Social Perception and Social Reality: Why Accuracy Dominates Bias and Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
Lee Jussim, Rutgers University.
Published by Oxford University Press.

Chapter 17. Pervasive Stereotype Accuracy

    This chapter reviews every high quality study of stereotype accuracy that I could find.  It presents the evidence with respect to personal and consensual accuracy, using both correlations and discrepancy scores (see Chapter 16 for an explanation of what these are).  It includes sections reviewing the empirical research on racial, gender, and other stereotypes. When the original studies addressed conditions under which accuracy was higher or lower, that, too, is included here.  Furthermore, each study is critically evaluated, highlighting both its strengths and its limitations.  Overall, this review indicates that the high quality, scientific research consistently shows that stereotype accuracy is one of the largest effects in all of social psychology. 

    This chapter contains contents that may be deeply upsetting to anyone committed to the view of stereotypes as inherently or generally inaccurate and irrational.  If you have read this book continuously, you undoubtedly do not need these warnings and know what to expect.  However, these warnings are necessary for anyone reading this chapter without reading the rest of the book.  .
    Warning I: DO NOT READ THIS CHAPTER without having first read Chapters 10-12, 15 and 16.  You will need those chapters to understand what I mean by accuracy generally, and when I describe the results of the studies reviewed below as showing that people’s beliefs were “accurate,” “near misses” or “inaccurate” in this chapter.
    Warning II: DO NOT READ THIS CHAPTER, unless you are willing to consider the possibility that stereotypes are often accurate. DO NOT READ THIS CHAPTER, if you think that merely considering the possibility that many of people’s beliefs about groups (stereotypes) have a great deal of accuracy makes someone a racist, sexist, etc.  DO NOT READ THIS CHAPTER if you believe that stereotypes are inherently inaccurate, flawed, irrational, rigid, etc., and this belief cannot be or should not be revised if empirical scientific data fail to fully support it. 
What About Person Perception?
    OK, so the scientific evidence does not justify concluding that stereotypes are pervasively inaccurate; instead, stereotype accuracy is one of the largest effects in all of social psychology.  Before discussing the implications of these results, it is necessary to address one more “Yes, but…”.  Specifically, “Yes, but what is really important about stereotypes is how they lead to biased judgments regarding individuals.” 
    This type of “Yes, but…” argument is fairly common in modern perspectives on stereotypes (e.g., Fiske, 2004; Nelson, 2002; Schneider, 2004; Stangor, 1995), and, in essence, engages in a major tactical retreat from perspectives that have emphasized stereotype inaccuracy in the past.  It grudgingly acknowledges that, stereotypes are, in some sense, somewhat accurate for overall perceptions of groups, but goes on to imply that this is not very important.  Instead, according to this tactical retreat, what is important is how people perceive and behave towards individual members of different groups. 
    I doubt that most proponents of this view would characterize it as any sort of “retreat,” let alone a “tactical” one.  Nonetheless, I do so characterize it.  That is because this view at least acknowledges that stereotypes as perceptions of groups may indeed sometimes be pretty accurate.  As such, it constitutes a serious retreat from the overwhelming emphasis on inaccuracy that has characterized most of the social science discourse on stereotypes.
    At the same time, however, this “yes, but…” can be viewed as “tactical” because it denigrates the importance of finding evidence of stereotype accuracy.  As such, it allows the proponents of this view to maintain intact a view of stereotypes as “generalizations gone rotten” (Schneider, 2004) – not because they are inaccurate per se, but because of the allegedly awful and inappropriate ways people apply them when perceiving and judging individuals.  “Yes stereotypes may not always be inaccurate, but let’s get back to bias…”


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Reference as:
Jussim, L. (2012).  Social Perception and Social Reality: Why Accuracy Dominates Bias and Self-Fulfilling ProphecyNew  York: Oxford University Press.
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