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uni'wissen 01-2015

Work, work, build a house: The Swabians are thrifty and hardworking. Homeless people, on the other hand, are lazy bums. The Italians, cheerful by nature, enjoy la dolce vita at bunga bunga parties. Africans have rhythm in their blood but aren’t very good at fidelity. And women, those emotional, high-strung creatures, fail miserably as managers. Welcome to the deep quagmire of rash judgments and unquestioned beliefs. A depressing place, to be sure. Not for nothing did Marcus Aurelius give the wise advice: “Free yourself from your prejudices and you will be saved.” What the Roman emperor fails to mention in his aphorism, however, is that nobody can avoid prejudices. “They are a big part of our socialization,” says Karl Christoph Klauer, professor of social psychology at the University of Freiburg. “We take in prejudices from our parents, teachers, or friends from an early age, whether we like it or not.” Thus, whether it is a matter of believing that foreigners are criminals, men are better at driving cars, or vegans are overprivileged health fanatics, prejudices are deeply ingrained in our collective memory. “But that doesn’t mean that we are entirely at their mercy and can do nothing to change our knowledge and behavior.” Thinking in Stereotypes Prevents Information Overload The psychologist and his team have been studying prejudices for many years, such as those concerning age, gender, or ethnicity – the three most important and frequent social categorizations of human perception. What Klauer is interested in, however, is not the content of particular preju- dices but the patterns behind them. We all reveal a glut of information about ourselves every mo- ment of our lives – how old we are, what country we are from, how high our social status is likely to be, whether we might be an interesting person to talk to. “But what determines what enters our consciousness when we see a person? What factors govern the categories in which we think?” Although prejudices – or rather the people who act in accordance with them – might evoke the image of burly rednecks, researchers know how valuable preconceived thought patterns are for routine information processing. They are uni wissen 01 2015 by Rimma Gerenstein The psychologist Karl Christoph Klauer wants to identify the patterns behind prejudices 25 uni wissen 012015