Chapter 2 – Origin and Maintenance of Stereotypes and Prejudice
If we can better understand how stereotypes and prejudice originate and are maintained, we will be in a
much better position to discover effective ways to reduce or even to try to eliminate the often harmful
effects of stereotypes and prejudice.
THE FORMATION OF STEREOTYPES
As discussed in chapter 1, stereotyping was once regarded as assign of the moral deficiency of the
stereotype, or even as an indicator of repressed unconscious hostility but now cognitive psychologists
found that the human brain seems to almost automatically classify or categorize similar objects in the
environment. This tendency is pervasive and has been shown in children as young as 6 months old.
Why we categorize
The reason why we categorize is that humans have a limited capacity cognitive system that cannot
simultaneously process all the available information in our social environment. Based on Aristotle’s
principle of association, we assume that things that are similar on the basis of one feature or because
they occur together will likely have other notable similarities on a number of dimensions.
Types of categorization
The major ways we first categorize someone is their race, gender, and age and is because these are the
most immediate and obvious features of an individual, and because these categories yield much
information about useful distinctions in social behaviour between those in different groups – these
categories are called basic or primitive. Basic categories are the central points around which stereotypes
develop. However, some research suggested that stereotypes are not activated for all stimuli and
specifically some research indicated that upon perceiving category words we automatically think of
associated stereotypes but when seeing a member we do not. This makes sense if we consider that
category labels do not require the perceiver to categorize the object but perceiving a face requires the
individual to make a categorization which could fall on any of a number of different salient dimensions
such as gender, sex etc. Macrae suggest that the way the person categorizes a picture of an individual
depends on the perceiver’s motives, cognitions, and affect.
Ingroups and outgroups
How you partition people into your ingroup depends on your current, salient motives, fears, goals, and
expectations (if I was at work my ingroup might be professors but if I was in a line for a concert, the
most salient ingroup may be my fellow fans). This has implications for how I would cognitively process
information about a given individual in a particular environment. Taylor and her collegues found that
when participants were exposed to a discussion group of African Americans and Caucasians, participants
were generally accurate at recalling the race of the person who made a particular comment but were
less accurate at specifying the particular individual who made the state and thus, it appears that people tended to perceive and remember the information in terms of race categories, and no in terms of the
Individuals of an outgorup are perceived to share similar characteristics, motives, and other features but
we like to think that our ingroup comprise unique individuals who happen to share only one or two
common features. Blair et al found that those who had the same criminal histories received the same
sentences but however within each race, those with more “African” features received significantly
harsher sentences. The tendency to think in these terms are referred to as outgroup homogeneity and
ingroup bias (favouritism). This help us satisfy two main goals: we greatly simplify our social
environment and we enhance our self concept by thinking that we do not belong to a homogeneous,
cookie-cutter type of group in which all members are similar but rather attribute great individuality and
other positive attributes to our ingroup members.
In favouring our ingroups, we also tend to put down (attribute negative characteristics) to outgroups.
This thinking however is not supported and research indicated that favouring our ingroups does not
necessarily mean that we almost must dislike outgroups.
In one study, when primed with a word to one’s ingroup, reaction times to positive descriptors
were faster and slower for negative descriptors. When presented with outgroup priming words, their
reaction times to negative person descriptors was not facilitated and therefore thinking about
outgroups does not necessarily lead one to be prone to readily process and accept negative information
about that outgroup. It should be notes that it is the case that the more an outgroup is seen as
homogeneous, the greater the likelihood for perceivers to use group or stereotype labels to process
information about the outgroup and it is this thinking that can infact lead to outgroup derogation and
When the ougroup member does something bad, one’s stereotypes of the outgroup will be reinforced.
Henderson-King found out that after watching the Black couple argue, participants (white)
interacted with the black confederate for a shorter period of time. Even HEARING about an African
American committing a crime can lead white to reinforce their stereotypes of African Americans.
The dimension on which people are viewed as ingroup or outgroup members does not need to be a
meaningful one in order for ingroup and outgroup biases to occur. Groups that have no meaningful basis
for their membership, known as minimal groups, would exhibit the same ingroup favouritism found in
more meaningful groups. Ingroup favouritism and outgroup negativity tend to be initiated and
perpetuated by our motivation to see our groups as special and better than other groups. Two
experiments by Sherman et al. suggest that we rather implicitly (without our conscious awareness)
remember positive information about our ingroups and negative information about ougroups and this
tendency is so pervasive that it becomes automatic.
Boldry and Kashy’s research indicate that outgroup homogeneity tends to be strong but that ingroup
favouritism is not as universal as we thought and their data suggest that group status moderates the tendency to engage in ingroup favouritism such that low status groups tend to show outgroup
favouritism and high status groups showed ingroup favouritism.
By age 5, children show distinct recognition of and preferences for some groups over others and allport
suggestsed that there is a definite link between the prejudiced attitudes of the parents and the
development of such attitudes in their children and supported the idea that more authratative parent’s
children were more likely to develop prejudiced attitudes.
Childhood intergroup contact
Research by Wood et al suggests that childhood interracial contact is a good predictor of adult
endorsement of outgroup stereotypes and prejudiced attitudes and found that people who had more
interracial contact showed the least amount of stereotyping and were less prejudiced. Limitations
include no data on age of first interracial contact, questions that make up the index do not specify the
nature of contact and questions only assess the potential for contact and not necessarily actual contact.
Value transmission in Families
Research suggests that racial attitudes gradually develop in the first years of life and learn prejudiced
attitudes and stereotypes about others. Because children cannot really comprehend the meaning or
impact of these stereotypes and thus cannot internalize these attitudes and thus at the early ages of life,
children are essentially parroting the outgroup sentiments of their parents (caught).
Research found that there is support for the notion that parents and their adult children are very similar
in intergroup attitudes. The biggest factor seemed to be whether the parents exhibited Right-Wing
Authoritarianism. Attitudes of adult children how had low-RWA were very similar to those of their
parents. Those who viewed their high-RWA (demanding) parents as responsive were much more similar
to their parents in terms of attitude compared to those who viewed their high-RWA parents as
Influence of stereotypes on cognition in children
Research found that majority-group children held more positive attitudes towards their ingroup and
more negative ones toward outgroups but minority-group members held more positive views of the
majority group than of even their own ingroup. Children from stigmatized groups are aware of
stereotypes about their own groups from a very young age and show stereotype threat.
Stereotypes and prejudice in the Media
We use the media as a tool to help us decide the pervasiveness and acceptability of our beliefs and
attitudes. Several studies suggest that the media is often less than objective in reporting the incidence
of crimes committed by African Americans relative to other racial groups. 64% of victims of violent
crimes identified their attacker as Caucasian and over half of violent crimes are committed by them. Implicit Theories
Implicit theories are our own ideas of what personality characteristics seem to ‘go together’ and we also
have our own ideas about the nature of personality and these beliefs and heuristics guide one’s
processing of social information. Entity theorists believe that one’s personality traits are fixed and
cannot be changed while incremental theorists believe that one’s personality traits are flexible and can
be changed. Research found that entity theorists compared to incremental theorists, tend to use
stereotypes more often in their judgements of outgroups, form more extreme judgements about the
outgroup, and attribute stereotyped characteristics to inborn qualities within the outgroup individual.
The efficiency of Stereotypes
One could argue that making accurate assessments is incredibly important but humans have a strong
need to have a predictable, somewhat ordered world and taking the time to accurately assess
everything will take too much time and cognitive energy. For most of the population, we hope that
stereotypes will at least give us the feeling that we know alot about the target person and isntaed of
assuming that our instant impressions of others were fact, we would do well to consider recasting our
stereotyped impressions as ‘hunches to be verified’.
Macrae et al. found that those who were provided with the stereotype label were able to recall
twice as many personality descriptors for the target and to recall more of the paragraph information
than those given no stereotype label. They suggest that the stereotype labels enabled participants to
devote less attention to forming an impression of the target and more attention to remembering
stereotype-associated personality descriptors and the paragraph information in the prose-monitoring
task and this suggest that stereotypes do in fact function as energy saving tools.
When there is alot of information about a target, we are more likely to use stereotypes in our
assessment and when our cognitive task is simple, we are much less likely to rely on stereotypes.
Sherman et al indicates that people use stereotypes to guide their memory retrieval about an
individual. They found that when an individual’s cognitive capacity was constrained (cognitive load) by
the simultaneous cognitive tasks, they were not able to accurately recall the episodic memories (target
behaviours), and they relied on stereotypes about the target to help them decide which target
behaviours were associated with that target. Thus, when our recall for individuating behavioural
information about a person is compromised by a limited cognitive capacity, we tend to rely on
HOW AND WHY STEREOTYPES ARE MAINTAINED
People are therefore confronted with cognitive dissonance aroused by the thought that one has
stereotypes of others that guide one’s social judgements and the thought that one is a good, fair, and
rational thinker. It is almost always the cognition of stereotyping that is most amenable to change. We
often either do not realize,