Ecology-driven stereotypes override race stereotypes

Keelah E G Williams, Oliver Sng, Steven Neuberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

21 Scopus citations

Abstract

Why do race stereotypes take the forms they do? Life history theory posits that features of the ecology shape individuals' behavior. Harsh and unpredictable ("desperate") ecologies induce fast strategy behaviors such as impulsivity, whereas resource-sufficient and predictable ("hopeful") ecologies induce slow strategy behaviors such as future focus. We suggest that individuals possess a lay understanding of ecology's influence on behavior, resulting in ecology-driven stereotypes. Importantly, because race is confounded with ecology in the United States, we propose that Americans' stereotypes about racial groups actually reflect stereotypes about these groups' presumed home ecologies. Study 1 demonstrates that individuals hold ecology stereotypes, stereotyping people from desperate ecologies as possessing faster life history strategies than people from hopeful ecologies. Studies 2-4 rule out alternative explanations for those findings. Study 5, which independently manipulates race and ecology information, demonstrates that when provided with information about a person's race (but not ecology), individuals' inferences about blacks track stereotypes of people from desperate ecologies, and individuals' inferences about whites track stereotypes of people from hopeful ecologies. However, when provided with information about both the race and ecology of others, individuals' inferences reflect the targets' ecology rather than their race: black and white targets from desperate ecologies are stereotyped as equally fast life history strategists, whereas black and white targets from hopeful ecologies are stereotyped as equally slow life history strategists. These findings suggest that the content of several predominant race stereotypes may not reflect race, per se, but rather inferences about how one's ecology influences behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)310-315
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Volume113
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 12 2016

Keywords

  • Affordance management
  • Ecology
  • Life history theory
  • Race stereotypes
  • Stereotype content

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General

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