In and Out: Groups & Stereotypes

groupDeveloping the ideas from the last post about the use of stereotypes in advertising (and marketing) further, the effect of using stereotypes in advertising is an interesting (and also controversial) topic. In the last post, I mainly referred to the effect of using stereotypes – but what happens to consumers when they see the stereotypes? What effects (apart from rapid information transmission) does the use of stereotypes have?

Linking two theories from social psychology, and proving their applicability to advertising, Qualls & Moore (1990) examined what happens to people evaluating advertising portraying people who are similar and who are different than they are – going beyond the simple ideas of Identification Theory (discussed here earlier).

Qualls & Moore combined In-Group Bias Theory (Brewer, 1979), which, in a somewhat similar idea to Identification Theory, proposes that people perceived as “in-group” are perceived more favourably than people perceived as “out-group”; i.e. people of any particular ethnic (or other) background are likely to respond more favourably to images of people depicting other people with a similar background. Further, Polarised Appraisal Theory (Linville, 1982) shows that people who are perceived as “in-group” are evaluated more moderately (because of a greater number of possible comparators resulting in a more complex cognitive schema for evaluation), while people who are perceived as “out-group” are likely to be evaluated in more extreme ways. I.e. this theory states that if someone, for example an actor in an advertisement, is perceived as “out-group”, the person is likely to be perceived much more extremely (both positively or negatively!) than if the person is perceived as “in-group”.

To test their applicability to marketing communications, Qualls & Moore compared responses of black and white people to black and white actors in advertisements respectively. They found that in-group members will evaluate other in-group members more favourably than they will out-group members, i.e. black respondents favoured black actors in advertisements – and vice versa.
However, they found no support for polarised appraisal, i.e. advertisements featuring “out-group” actors were not evaluated more extremely than “in-group” actors. The latter finding was  a surprise, as Linville previously showed the relevance of Polarised Appraisal Theory to both racial and age related stereotypes.
Qualls & Moore did find that their respondents had (as predicted) more complex cognitive schemata for “in-group” actors – but those did not result in extreme evaluations when it came to advertising. Thus, it may be that not all “real world” stereotypes may be directly transferable: i.e. it could be that people are likely to make more extreme evaluations in a “real life scenario” – but would not do so in a scenario that is not “real”. Another important issue when considering the implications is that stereotypes may have changed: the research into these is very dated (over twenty years old!). It would be interesting to see how the cognitive schemas have changed. I’d think that in a world with much more interaction between different groups, it is likely that most people have more complex cognitive schemas about “others” than in the 1990s?!

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