Stereotypes may lead ineffective communication when we communicate with strangers. Our stereotypes tend to be activated automatically when we categorize strangers and when we are not communicating mindfully (see von Hippel, Sekaquaptewa, & Vargas, 1995). We, therefore, unconsciously try to confirm our expectations when we communicate with strangers. Our stereotypes constrain strangers’ patterns of communication and engender stereotype-confirming communication. In other words, stereotypes create self-fulfilling prophecies. We tend to see behavior that confirms our expectations even when it is absent.
We ignore disconfirming evidence when communicating on automatic pilot. When we communicate on automatic pilot, we do not cognitively process all the information about others that is available to us (Johnston & Macrae, 1994). Generally, the greater our cultural and linguistic knowledge, and the more our beliefs overlap with those of the strangers with whom we communicate, the less the likelihood there will be misunderstandings. To increase our accuracy in making prediction, we must try to understand which social identity is guiding strangers’ behavior in a particular situation.
And to be effective in communication with strangers, we must keep our minds open and be mindful. Since stereotypes are a natural product of the communication process, they influence the way we process information. Stereotyping is the result of our tendency to overestimate the degree of association between group membership and psychological attributes. While there may be some association between group membership and psychological characteristics of members, it is much smaller than we assume when we communicate on automatic pilot.
When we communicate on automatic pilot, we interpret incoming messages on the basis of the symbolic systems we learned as children. Besides, our processing of information is biased in the direction of maintaining the preexisting belief systems. We remember more favorable information about our ingroups and more unfavorable information about outgroups (Hewstone & Giles, 1986). So we tend to process information that is consistent with our stereotypes and our stereotypes