MEL Notes: Stereotype Use- Assimilation and Contrast Effects

Posted by on Mar 9, 2016 in MEL Notes Blog | 0 comments

 Nicholas Robert is a first year masters student in the Manship School of Mass Communication. His research interest is in stereotyping and mass media.

The Study

Ever since Walter Lippmann used the term “stereotype” in his famous work, Public Opinion, researchers in various fields have conducted research to determine how stereotypes are formed and reinforced along with how they affect everyday life.  Over the last several decades, researchers in the communication field have sought to figure out the role media message play in the formation and reinforcement of  stereotypes. Typically, research has focused on stereotypes of social groups and genders in terms of negative attributes such as “lazy,” “violent,” “immoral,” etc. On the opposite end of the spectrum, studies looking at positive stereotypes of social groups are not as common.

Dalisay and Tan’s Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly article explores Asian American stereotypes through the assimilation and contrast perspectives.  Assimilation means that individuals form stereotypes congruent to media messages .The contrast view states that information countering the positive stereotype will lead to the individual forming a negative stereotype.

Unlike Africans Americans and Latinos, Asian Americans have been given the “model minority” stereotype. Dalisay and Tan’s article, “Assimilation and Contrast Effects in the Priming of Asian American and African American Stereotypes Through TV Exposure” looks at how exposure to both positive and negative stereotypes of Asian Americans influences how individual evaluate that group as well as African Americans. In addition, Dalisay and Tan wanted to see the how positive and negative stereotypes of Asian Americans affected how individuals judge affirmative action.

Research Design

Participants in the study were randomly assigned to one of three video conditions. The first group of participants watched a video that reinforced the model minority stereotype. The second group watched a video that contrasted the model minority stereotype by portraying Asian Americans in a negative light. The third group watched a control video that was absent of positive or negative Asian American stereotypes.

Study Results

Results showed that exposure to the model stereotype led to viewers positively stereotyping Asian Americans. Participants who viewed the video contrasting the model minority stereotype negatively stereotyped Asian Americans. Participants who viewed the video contrasting the model minority stereotype were more likely to positively stereotype African Americans. Affirmative action was supported the most by participants exposed to the control

Future Research

Dalisay and Tan’s findings provide a foundation for researchers interested in stereotypes. Their study revolved around looking at a “model minority” group, Asian Americans, and African Americans, a group that often faces negative stereotypes.

A suggestion for a future study would be to swap out Asian Americans for Latinos, who are a group that face negative stereotypes that are similar to the ones African Americans . Like Dalisay and Tan’s research, the assimilation and contrast perspectives can be studied to see how positive and negative stereotypes of another marginalized group (Latinos) can influence stereotypes of African American. In future studies, framing should be examined as a way to determine the attributes that media messages feature prominently.

The experiment conducted by Dalisay and Tan included results solely from Caucasians.  While that makes sense due to the fact that’s the largest group in the country, future studies should include participants from various groups. Stereotypes can be held from by individuals both inside and outside a social group; which calls for the need to examine all perspectives.

Real World Meaning

Stereotypes are a common part of life. Since the majority of individuals will not have direct experiences with individuals or situations they encounter in the media, media messages are a shortcut to acquire information. Individuals in minority groups face even bigger challenges because most mainstream media is produced by Caucasians with Caucasians being the intended audience.

On the surface, the model minority stereotype seems great for Asian Americans due to the positive attributes associated with it. However, it begs the question of “what is the effect of Asian Americans who do not live up to the stereotype?” There is no stereotype that applies to all individuals of a social group, so it is very likely that the stereotype produces negative consequences for Asian Americans who do not live up to the stereotype. On the opposite end of the spectrum, African Americans can be in danger of having negative attributes for not living up to model minority stereotypes. That standard is unfair to the group due to the unique challenges the group has faced. When that standard is not reached, the cycle of negative stereotypes continues.