Stereotyping is the act of representing a group of people based on the assumption that they share certain attributes. The description, a stereotype, is typically an oversimplified, standardized conception or image due to the lack of direct knowledge and experiences those doing the stereotyping have of members of the other group. Stereotypes can be positive or negative and are often based on incomplete or false generalizations to describe individuals and the group to which they are assigned according to characteristics such as age, race, nationality, ethnicity, and religion. As a consequence of stereotyping, an individual is understood only in terms of the group to which they are perceived to belong.
Originally, the word stereotype is believed to have been used in the printing trade, similar to the word cliché, to refer to the duplicate impression of an original typographical element. In modern English, the noun stereotype first appeared in 1850 as meaning “image perpetuated without change.” In his book The Public Opinion, published in 1922, American journalist Walter Lippmann described a stereotype in this way and cautioned that such partial images were an inadequate way of representing the world. Stereotypes continue in public and private life where those stereotyping have limited experience with individuals that they perceive to belong to a certain group. In particular, stereotypes are perpetuated in the media due to the frame of reference of writers, directors, reporters, producers, and editors. Similarly, stereotyping occurs in international business where individuals lack prior interaction with foreign business partners and may project their assumptions about the gender, nationality, or profession to which they categorize them. In this context, stereotypes are usually culturally embedded and may be difficult to change. For example, Americans may be stereotyped as unintelligent, self-important, obese, and loud by Europeans. In America, a typical stereotype of English people is as stiff, upper-class, prim, and having bad teeth.
In psychology, the causes of stereotyping have been explained as a type of in-group-out-group behavior whereby individuals favor those they identify as like themselves and magnify differences among those they perceive as different. On the other hand, sociologists emphasize the interrelationships between different groups and the relative standing of groups in a social structure. These two perspectives can be applied to understand stereotyping as a mechanism to explain, justify, and exaggerate differences between groups, related to the status or position of a group. The stereotype content of groups with fewer social and economic advantages will contain elements that assist to explain disparities, such as lower employment rates. For example, members of disadvantaged groups might be described negatively and undeservedly as unintelligent or unmotivated as a way of justifying the differences.
The role and content stereotyping in international business management and marketing has attracted much attention. Whereas stereotypes in their broadest sense represent individuals’ cognitive associations and expectations about groups in society, national or country stereotypes describe qualities or associations that are perceived to be closely linked to a nation’s population. Studies have demonstrated that national stereotypes can bias the perceptions of management, employees, and customers in decision making. Further, the popular view in international business literature warns managers of a tendency to reinterpret incoming information to make it more consistent with national stereotypes. This may result in negative consequences, such as the disregard for or discounting of ideas and input from managers from countries that have negative stereotypes.
National stereotypes have been demonstrated to affect decision making in a range of business situations. In the context of consumer decision making, research in international marketing into the effects of a product’s country of origin on consumer evaluations has found that cognitive, affective, and normative factors of national stereotypes play an influential role, as well as political, economic, technological factors of country stereotypes. Examples of well-known product-country stereotypes include consumers’ preference for French champagne, Italian fashion, German automobiles, and Belgian chocolate. Similarly, industrial buyers have been shown to categorize suppliers into two groups—those from technologically advanced nations, and those from less technologically advanced nations. Similarly, research in international management has shown that individuals have a tendency to evaluate colleagues in teams from the most advanced and economically strong countries more favorably. There is also evidence that suggests that managers stereotype their colleagues by country. For example, European managers hold stereotypes of each other. In particular, one study demonstrated that British managers were perceived by German managers to be more accepting and German managers perceived by British managers to be hardworking. Furthermore, it has been shown that stereotypes influence managers’ assessments of their willingness to conduct business with others, that is, their eagerness to establish business relationships with out-group members before direct contact occurs.
Stereotyping also influences investor, tourist, and migrant decision making since national images are influential in evaluations of a country as a potential location for foreign investment, as a tourist destination, or a place to live, work, and play. Consequently, nations must play an active role in positioning and differentiating their identity in the competitive global marketplace as these images can have considerable consequences for their products, services, industries, and residents.
- Adler, International Dimensions of Organizational Behavior (PWS-Kent, 1991);
- V. Bodenhausen, “Stereotype Biases in Social Decision Making and Memory: Testing Process Models of Stereotype Use,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (v.55/5, 1988);
- L. Cooper and B. D. Kircaldy, “Executive Stereotyping Between Cultures: The British vs. German Manager,” Journal of Managerial Psychology (v.10, 1995);
- General Motors Corporation, Women “Take Care,” Men “Take Charge”: Stereotyping of U.S. Business Leaders Exposed (Catalyst, 2006);
- Elizabeth L. Haines and John T. Jost, Placating the Powerless: Effects of Legitimate and Illegitimate Explanation on Affect, Memory and Stereotyping (Stanford University, 2000);
- Hilton and W. von Hippel, “Stereotypes,” Annual Review of Psychology (v.47, 1996);
- J. Schneider, The Psychology of Stereotyping (Guilford Press, 2003);
- Tajfel, Human Groups and Social Categories: Studies in Social Psychology (Cambridge University Press, 1991);
- Zaidman, “Stereotypes of International Managers Contact and Impact on Business Interactions,” Group and Organization Management (v.25/1, 2000).
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