Why Are Stereotypes Harmful?

One of the main reasons why stereotypes are harmful is because they can lead to errors in decision making that carry the potential for negative consequences. What are viewed as stereotypical traits in people can be significantly overestimated and result in discriminatory biases that affect legal, employment-based and interactive decision-making. Harmful and inaccurate biases can result from focusing on recollections of negative reactions on those founded on positive or objective recall and lead to stereotyping that is based in greater part on conveniently validating preexisting prejudices.

Stereotyping leads to unjustified evaluations of others based on predetermined gender, ethnic or economic biases and bars the entry of stereotyped individuals into certain fields or social groups. It also fosters an unwillingness to consider others in an objective manner that would be more appropriately based on individual rather than group characteristics. Stereotyping justifies ignorance in many situations because it precludes the need to look closely at an individual’s unique personal traits.

Stereotypes stand in the way of people processing unexpected or newly-developing characteristics in social, ethnic or economic groups. Members of a stereotyped group may experience difficulty or confusion in understanding the true cause of others’ negative reactions to them. This can inhibit personal growth and lessen self-motivation when negative feedback leads to an affected individual mistakenly attributing the poor evaluation to personal shortcomings rather than stemming from their evaluator’s preconceived expectations.