Buzzfeed lists are often what I’d class as “just for fun” reading, but every now and then, one includes interesting new information or a thought-provoking perspective on important social issues. One I just stumbled across is titled “19 Times Tumblr Got Serious About the Struggles of Women in Our Society.” One of the entries included an insight that not only provides useful instruction for changing negative gut reactions to other people, but also speaks to a social psychological truth:
The mom’s insight, that the automatic reaction to seeing a person who is different from yourself is conditioned by society, is absolutely true.
Research in social psychology suggests that the majority of people are aware of the stereotypes in their home culture about different groups, and that these stereotypes are automatically activated when they see people from those groups. These instantaneous flickers of stereotype awareness are what tests like the Implicit Association Test, or IAT, can pick up.
But obviously not everyone believes stereotypes or treats other people as if stereotypes about their group applied to them. The reason why is that we have the ability to immediately override the automatic activation of those societally determined stereotypes in our brains. People have lots of reasons for learning to override those stereotypes, ranging from the purely practical (how could society work if people from different groups couldn’t get along?) to the inspirational (devotion to fairness and equality).
All of which gets back to the point that the poster’s mom made: Your first instinct is just what society’s always told you flaring up. Your second instinct, the one that determines your behavior, is the one that speaks to who you are.