why not? There were no Friday lessons left for me to read during.

Recently I have found myself reading more. Perhaps part of the reason for this is because I am getting older. Or maybe it is because I have more time on my hands. However, the main reason I think is because I have found a topic that engages me. The topic is psychology. The human mind! Books that focus on something quite simple: asking why we as humans do the things we do.

The book I am currently reading is “Mindwise” by Nicholas Epley, who is a Professor of Behavioural Science at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Within the book there is a chapter on stereotypes: ‘The Uses and Abuses of Stereotypes’. As you can probably glean from the chapter’s title, Nicholas Epley explores both how valuable (‘The Uses’) and how damaging (‘Abuses’) stereotypes can be in our world. It is quite fascinating reading. Here is a very small extract from said chapter:

It's all in your head.JPG

Take from this what you will. For me, the idea that a stereotype could be self-fulfilling was something I had never considered before. Take for example Asian drivers. Political correctness aside for a second, Asian’s are stereotyped as being poor drivers relative to other races. Are Asian’s not as good at driving as other races because of an inherent difference between races and driving abilities (or for some other reason), or are they not as good at driving (at least in part) because they are stereotyped that way? As Nicholas Epley more eloquently puts it: “The point…is that our stereotypes…could be precisely right but our explanations…profoundly wrong. The elderly can behave differently than the young, blacks differently than whites, and women differently than men BECAUSE of stereotypes about these groups rather than because of any inherent differences between these groups…”.

My learning from this is that while there may be legitimate differences in behaviour between groups that I can observe, there is a real risk that I may incorrectly diagnose why these differences exist. In practice I think this means trying to maintain an awareness that what causes a difference in behaviour between you and I will often be difficult to correctly and absolutely identify, which makes it worthwhile to spend more time and effort on understanding the reason for the difference, rather than just fighting about it.

This is only one page from one chapter of the book. There is much more. It’s fascinating reading and I highly recommend it to others.

And here is a video of some Donkeys that have lived in the desert their entire lives being introduced to grass for the first time. LOL… it’s like me being scared of a lettuce!

Imagine what the grass-raised-Donkeys (GRDs) will think of these desert-raised-Donkeys (DRDs). GRDs will probably think the DRDs are idiots… Unless they talk to them and to better understand them and their background.

I still have one chapter of Mindwise left to read. This time though, I’m finishing it.

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