Social categorization and stereotypes play a pervasive and fundamental role in social perception, judgment, and interaction. Although stereotypes are functional by allowing us to make sense of our complex social environment, their use can promote prejudice and discrimination when individuals are treated based on generic stereotypic expectancies, rather than on available individuating information. Prejudice and discrimination emerge from generalized (negative) stereotypic associations that people hold about social categories. These stereotypes become socially shared within (sub)cultures through communications about categorized people and their behavior. Research on biased language use reveals the communicative and linguistic processes through which stereotypes are formed and maintained. When communicating about other people and their behavior, our language echoes the existing stereotypic expectancies we have with categorized individuals (often without our conscious awareness). A linguistic bias is defined as a systematic asymmetry in word choice that reflects the social-category cognitions that are applied to the described group or individual(s). Three types of biases are distinguished in the literature that reveal, and thereby maintain, social-category cognitions and stereotypes. First, when labeling individuals, the types of category labels that we choose reflect existing social category cognitions. Second, once target individuals are labeled as members of a category, people tend to communicate predominantly stereotype-congruent information (rather than incongruent information). Third, research has revealed several biases in how we formulate information about categorized individuals. These formulation differences (e.g., in language abstraction, explanations, use of negations, irony) subtly reveal whether a target’s behavior was stereotypically expected or not. Behavioral information that is in line with social-category knowledge (i.e., stereotype-consistent) is formulated differently compared to incongruent information (i.e., stereotype-inconsistent). In addition, when communicating with individuals we have categorized in a given social category, our language may subtly reveal the stereotypic expectancies we have about our conversation partners. It is important to be aware of these stereotype maintaining biases as they play an important role in consensualizing both benevolent and harmful stereotypes about social categories.
Camiel J. Beukeboom and Christian Burgers
Charles W. Choi
An intergroup perspective in the legal context highlights the influence of group membership on the interaction between authorities and citizens. Social identity influences communication both in the field (e.g., police–civilian) and in the courtroom (e.g., juror deliberation). The research in the law enforcement context addresses trust in police officers, the communication accommodation between police and civilians, sociodemographic stereotypes impacting police–civilian encounters, the role of police media portrayals, and its influence on intergroup exchanges between police and civilians. Juries are inextricably influenced by group membership cues (e.g., race and gender), and differentiate those in the ingroup over the outgroup. The impact of stereotypes and intergroup bias is evident in the literature on jury decisions and the severity of punitive sentencing. These and other factors make the intergroup nature of the legal context significant, and they determine the interconnection between the parties involved. Specifically, the social identity approach brings focus to the biases, attributions, and overall evaluations of the perceived outgroup. The research indicates that diversity is necessary to alleviate the intergroup mindset, thereby encouraging a more interindividual viewpoint of those outgroup members.
Silvia Moscatelli and Monica Rubini
In everyday life, we are faced with disparate examples of intergroup bias, ranging from a mild tendency to ingroup favoritism to harsh episodes of discrimination, aggression, and even conflicts between groups. Where do they stem from? The origins of intergroup bias can be traced back to two main motivations, that is, attachment to one’s own group (“ingroup love”) and negative feelings toward outgroups (“outgroup hate”). Although lay people, but also some researchers, see the two motivations as intertwined, growing evidence from different fields (e.g., social psychology, evolutionary psychology, and neuroscience) has indicated that intergroup bias is more often driven by needs of ingroup protection and affiliation, which do not imply outgroup hostility or competitive attitudes. Outgroup hate is instead likely to arise in intergroup contexts characterized by a high degree of enmity. It is important that members of the groups involved, but also external observers, recognize ingroup love as the primary motor of intergroup conflict: the attribution of hate to the outgroup’s behavior renders negotiation and conflict resolution harder while at the same time justifying severe aggression or even annihilation of the opposing outgroup. In the domain of intergroup communication, an intriguing way through which group members express their ingroup love and outgroup hate is represented by variations of linguistic abstraction and valence in depicting behaviors performed by ingroup or outgroup members. This unintended use of language reveals that group members are more prone to express ingroup love also at a linguistic level. However, specific changes in intergroup relations along variables such as group size, group status, or relative deprivation can give rise to linguistic patterns of outgroup hate.
Mei-Chen Lin and Paul Haridakis
Individuals’ political membership of and identification with their political parties or ideologies influence how they interact with members of their own group/party (ingroup) and other groups/parties (outgroups). Such sense of “group-ness” (i.e., us-them) motivates people to find ways to posit their group in a positive light (i.e., ingroup favoritism) and engage in attitudes and behaviors that help maintain a desired political group status. These attitudes and behaviors can include a positively biased attitude toward one’s own political group over the other groups, a tendency to seek information that confirms the viewpoints and reflects positive aspects of one’s own political group, or a perception that the media exhibit bias toward their political group. Hence, we can consider political activities, attitudes, and communication (including media use) as inherently intergroup behaviors where members of political groups constantly appraise political discourse and political landscape through an intergroup lens. These intergroup phenomena are particularly salient during election seasons where political group boundaries are erected and political discourses around core ideological beliefs are debated. Accordingly, it is important to understand better links between intergroup factors (e.g., intergroup attitudes and behaviors), and political media use. This requires: (a) examining how intergroup factors have been considered in political communication research; (b) assessing political media use and effects in a political context, specifically media effects that could potentially be driven by political group identity and political intergroup attitudes; (c) discussing studies that have highlighted intergroup variables in the process of media selection and effects and how we may conceptualize political media research in an intergroup framework; and (d) considering additional intergroup factors that might be relevant and informative to our understanding of political activities and attitudes and media selection and effects in political settings.
Gang violence and its impact on society is a well-documented phenomenon. Until recently, gang research has been mostly conducted by criminologists and sociologists. Some scholars consider gangs to be special or different from other delinquent or peer groups, warranting special attention and approach to the research. Although this approach has led to substantial advancements in knowledge about gangs, scholars’ attention to emergent ideas from fields of study beyond gang research can contribute to a multifaceted understanding of gangs and group processes of gangs. Specifically, intergroup communication theories and research are well suited to analyze and predict communicative implications of gang membership on gang activities and potential gang members. Intergroup communication theories posit that it is not individuals’ characteristics that shape their communication with others but their salient social memberships, such as being a part of a gang or a certain socioeconomic group; in turn, the communication provides information about why/how they identify with different groups in society. While gangs have been rarely discussed in communication contexts—with an exception of the work by Conquergood who engaged in this topic over two decades ago—some key intergroup communication issues are alluded to in a number of existing definitions of gangs. For example, Pyrooz defines a gang as “a group that hangs out together, wears gang colors or clothes, has set clear boundaries of its territory or turf, and protects its members and turf against other rival gangs through fighting or threats” (2014, p. 355). In another example, Klein and Maxson define street gangs as “any durable, street-oriented groups whose involvement in illegal activity is part of its group identity” (2006, p. 4). These definitions indicate that gang membership is communicated by distinct markers—such as gang colors, clothing, or illegal activities—which help organize the gang’s system and making their identity distinctive from outgroups (other gangs and their surroundings). Also, gangs have clear boundaries for determining in/outgroup, and the shared group identity among ingroup members—rather than their individual identity—drives their communicative behaviors. Importantly, gangs are motivated to engage in risky behaviors to enhance their reputation and communicate dominance by fighting against other gangs or law enforcement (intergang conflicts). Examining these gang activities and processes as intergroup communication phenomena, as opposed to analyzing them in terms of individual and intragroup aspects, can complement gang research grounded in other disciplines and enhance understanding of why/how youths might decide to join gangs, obtain, and maintain gang membership.
Michela Menegatti and Monica Rubini
Language is one of the most powerful means through which sexism and gender discrimination are perpetrated and reproduced. The content of gender stereotypes, according to which women should display communal/warmth traits and men should display agentic/competence traits, is reflected in the lexical choices of everyday communication. As a consequence, language subtly reproduces the societal asymmetries of status and power in favor of men, which are attached to the corresponding social roles. Moreover, the hidden yet consensual norm according to which the prototypical human being is male is embedded in the structure of many languages. Grammatical and syntactical rules are built in a way that feminine terms usually derive from the corresponding masculine form. Similarly, masculine nouns and pronouns are often used with a generic function to refer to both men and women. However, such linguistic forms have the negative effects of making women disappear in mental representations. Although the use of gender-fair linguistic expressions can effectively prevent these negative consequences and promote gender equality, there are even more implicit forms of gender bias in language that are difficult to suppress. By choosing terms at different levels of abstraction, people can affect the attributions of the receiver in a way that is consistent with their stereotypical beliefs. Linguistic abstraction, thus, is a very subtle resource used to represent women in a less favorable way and thus to enact gender discrimination without meaning to discriminate or even be aware that this linguistic behavior has discriminatory results. In order to reduce gender bias, it is necessary to change people’s linguistic habits by making them aware of the beneficial effects of gender-fair expressions.
Analisa Arroyo and Kristin Andersen
Weight-based stigma is pervasive and is propagated via sociocultural and interpersonal messages that influence individuals’ identity. The ideals communicated in these messages place disproportionate value on appearance and have made weight an important component of attractiveness. Some cultures, particularly Western culture, hold a bias toward thin bodies and promote a bias against those who do not fit cultural ideals of slender or lean body shapes. This bias, judgment, stigma, prejudice, and discrimination toward individuals based on their size, shape, or weight is known as weightism. Most of the research regarding weightism has been conducted on obesity and overweight individuals because of the related public health concerns. However, because weight is a continuum on which individuals are frequently evaluated, stigmatization is experienced by individuals who are either over or under cultural norms for appropriate weight and toward those who engage in deviant weight-control behaviors (e.g., purging). Thus, because individuals with eating disorders are often underweight and have deviant eating behaviors, they also experience weight-based stigma and discrimination. There are a multitude of negative effects associated with being a part of these stigmatized weight groups, including lower self-esteem, less social confidence, greater body dissatisfaction, poorer mental health, and increased substance use and self-harm behaviors. These negative outcomes create a social divide between the stigmatized weight groups and others, wherein stigmatized individuals turn to negative health behaviors (e.g., bingeing and purging) in an effort to cope with their negative social experiences. Subsequently, they perpetuate their affiliation with their stigmatized weight group and the related health conditions.