Theories of stereotyping

According to Tajfel (1970) we are naturally inclined towards Social Categorisation and Social Comparison. This tendency to think about people in terms of the groups they belong to and to make comparisons between our group and others would support the development of stereotypes.

This relates to the concept of ‘outgroup homogeneity’, researched by Qualtrone & Jones (1980). This theory proposes that we tend to perceive outgroup member as more similar to each other than they really are whilst recognising variation and individuality in ingroup members (whom we see as hetergenous). Taylor & Porter (1994) suggest that this tendency to see the outgroup as homogenous  is the product of social interaction patterns; we interact much more with people from our ingroups and thus get to know their individual differences and idiosyncrancies. However, we interact far less with outgroups which encourages us to develop a simplified social representation of them.

This still leaves us with the question of where the particular stereotypes come from – on what basis, for example, did the stereotype that ‘old ladies like cats’ come from?

The Formation of Stereotypes: how and why are stereotypes formed?

Our social world is very complex and has a great deal of information. To avoid information overload, we use stereotypes because they save energy and can easily be applied to people.

Why and how do stereotypes form, where do they come from?

Personal experience with group members and the groups themselves.

We make generalisations based on our experiences with people.

Gatekeepers like the media, family members, and authority figures.

Studies and Theories of Stereotype Formation:

‘Grain of truth’ hypothesis (Campbell, 1967)
Illusory Correlation (Hamilton & Gifford, 1976)
Confirmation Bias
Cohen (1981)

Some examples of research on stereotyping:

Hamilton & Gifford’s (1976) experiment tested the illusory correlation theory. This demonstrates illusory correlation, because there was no association between the traits and the group membershipIllusory correlations can lead to people remembering information that confirms the expected relationship. This is due to confirmation bias, or when one favours information that supports their preconceptions.

Cohen (1981) performed an experiment to determine whether stereotypes can affect the memories of people. Participants were shown a video, and half were told the woman in the video was a waitress; half were told she was a librarian. When participants recalled details about the video, they remembered details that seemed to be consistent with the commonly accepted stereotypes of the careers. Those who thought she was a librarian were more likely to remember she wore glasses. Those who thought she was a waitress were more likely to remember her drinking alcohol.

Therefore, stereotypes can affect the type of information we focus on and what we remember.

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