1 Introduction to the Study of
Stereotyping and Prejudice 04/20/2014
By forming groups, humans have found that it is possible to construct their environment in a way to make
their daily lives easier (division of labour).
Forming groups is not unique to humans.
Some researchers theorize that the tendency to form groups is such a basic part of the nature of animals,
including humans that it has conveyed survival benefits so successfully such that it had withstood time and
Group members tend to favour their own groups (ingroups) over other groups to which they do not belong
(outgroups), even when group membership is based on the most arbitrary criteria (minimal groups, or the
simplest category of groups), people tend to show preferences for members of their own group over those
of other groups.
Own group preferences may have adaptive utility from evolutionary and practical perspectives, but, they still
form the basis for negative feelings about other groups (prejudice) and for believing that certain
characteristics are associated with other groups (forming stereotypes), often because the outgroup
members are perceived to be harmful to the ingroup’s welfare or value.
Virtually all of history’s wars, battles, and other acts of group violence have been driven by some form of
prejudice, stereotyping, and other discrimination.
This stereotype was adopted by social scientists when journalist Walter Lippmann used the word to
describe the tendency of people to think of someone or something in similar terms – that is, as having
similar attributes – based on a common feature shared by each.
In other words, stereotypes tell us what social information is important to perceive and to disregard in our
This process tends to confirm preexisting stereotypes by paying attention to stereotype consistent
information and disregarding information that is inconstant with our stereotypes.
Stereotyping: From Bad to Neutral
First, researchers regarded stereotyping as a very negative, lazy way of perceiving social groups.
Later on, researchers began to believe that stereotyping was a normal psychological process.
The SocialCognitive Definition In the early 1970s, with the birth of social cognition, researchers came to regard stereotyping as a rather
automatic process of categorization that many cognitive and social psychologists believe is inherent in the
very nature of the way humans think about the world.
By definition, a generalization of a group is going to be negative for some portion of the group members, so
a stereotype can be unjustified or not.
Hamilton and Trolier’s definition sounds more like that of a schema: a hierarchy organized, cognitive
structure that represent knowledge about a concept or type of stimulus, and its attributes and the relations
between those attributes.
Hamilton and Trolier said a stereotype is a cognitive structure that contains the perceiver’s knowledge,
beliefs and expectations about a human group.
Another popular definition of stereotypes, by Ashmore and Del Boca, defines stereotypes as “a set of
beliefs about the personal attributes of a group of people.”
Ashmore and Del Boca’s definition is more consistent with the essence of many past definitions of
stereotype because it restricts the meaning of stereotype to a generalization about a group of people.
Cultural and Individual Stereotypes
A useful but infrequently used distinction must be made when discussing the definition of stereotype.
It is important to differentiate between cultural and individual stereotypes.
A cultural stereotype describes “shared or communitywide patterns of beliefs”, whereas an individual
stereotype describes the beliefs held by an individual about the characteristics of a group.
Assessing a person’s knowledge about the stereotype of the group in their culture yields no information on
where the individual believes the stereotype or whether there are other ideas about the group to drive one’s
attitude toward the group.
Is a Stereotype an Attitude?
Some researchers believe that a stereotype is similar to an attitude, where an attitude is a general
evaluation of some object.
Researchers have traditionally viewed attitudes as comprising three components: a behavioural
component, an affective component, and a cognitive component, thus, some theorists define stereotypes
as intergroup attitudes, partitioned into these three components.
However, the majority of researchers in this area agree that stereotypes represent only the cognitive portion
of any intergroup attitude.
The other two components of an intergroup attitude, affect and behaviour, correspond to prejudice and
Discrimination is defined as any negative behaviour directed toward an individual based on their
membership in a group. Positive versus Negative Stereotypes
Most people see prejudice as a strong negative feeling about someone based on a generalization one has
about that person’s group, corresponding most clearly with the traditional view of an intergroup attitude as
composed of cognitive, affect, and behaviour.
In such a model, prejudice is the affective component of the intergroup attitude.
Most researchers however, soon abandoned the prejudice as emotion definition, in favour of more complex
definitions of prejudice.
Positive stereotypes are stereotypes that attribute a positive characteristics to the members of a group.
Gardner suggests that the word prejudice can be taken literally to indicate a prejudgement about
Even more specifically, prejudice can suggest an evaluation, either positive or negative towards a stimulus.
Prejudice as Negative Affect
Allport defined prejudice as an antipathy based upon a false or inflexible generalization, and may be felt,
expressed, or directed towards a group or individual as a whole, because they are a member of that group.
Prejudice as an Attitude
During the 1960s, and especially with the rise of social cognition in the early 1970s, researchers started
regarding prejudice as an evaluation of a stimulus.
Prejudice is essentially like an attitude, therefore prejudice is seen by most researchers to have cognitive,
affective and behavioural components.
One problem with the earlier definitions of prejudice is with the focus on the negative affect toward the
outgroup, this unnecessarily limits the definitions of prejudice, because prejudice can also refer to positive
prejudice in favour of one’s ingroup (ingroup favouritism).
Prejudice can be based on affective (e.g. anger), cognitive (e.g., beliefs linking hostility to the outgroup), or
behavioural (e.g., avoidant or hostile) sources and can result in cognitive, behavioural, and affective
expressions of prejudice.
Affect seems to be a common, influential basis upon which most prejudice is based.
Stronger, more obvious forms of prejudice are more likely to be based on an absence of positive feelings
about the outgroup.
A recent, interesting approach by Eagly and Diekman suggest that prejudice should be regarded as an
“attitudeincontext.” According to this model, prejudice is not inflexible; rather, it depends on the match (or lack thereof) between
the social role into which the stereotyped individual is trying to fit and the beliefs of the perceiver about the
attributes that are required for success in that role.
It the role is highly valued, the prototypical member in the role will tend to be viewed only slightly more
positively than a roleincongruent individual in that position.
Eagly and Diekman argue that prejudice is most likely to be displayed toward a disadvantaged group when
that group tries to move into roles for which they are believed by the majority group to be unqualified.
Criticism of this approach centers around a couple of core problems.
First, some theorists assert that an attitude (or evaluation) is not the same as affect.
If prejudice is an affectbased reaction to a stimulus group, then it cannot be the case that an evaluation of
the group is the same thing as prejudice.
Second, Devine, asserts that the notion that prejudice has an affective, cognitive, and behavioural
component is problematic because research shows that the three component are not always consistent.
People’s expressed attitudes did not match their behaviour towards the group.
Prejudice as a “Social Emotion”
Smith draws on appraisal theories of emotion and selfcategorization theory to suggest a new
conceptualization of prejudice.
Selfcategorization theory states that people view themselves as a member of a social category or group,
according to this theory, intergroup interactions will cause significant particular group categorizations,
depending on the nature of the group interaction.
According to Smith and Ellsworth, an appraisal is a set of cognitions that are attached to a specific emotion.
Emotion, in appraisal theory, is triggered by a assessment of the adaptive significance and selfrelevance of
the people and events in one’s environment.
Smith suggests that appraisals invariably involve the self, because they have relevance to one’s goals in
some fashion. There are two key differences in Smith’s conceptualization of prejudice that make it a unique
and very useful model of prejudice.
First he says that it is too vague to say that prejudice is a positive or negative feeling about another group.
Second, the traditional conception of prejudice suggests that if we are prejudiced against another group,
then we should react with the same negative affect to all members of the group every time we encounter
them, but, this does not fit with reality, because many prejudiced people can dislike the group as a whole,
and most of its members, but have genuinely positive attitudes and affect toward a specific member of that
group. Some have suggested that this reaction can