Research: Stereotypes and Books

Well well friends, it’s been a while! But I am back to finally give you the conclusion to my research series (I know you have been eagerly awaiting it, after all). However, while there is much research about the benefits of counterstereotypes in literature, there is relatively little research about the impact of stereotypical representations of characters. Therefore, we must look to research in other areas of fictional media to gain an understanding of how stereotypes may impact people in fictional books. 

One study by Burgess et al. (2011) looked at the impact of including stereotypes in video games. First, they conducted an analysis of video game magazine content, concluding that minority characters are underrepresented, depicted as being more aggressive, and are two times as likely to be shown as athletic. A second study similarly found that minority characters are portrayed stereotypically, such as the “black thug” or “asian martial artist”. Minorities were more likely to be shown participating in illicit, instead of socially sanctioned, violence, black characters were overrepresented in mature content games, and only “model” Asian minority characters were offered leadership roles. 

In a final study, participants watched video games being played and were then asked to categorize violent or nonviolent stimuli. Participants were faster at identifying weapons after watching a video game with black characters than white characters. They did not, however, display overtly racist attitudes. This suggests that there is an unconscious process to be considered, and provides evidence against the assertion that game content and race does not have an impact on players. 

Another study by Reny and Manzano (2016) analyzed the effects of viewing stereotypes of Latinos and immigrants in a variety of media sources. Preliminary surveys revealed that participants had a large number of both positive and negative stereotypes about Latinos, including that they are family oriented, hardworking, religious, criminals, gardeners, and maids. The first two groups of participants either experienced a placebo or no stimulus, and the remaining two groups experienced a positive or negative TV/movie clip, a positive or negative TV news story, a positive or negative radio clip, or a positive or negative print article. Participants who were given the positive primes were more likely to believe in positive stereotypes about Latinos than those who were given the negative primes, and those who were given negative primes were more likely to endorse negative stereotypes. No matter the format, it would appear that mass media has the potential to influence beliefs in not just negative stereotypes, but positive stereotypes as well.

While these are just two examples, there are several similar investigations that provide evidence for the fact that stereotypes in a variety of fictional media can increase people’s biases and beliefs in stereotypes. While more research is needed specifically regarding fictional books, this highlights the important consideration that it does not only matter that we read diverse books, but read books with accurate diverse representation as well. Below I will provide links to these articles, as well as some others that you may be interested in reading to learn more about the research I conducted regarding stereotypes.

I truly hope you guys have enjoyed this series! Please let me know down below what you thought of it, or if you have any final questions. As always, happy reading!

Playing With Prejudice: The Prevalence and Consequences of Racial Stereotypes in Video Games
The Negative Effects of Mass Media Stereotypes of Latinos and Immigrants
Further reading:
Arabs as Terrorists: Effects of Stereotypes Within Violent Contexts on Attitudes, Perceptions, and Affect
Do Mass Mediated Stereotypes Harm Members of Negatively Stereotyped Groups? A Meta-Analytical Review on Media-Generated Stereotype Threat and Stereotype Lift
The Impact of Factual Versus Fictional Media Portrayals on Cultural Stereotypes

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