Site hosted by Build your free website today!


This essay is to explain how does stereotypes affect interpersonal communication and does it matter. Stereotypes are not actual people but widely circulated ideas or assumptions about particular groups. According to Pennington (1986) " there are three characteristics of stereotypes

  1. People are categorized on the basis of very visible characteristics e.g. race, nationality, sex, dress and bodily appearance
  2. All members of a particular group are assumed to have the same characteristics
  3. Anybody who is seen to belong to a particular group will therefore automatically be assumed to have the same characteristics of the group."

The effects of stereotyping are seen as gross over simplified and over generalized descriptions. They operate to over estimate differences existing between groups and under estimate differences within groups. Stereotypes distort reality since the over estimation between groups and under estimation within groups bear little relation to the truth. Stereotypes are usually negative attitudes which people use to justify discrimination of conflict against others. Stereotyping acts as a barrier to communication because people make pre-conceived judgment about people which are unfounded if their character does not relate to their appearance. Ethnic stereotypes encourage racism. Some people hide behind the stereotype image. Catergorisation of people emphasizes the differences between class or cult groups can act as a catalyst for conflict.

Another aspect of stereotyping is halo effects. Halo effect is the use of a single attribute to describe a person or object fully. For example, if a person is friendly we may use this attribute to assume that they are punctual and good at their job. Another important aspect of stereotyping is perception. Perception is how we understand people and objects, process intrinsic to our everybody activities. It is a process which involves our own psyche. There is a important link between perception and ourselves as seers of the world in which we live in. The term "looking at life through rose colored glasses" means that people act their lives in society is determined in some respect by the way they look through the spectacles of their own beliefs. There is a direct correlation between the way we perceive things and people, and the way we interact with them and learn about them and our perceptions of others and the judgments we make about them.

Social perception is the term given to way in which we perceive society and the world. It is a complex process of trying to understand others and their intentions. This process usually instills impressions into us, and then goes on to develop judgments that help us to give stability, structure and meanings to the things we can see going on around us. In this process of social perception we tend to go beyond the actual concrete information, to embellish and interpret the information that we are getting through interference, that is, we infer or imply certain facts or characteristics that really are not there.

People are highly selective in what they look for in others, this can originate from attitude. Attitudes are basically learned, mostly during childhood and have a direct influence on our perception of the world around us. They are learned and developed through

  1. Concept learning - directly or indirectly
  2. Reinforcement, imitation and identification - here peer pressure can exert a great influence.
  3. Cognitive development - development of thought process and patterns.
  4. Social influence - culture and conditioning. Internalization, conformity, compliance and role influence.

Attitudes can lead to bias and influence to perception. In extreme cases they can degenerate into prejudice.

To understand if stereotypes do effect interpersonal communication then it is important to explain interpersonal communication and how it works. A example of interpersonal communication is mass communication. Mass communication is very important towards understanding stereotypes and interpersonal communication. Mass communication has been defined as a symbolic transmission. Mass communication may involve television, radio, magazines and newspapers etc.

Interpersonal communication is communication between people. People communicate with people everyday. Human communication refers to the board range of behaviors in which a source encodes a message and transmits it to a receiver, who may complete the circle by sending a return message to the original source. Communication is symbolic behavior that occurs between two or more participating individuals. According to Turner (1981) "interpersonal communication can be used for conveying knowledge, information, understanding, obtaining information and having supervision and coordination within a group".(p.g.3) A basic interpersonal communication model traditionally has been viewed as a speaker saying something to a listener. Interpersonal communication is still basically a type of human communication, from face to face to mass communication.

Mass communication is a important part of interpersonal communication and it has developed rapidly with the aid of technological advances in the nineteenth and twentieth century. Today it is possible for a person to engage in several million interpersonal communicative acts simultaneously through electronic channels. According to Gumpert and Cathcart (1986) " when the media became institutionalized, the research became more sophisticated and concentrated on the behavior of people exposed to the mass media. It was discovered that individual audience members were influenced simultaneously by a variety of media and opinion leaders who frequently relayed, reinforced, and interpreted the media content. The resultant two step flow model of mass communication effects were very useful in bringing to media theory the important role of face to face communication. It was no longer assumed that the media audience was either passive or an undifferentiated mass, but that it was made up of groups of interacting people dependent on opinion leaders for much of their response to mass media messages." (p.g.23) This extract shows that there was a direct connection between interpersonal communication and mass communication.

The mass media today forms a major source of material for our stereotypical images of different groups of people. In drama and fiction, the stereotype is a valuable tool of communication in fiction because it arouses certain expectations. We can predict how a character will behave and feel satisfied when our predictions are fulfilled. We can also be surprised when a character behaves in a way which totally differs from what we expect. In advertising stereotyping is a powerful weapon used to sell products. Perhaps the image reminds us of an ideal lifestyle and suggests that we can achieve that lifestyle by buying the product. Or the advert contains a stereotype which we can identify and implies that we must purchase the product in order to conform to type. Use of such an image allows the advertiser to communicate a large amount of material in condensed form. Stereotypes gives power to mass communicators who can sustain differences between groups for their own gain.

An important connection is interpersonal communication and mass media communication. People need information to communicate effectively, understand other people’s attitudes, outlooks, likes, dislikes, motivation and interests. This type of information is normally acquired through personal interaction and the mass media. The mass media is a powerful way of communication because it can be used for propaganda, politics etc. The mass media can exert a powerful impact on peoples initial perceptions, and influence the manner in which information is process and interpreted. According to Gumpert and Cathcart (1986)"whenever people communicate with each other, they make predictions about the possible consequences or outcomes."(p.g.133) When people want to advertise in mass media they try to invoke the right response from the audience.

To help a communicator predict about probable message outcomes they may use cultural information, which is knowing about people’s culture. This may include language, dominant values, myths and ideologies. Sociological information may also be used to provide the primary grounds for prediction making. Knowledge of different groups allows communicators to make predictions about probable responses to numerous messages. The process of stimulus generalization is used to provide predictions from both cultural and sociological information. Another way of making predictions about messages is psychological information, this directs attention at another person‘s prior learning history. This method is completely different from cultural and sociological information as psychological prediction treats people as individuals and cultural and sociological predictions rest on a view of individuals as undifferentiated role occupants. Interpersonal communication is mainly characterized by frequent reliance on psychological prediction making.

According to Ruffner and Burgoon (1981)"interpersonal communication also involves knowing the other individual or individuals so that we can predict and explain their unique behaviors. People behave in certain ways based on the roles they are playing. Roles that are imposed by our culture or society are called prescribed roles, and do not provide specific enough information for interpersonal communication. As we gain more information about people, we negotiate roles with each other for continued interactions. These negotiated roles provide a vital step towards understanding the many different roles we play. Enacted roles are those people assume on the basis of what they consider appropriate for themselves. People on interpersonal levels are most concerned with understanding the many and varied enacted roles of others with these factors in mind. Communication may be called interpersonal when based on the prediction and explanation of unique behaviors, it strategically focuses on the many roles and individual differences of the participants".(p.g.16) This explains that stereotypes do effect interpersonal communication because many people roles that they play could be defined from stereotypical images.

According to Ruffner and Burgoon (1981)"often offensive and inaccurate stereotypes are used to describe various cultural groups. Orientals are not inscrutable, they are individuals with differing personalities."(p.g.10) This tries to explain that while people base there communication strategies strictly on cultural level data. They are not communicating interpersonally. People are generalizing from data based on stereotypes instead of adopting the communication to the specific individuals with whom they are communicating with. But people can defend stereotypes by saying that stereotypes can be used to identify a large group of people with whom we do not have individual data on.

According to Wright (1967)"mass communication is directed towards a relatively large, heterogeneous and anonymous audience."(p.g.13) When a television program is shown, different people with different ideas watch, so the mass communicators may use stereotypical images so people can define and associate with the character.

Stereotypes and interpersonal communication are important to mass communication, particularly television. There have been concerns about the way in which television inflicts a class bias on our perception of the world and reality. But it is also claimed that television represents genre of artistic performance. They structure a viewers way of perceiving, of making a connection and following a television story line. Characters are important to television as the viewers can identify with them. According to Gumpert and Cathcart (1986)"television, along with other media’s like magazines and televisions now constitutes a major role of guidance for behavior, to be placed in balance with what one learns from parents, society and then the dramatic materials on television has very serious consequences for the human psyche. While human behavior is to a remarkable extent diverse and reliable, it tends to be formed and given shape by the attraction of the power of available imaginative materials, stories, models, symbols and images."(pg.587)

The storehouse of imaginative materials available to a person could provide a repertoire. The impact of new models can be seen as icons can lead to liberation, conversions and rebellious attitudes. Role models can have a strong influence on perception. According to Gumpert and Cathcart (1986)"the influence of television and other distant sources are becoming increasingly powerful, moving as it were, something into a vacuum. Between the individual and the national source of image making there will be little or no local resistance."(p.g.587) I believe that some people are strong minded enough to make their own decisions and do not let the mass media influence them. While there are weak minded people who will follow fads and believe in the mass media and the stereotypical images that they represent.

I feel that even though people do not pay attention to the mass media they still are bias and have a huge influence over people. According to Barrat (1986)" an example of stereotypes affecting interpersonal communication is the anti-Semitic propaganda used by Germany in the 1930’s, preparing the way for the emergence of fascism."(p.g4) This example illustrates that stereotypes and mass communication can effect interpersonal communication.

According to Barrat (1986)"the authority of mass media in repeating rumors about deviants is strengthened by the fact that in a complex society, we can not check media allegations against experience. Most people live out their lives within a small segment of the larger society. The range of people we meet and events we experience directly is relatively small."(p.g.38) This statement argues that most people do not have direct contact in society with those who are labeled as deviant. People may have access to a large stock of knowledge about such groups and activities but this knowledge differs from quality from the direct experience of deviance in pre-industrial communities.

According to Barrat (1986)"the stereotype notion is clearly linked in some ways to the sociological notion of deviant levels. The concept of the label is clearly defined and we know more about the process that produce labels and about their origins in the structures of power and authority in society. Deviant labels are descriptions or versions of behavior that undermine and devalue that behavior, they dismiss it as irrational, senseless and vandalism etc. They are usually negative and this leads to a increase in deviance’s and to strengthen deviant identities. By contrast stereotype frequently attempt to validate certain roles and behaviors. Stereotypes are often models of behaviors emulated. The house wife stereotype is common in mass communication and is favored by advertisers and is a role in which the women are invited to copy and men to reinforce.(p.g.43) Both stereotypes and labels reflect power relations in the wider society and both exist as powerful forces in the real world as well as being reinforced through the media.

According to Kenneth and Mary Gregen (1981)"because stereotypes tend to sustain prejudice, we usually think of them as a social evil. Yet stereotypes may be both an inevitable and a functionally valuable by product of social interaction. If there were no shared but partially inaccurate understandings about individuals or groups, social life would be filled with chaos and conflict. Stereotypes are useful for smooth and cooperative information."(p.g.149) Stereotypes are often based on just enough fact for them fact to be useful in predicting other people’s actions.

According to Kenneth and Mary Gregen (1981)"stereotypes can easily lead to prejudice. Some prejudice is inevitable in a multi group society. Some prejudices present real dangers, feeding bitter struggles between races, economic groups, sexes and religions."(p.g151) It is important to combat prejudice, there are a number of ways in which this can be achieved e.g. negative stereotypes in mass communication can be eliminated and bringing people together. Put the people together in situations where they can learn more about each other and develop lasting relations. This essay has been about if stereotypes does effect interpersonal communication and does it matter. After doing some research I have concluded that stereotypes do effect interpersonal communication and whether it matters or not depends on the individual.