Written by Amal Elali
We are all people, but we have a means of placing an oversimplified image on particular people: the stereotype. Whether it’s based on gender, race, religion, culture, etc. stereotypes can be found all over the world. However, the question arises: why do we stereotype? Why are our brains programmed to think a specific way about people when we first lay eyes on them?
The term “stereotype” is defined as a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing  and is often associated with prejudice. The term “prejudice” originates from the word prejudge . When people stereotype, they have a preconceived idea about another person and judge them based off that notion. People oftentimes say prejudiced statements without being aware that they have done so. Even the word “all” can be seen as a phrase that groups people based on some similarity. For example, the sentence, “All UCI students are biology majors,” is guilty of making a pre-judged or prejudiced statement, because it groups all students who attend UCI into a generalized belief. People become accustomed to generalized beliefs and thus their brains become programmed to take these prejudiced statements and treat them as the norm.
Human brains constantly search for a heuristic approach to things. In other words, when attempting to approach a situation, people typically want to achieve a goal in the quickest time; a heuristic approach. Stereotypes offer just that, in which they are quick cognitive shortcuts using less energy and time to reach . As a result, whether people truly believe in a stereotype, their brains are programmed to resort to them because of the easy access to the thought.
Furthermore, stereotyping and prejudice is not only a matter of quick cognitive processes, it also involves emotional reactions . The way a person feels triggers a corresponding response. There is a part of the brain known as the amygdala, which can be found inside the cerebral hemisphere . This part of the brain is the main control center for emotions and emotional behavior. When someone is in an emotionally stressful situation, the amygdala can produce rapid responses which have very little evaluation and thought . As a result, people resort to stereotypes and harmful prejudiced statements because of an emotional imbalance. Frequently, people are unaware of how to approach a situation and thus they react quickly and typically people act without rationally thinking but rather allowing emotions to guide their decision.
Decision-making involves a complex process and the frontal cortex region of the brain. The frontal cortex is associated with reflective responses as well as social interactions. When a person indulges in the decision-making process, the frontal cortex is activated. This indicates that the person is thinking about something, while simply going with one’s gut feeling happens as a response in which very little if any thought is incorporated.
People frequently resort to prejudices and stereotypes without thinking, and the simple task of asking yourself, “Why do I believe this?” can help prevent stereotyping. Stereotyping is done in a variety of ways, whether it be positive or negative stereotypes, but should we merely believe something without actually thinking about it?