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A stereotype is a thought or idea that says that all members of a group have some unrelated trait in common. Common examples include "all black men dance well," "all Asians drive poorly," and "all homeschoolers are Christian wingnuts." It differs from "archetype" in that the latter is a model to follow rather than a (correct or otherwise) perception. It differs from genotype in that there's nothing you can really do about that one.

Stereotypes are most often encountered when dealing with discrimination, particularly racism, sexism, and homophobia. Stereotypes exist for a reason[1]. A persistent stereotype in the population leads to preconceptions which may be wrong, but are difficult to shake off even when it is clearly shown to be wrong.

Etymological roots[edit]

Originally from Greek: στερεός (stereos) "solid, firm" and τύπος (typos) "blow, impression, engraved mark", used to refer to an exact copy of a typeset page, made by double casting the entire page. The point of stereotyping was that it required no actual typesetting, thus greatly reducing the cost of book impressions after the first edition.

The idea that no original creativity was involved gave rise in a roundabout way to the modern definition, coined in 1798, as well as the related word "cliché."

Use of stereotypes[edit]

Stereotyping is often used in advertising. Sometimes this is done harmlessly; other times it elicits many complaints, resulting in a scandal of some sorts. This can be done intentionally to increase exposure, although it is risky. In the short time or space offered by an advert, the advertiser often needs to get a story or point across without wasting time on introducing concepts or characters. The ballsy mother-in-law or the inept bank manager can be shown and the viewing public can quickly and easily apply a personality to the character in the advert. This works equally in films where a director or writer may not want to waste too much time on explaining who is the "good guy" and who is the "bad guy" (i.e., "let's just get to the giant robots fighting, already!"), so they lapse into using and playing up to stereotypes; the corrupt corporate executive who puts profits over people, the military hardass with zero compassion or establishing the token smart guy by dropping either "CalTech" or "MIT" into the conversation early on. In some respects, this is a legitimate use of stereotypes, albeit unimaginative and liable to be blasted by critics and social scientists who see such exploitation as reinforcement of social norms.

Stereotypes of science[edit]

A less uncommon stereotype is seen with anti-intellectualism. At the core of anti-intellectual stereotyping is the idea of scientists being partially insane, white-coat wearing, liberal scum who make sweeping didactic statements of fact that can change at any moment. Conservapedia's article on Professor values is a prime example of this activity. Other stereotypes are that "science" spends its time working on ridiculous things, or proving the blatantly obvious. This is seen often when newspapers report a so-called "common sense" finding and commentators go on about how it was blatantly obvious and a shameful waste of tax-payers money.[2]

What it isn't[edit]

It should be remembered that it's not really a "stereotype" if the trait being stereotyped is actually part of the definition of that group. To say that "all Christians believe in Christ" would not be a stereotype; however, to say that "all Christians are God-bothering, preachy freaks" would be a stereotype as it has some basis in fact but doesn't describe all the Christians.

When a stereotype is based on fact, and the "all" changed to "most" or "tends to", it really becomes a trend/archetype rather than a stereotype, such as "most women tend to have longer hair" or "people from Africa usually have darker skin" or "bears have a tendency to excrete in the woods."

Examples of stereotypes[edit]

Note that even "positive" stereotypes can have ill effects.

Stereotype threat[edit]

Stereotype threat is a psychological phenomenon in which people suffer from anxiety due to the belief that they are confirming a stereotype about their particular social group, or that if they do not confirm this stereotype, they may be socially ostracised. This is known to have an effect on things such as performance on standardized testing.[5] For example, the stereotype is that African-American and black people are less intelligent than those of other races. Thus, they may have anxiety about confirming this stereotype when they take the test and, as a result, actually perform worse than they otherwise would have. This is similar to the self-fulfilling prophecy.

Implicit association[edit]

Stereotyping can be explicit (i.e., consciously adopted as a belief) or implicitWikipedia's W.svg (unconsciously learned by association or otherwise). Implicit stereotypes can be caused by past experiences, memories, or thoughts. Implicit stereotypes differ from explicit stereotypes in that explicit stereotypes are purposeful, and may be controlled by one's actions or thoughts


Implicit association tests have shown that words like lazy and incompetent are more associated with images of obese individuals than images of thin ones. [6] This association is stronger for thin subjects than overweight ones.

The Democratic Party is associated with feminine words including librarian, nurse, and skirt, while the Republican Party is associated with masculine words including janitor, trousers, and razors, regardless of subjects' political affiliation or gender.[7].

Implicit Association Test[edit]

The Implicit Association Test (IAT) is used to gauge stereotyping in subjects, for example, by asking them to associate male or female gender to certain words or objects.[8] Some media reporting seems to imply that you can discover how bigoted you are by taking the IAT.[9] However, the test cannot predict how you as an individual will act, it can only predict trends in the larger population, much like how not everyone with a high Body-Mass Index is actually obese. Use of the test in determining specific forms of discrimination has also been criticized -- critics note that the test more likely measures the similar but distinct phenomenon of in-group and out-group effects than specific stereotypes, per se.[10]


Implicit stereotypes can be changed, altered, diminished or strengthened by promoting a counter-stereotype, or being in the company of others who don't believe the stereotype (attending a women's college may reduces associations between leadership and males).

Effects of gender stereotypes[edit]

This graph shows gendered performance on a standardized task under 3 circumstances: 1. No prior priming. 2. Priming the test takers with information suggesting a negative male stereotype for performance. 3. Priming the test takers with information suggesting a negative female stereotype for performance.

Aside from the explicit harm stereotypes cause to dis-empowered groups through promoting direct prejudice, being exposed to (completely artificial) stereotypes can create social divisions where none existed before. This effect is called stereotype threat. In the example to the right, students were given a gender-neutral IQ tests, in three groups: a control group, a group first exposed to stereotypes that males perform worse at the test, and a group exposed to stereotypes that females perform worse at the test[11]. Exposure to stereotypes of any sort impaired female performance, whereas male performance was only hindered by negative male stereotypes. This highlights an effect where "balanced" stereotypes do not necessarily result in "balanced" effects on people. Most people of both genders incorrectly believe that exposure to stereotypes motivate women to perform better.[12]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. That reason being poor reasoning skills on the part of the people who believe them
  2. In fact, most stories like these are either from PR-reviewed material, or are misrepresentations of the research.
  3. Yes, even the ones who stay in Mexico.
  4. To be fair, this one has a massive basis in fact.Wikipedia's W.svg
  5. See the Wikipedia article on Stereotype threat.
  6. Agerström, J., & Rooth, D. (2011). The role of automatic obesity stereotypes in real hiring discrimination.Journal of Applied Psychology.
  7. Winter, N. G. (2010). Masculine Republicans and feminine Democrats: Gender and Americans’ explicit and implicit images of the political parties. Political Behavior, 32(4), 587-618.
  8. Project Implicit (includes research and experimental demonstrations)
  9. This headline in The Guardian for example: Are you prejudiced? Take the Implicit Association Test
  10. Does the Implicit Association Test (IAT) Really Measure Racial Prejudice? Probably Not, Scott Barry Kaufman, Psychology Today
  11. Pavlova MA, Weber S, Simoes E, Sokolov AN (2014) Gender Stereotype Susceptibility. PLoS ONE 9(12): e114802. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0114802
  12. Forecasting the experience of stereotype threat for others. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. Kathryn L. Boucher