Social Psychology

Student Learning Program

Chapter 5: Using stereotypes: From preconceptions to prejudice (pp. 160–175)

Ask Yourself?

In this topic

  1. Activation of Stereotypes (pp. 161–163)
    1. What activates stereotypes?
    2. Stereotypes can be activated automatically
    3. Feelings about groups can be activated automatically
  2. Measuring Stereotypes and Prejudice (pp. 163–166)
  3. Impact of Stereotypes on Judgements and Actions (pp. 166–169)
    1. Less capacity, more stereotyping
    2. More emotion, more stereotyping
    3. More power, more stereotyping
  4. Trying to Overcome Stereotype Effects (pp. 169–171)
    1. Suppressing stereotypic thoughts
    2. Correcting stereotypic judgments
    3. Activating counterstereotypic information
  5. Beyond Simple Activation: Effects of Stereotypes on Considered Judgments (pp. 171–175)
    1. Seeking evidence to confirm the stereotype: Just tell me where to look
    2. Interpreting evidence to fit the stereotype: Well, if you look at it that way
    3. Comparing information to stereotypic standards: That looks good, for a group member
    4. Constraining evidence to fit the stereotype: The self-fulfilling prophecy
    5. Self-fulfilling prophecies in school and at work
Activation of Stereotypes
What activates stereotypes?

Stereotypes can be activated by obvious and salient cues, use of group labels, and the presence of a group member.

Studies showed that a single member of a group can increase the likelihood of stereotypical thinking (SP pp. 161–162).

Stereotypes can be activated automatically

When a category is used more often, it becomes more accessible. And the more accessible it is, the more it is used.

When stereotypes are used so often, their activation becomes automatic. Stereotypic information is brought to mind by cues, either consciously or unconsciously noticed, that relate to group membership.

Wittenbrink, Judd, and Park (2001) demonstrated that stereotypes can be activated automatically (SP p. 162).

Feelings about groups can be activated automatically

Whether feelings about a group and specific trait information can also be activated automatically can be measured using physiological measurement (for instance EMG), priming techniques, or the IAT (see SP p. 163).

Measuring Stereotypes and Prejudice

People's stereotypes and prejudice can be measured explicitly by asking about them. However these measures can be distorted by social desirability biases.

Stereotypes and prejudice can also be measured implicitly, based on difficult to control aspects of people's performance, like the speed and accuracy of their response. However those implicit measures are distorted by situational or social factors.

Currently, researchers often use both measures because they predict different sorts of consequences. This way the fullest possible picture is produced of people's impressions and reactions to other groups.

Impact of Stereotypes on Judgements and Actions

Activated stereotypes can serve as a bias for making judgments or guiding action toward a group.

This was demonstrated by Payne's (2001) research, showing that guns are identified faster when primed with a Black face than when primed with a White face. Also, Correll et al.'s (2002) study demonstrated that people “pulled the trigger” more quickly if the person was Black (SP p. 167).

Less capacity, more stereotyping

When people are under time pressure, when the information is too complex to process adequately, and almost everything that diminishes an individual's cognitive capacity, increases the effect of stereotypes on judgments. This is supported by research on stereotyping (SP pp. 167–168).

More emotion, more stereotyping

Strong emotions increase stereotyping by disrupting careful processing and short-circuiting attention.

Fear, anxiety, and sadness influence our perceptions of individual group members (SP pp. 168–169).

More power, more stereotyping

Power leads to stereotyping because (a) the powerful have less need than the powerless to perceive others accurately, and (b) many stereotypes support the social position of the powerful and the broader system that gives groups differential access to power.

Trying to Overcome Stereotype Effects

Effects of stereotypes may be overcome by suppressing stereotypic thoughts, by correcting for their impact on judgments, or by exposing oneself to counterstereotypic information. These tactics require motivation and cognitive capacity.

Suppressing stereotypic thoughts

Suppression of stereotypic thoughts was demonstrated by Macrae et al., 1994 and Macrae et al., 1998) (SP p. 170). However suppressed thoughts can rebound, and sometimes suppression is not possible.

Correcting stereotypic judgments

Virtually everyone may be affected by stereotypes. When acknowledging stereotypic thoughts and making a conscious effort to correct these judgments, one can also overcome stereotypes.

Overcorrection, which is making overly positive judgments of stereotyped groups, may also take place, as Harber (1998) has shown in his study.

Trying to avoid appearing prejudiced can have negative effects, such as withholding honest feedback. In addition, it takes time and mental resources to correct judgments.

Activating counterstereotypic information

Stereotypes can be weakened by forming counterstereotypical mental images (Blair et al., 2001), and by “just saying no” (Kawakami et al., 2000) (SP p. 171).

Case study: Trying to overcome stereotype effects

Beyond Simple Activation: Effects of Stereotypes on Considered Judgments

We generally believe stereotypes are accurate because information that we learn seems to be consistent with our expectations, and because people agree with each other on these stereotypes.

When a judgment is important and we devote attention to it, we can go beyond stereotypes and collect individuating information

Seeking evidence to confirm the stereotype: Just tell me where to look

People spend more time reading and thinking about stereotypic information than about stereotype-inconsistent information, are more likely to ask for further stereotype-consistent information, and remember mostly information that is consistent with the stereotype. This in contrast to perceiving individuals (see SP chapter 3).

Thus bias influences people's observations and memories to fit stereotypes, which grow even stronger.

Interpreting evidence to fit the stereotype: Well, if you look at it that way

The interpretation of ambiguous information is influenced by the activation of a stereotype. This was supported by Sagar and Schofield's (1980) study showing that the same behavior was interpreted differently depending on the group the actor belonged to (SP p. 173).

Comparing information to stereotypic standards: That looks good, for a group member

Stereotypes can also affect our judgments by shifting our standards for these judgments. These standards are affected by group stereotypes.

This is demonstrated by Biernat and Manis' (1994) study on judgments of essay topics.

Constraining evidence to fit the stereotype: The self-fulfilling prophecy

Stereotype-consistent behavior can be elicited by acting in ways that produce behaviors that confirm our expectations, which is termed the self-fulfilling prophecy (see SP chapter 3).

People seek less information from a target in an interview, and ask fewer questions, when the target person is a member of a stereotyped group.

Self-fulfilling prophecies in school and at work

Teachers' expectations of students' behavior may be based on social categorization, and influence student achievement. Research demonstrated that classroom teachers generally give more attention and encouragement to boys than to girls, and have lower expectations of Black children than they do of White children. This can have devastating consequences.

Employers' expectations can influence the outcome of applications for job openings and restrict the opportunities of employees already on the job.

Word et al. (1974) demonstrated that participants conducted briefer interviews and sat further away when interviewing Black applicants, who reacted in a less confident and effective manner.

So what does this mean?

Stereotypes can be activated by salient cues, use of group labels, and the presence of a group member. Stereotypes and prejudice can be measured explicitly and implicitly; however both measures have their distortions. Activated stereotypes can serve as a bias for making judgments or guiding action toward a group. People form stereotypes more when they have less capacity, strong emotions, or more power.

Effects of stereotypes may be overcome by suppressing stereotypic thoughts, by correcting for their impact on judgments, or by exposure to counterstereotypic information. People tend to seek evidence to confirm the stereotype, interpret evidence to fit the stereotype, compare information to stereotypic standards, and constrain evidence to fit the stereotype.

Next topic

Changing stereotypes: Overcoming bias to reduce prejudice

In this chapter

  1. Chapter 5 introduction
  2. Forming impressions of groups: Establishing stereotypes
  3. Using stereotypes: From preconceptions to prejudice
  4. Changing stereotypes: Overcoming bias to reduce prejudice
  5. Chapter overview (PDF)
  6. Fill-in-the-blanks
  7. Multiple-choice questions