Knowledge prototypes are like the framework of a house, there is enough detail to identify a certain object or event but there is also room to integrate new information or knowledge (Bargh, Chen & Burrows, 1996). For example a mental prototype of a priest is someone who is male, wears a habit or vestment and works in the church. When we are confronted with say an image of a priest that is different from our prototype, then we accommodate that information into the prototype to enable us to identify a different kind of priest.
Thus, when we see a pastor, we say that he is like a priest but is allowed to marry and serves Protestants or Baptists. Confronted with a female pastor, we again add another component to our prototype to accommodate the knowledge that for Christian groups, females can be pastors or head the church. However, when the mind is not exposed to other forms or kinds of a particular object or event, the prototype’s strength increases and therefore we only think and know that birds have wings and they can fly since all the birds we have encountered have these characteristics.
Stereotypes results from a reinforced prototype and sometimes we think of others stereotypically and we tend to generalize a particular trait or characteristic to all other individuals or objects as sharing that characteristic. Stereotypes arise from unchallenged prototypes and we often tend to automatically rely on our stereotype of an individual or object to give judgment or opinions (Blair & Banaji, 1996). I had a black American friend in college, she was pretty, smart and wiser than most of us back then.
She was dark skinned and she came from New York, we always sat mesmerized by her tales of the city and how alive it was during the night. Since we lived in the same floor, she and I got to be best friends as the semester went by. I have never seen any pictures of her family and she said that she was an only child, and she did not like having pictures of her parents around her because she would only miss them more. When I looked at her, I just saw a black American girl, she had the same skin, the same wavy hair and curly at the roots, she was tall and had a certain bounce to her walk.
I she talked about her parents love story and I was enthralled by the romance and adventure that her parents had because she said theirs was a love against all odds. I just thought then that it was because her mother came from a rich family and her father had a small second hand bookshop. As the term was about to end, she told me that her parents were picking her up and would I want to meet them, to which I readily agreed to. So on our end of term Saturday night, I was introduced to her parents and I got the surprise of my young age, her mother was white!
It then all came rushing to me to realize that my friend was actually lighter than most other black Americans, and that her hair was only wavy, not really curly like others and she had brown eyes. This situation demonstrated misidentification, since I thought of my friend as a black American; I presumed that her parents were black and that they shared the same physical attributes. My mental prototype of black American children was that they had black American parents, and my prototype of genetics said that children inherent the characteristics of the parents.
Thus I was thinking that since my friend was black, then her parents are also black (Fiske & Taylor, 1991). There are some instances when it is easy to build prototypes, this include rich information objects or events, we know that an orange’s color is orange since it is named after the color, or we might think of the color orange and visualize the color of the fruit. There are also difficult situations wherein creating a prototype is a challenge.
For example we are confronted with the image of a French bread, we now that it is long, crusty and hard to chew, thus if we are given a French bread that does not have this characteristics, then we say that what is served is not French bread but a croissant or a biscuit depending on its other characteristics. Prototypes are useful when we use it to accommodate new information, it can also be used or when we are asked to act in a situation that is strange and unpredictable and we retrieve from our prototypes to help us figure the new information (Macrae, Milne & Bodenhausen, 1994).
Like all other thought processes, prototypes is inexact, errors will be brought by the inability to match new information and the prototypes. Errors can be avoided when we adapt an open mind, and when we try to explore and learn more about an object or event and not jump into conclusions. References Blair, I. & Banaji, M. (1996). Automatic and controlled processes in stereotype priming. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70, 1142-1163.
Bargh, J. , Chen, M. & Burrows, L. (1996). Automaticity of social behavior: Direct effects of trait construct and stereotype activation on action. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71, 230-244. Fiske, S. & Taylor, S. (1991). Social Cognition. New York: McGraw-Hill. Macrae, C. , Milne, A. & Bodenhausen, G. (1994). Stereotypes as energy-saving devices: A peek inside the cognitive toolbox. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 66, 37-47.