Explain the formation of stereotypes and their effect on behaviour.


  • Introduce the idea of stereotypes 
    • Our social world is very complex and thus presents us with too much information.
    • Since our capacity to process information is limited, our social world needs to be simplified. 
    • One way to avoid this information overload is through social categorisation.
    • The information is used in social categorisation is stereotypes. 

  • Define Stereotypes 
    • A "stereotype" is a mental representation and a form of social categorization made about specific individuals or a group and its members.
    • Once a set of characteristics is used to describe a group of people, those characteristics are often attributed to all members of the group, thus affecting the behaviour of the people or individual who hold the stereotype, and those who are labelled by a stereotype. 
    • Gender, race, political stance, and personality contribute to the stereotypes we place on others, but they are generally based on race and gender. 

  • Give example, in terms of (+) & (-) stereotypes 
    • This generalization may either be positive or negative, based on certain group membership or physical attributes, however most stereotypes of today are negative, exaggerating the quality and cognitively-associating such trait to all individuals that are part of the group leading to discrimination and prejudice, thus increasing self-esteem about themselves and their in-group. 
      • For example, white people can"t dance; black people are stupid and uncivilized; Jewish people are greedy; women are organized, etc.
    • However, some positive stereotypes may exist such as,
      • Asians are intelligent; Christians are good people; women are bad drivers; old people have grey hair, etc.

  • Stereotypes are similar to schemas
    • Stereotypes are now also argued to be a schema process that conditions those who hold the stereotype and also those labelled after the stereotype, as they are organized internal representations of individuals and or groups, therefore guiding how people act towards them.


Theories of stereotype formation --> leading to affected behaviour

  • Introduce theories of stereotype formation 
    • There are several theories on the development of stereotypes, including social categorization grain of truth hypothesis, and illusory correlation. 

  • Old Theory – Social Categorization & Social Identity Theory 
    • Earlier on, Tajfel (1971) argued that stereotypes developed through a natural process of social categorization, which is when people categorize groups of people based on common traits or characteristics.
    • However, this does not explain how it actually happens. 

  • Introduce stereotype threat, as a result of categorization 
    • Through categorization and by being part of thoughts resistant to change, stereotypes have a tremendous potential to affect a certain group"s behaviour negatively, which can be explained by stereotype threat.
    • Stereotype threat occurs when one is in a situation where there is a threat of being judged or treated stereotypically, or a fear of doing something that would inadvertently confirm that stereotype. 
    • Steele (1997) claims that the stereotypes" of prejudice is the cause of spotlight anxiety, an emotional stress that inhibits a stereotype-targeted individual"s performance. 

Supporting Researcher 1: Steele (1997) 

  • Method: 
    • Addressed students who were affected by "emotional distress" and pressure that may undermine their school performance 

  • Findings: 
    • Those that were under the stereotype threat often under-performed, which can therefore naturally "limit their educational prospects."
  • Conclusion: 
    • This shows how behaviour can be affected by stereotypes in that it manipulates how people think and therefore act. 

  • Connection of study to question: 
  • Stereotype threat can affect the members of any social or cultural group, if the members believe in the stereotype.
  • Therefore believing in such stereotypes can harm the performance of these groups, cause them to underperform and fulfil the stereotype. 

Supporting Study 1: Aronson and Steele (1995)(Other study you could use for stereotype threat) 
  • Aim: 
    • To investigate the effect of stereotype threat on performance in a test.

  • Method: 
    • Gave a 30 minute verbal test to African American and European-American participants. 
    • Tested two groups of the participants and told one group that it was an articulation test whilst the other group was told it was a laboratory task. 

  • Findings: 
    • African Americans scored lower than the European Americans when they were told it was an articulation test but when told it was a laboratory test the African Americans scored higher than the European Americans. 

  • Conclusion: 
    • Shows that stereotype threat can affect an individual"s performance in a task. 

  • Connection of study to question: 
    • (same as above) – Steele (1997)
    • This can explain why some racial and social groups believe they are more or less intelligent than others. 

  • Grain of truth hypothesis
    • Supporting Researcher 2: Campbell (1967) 
      • Campbell (1967) states that there are two keys to stereotypes and are formed through, 
        • personal experiences with the groups and people we stereotype 
        • gate keepers (parents, media, other members of our culture) 
      • This is what forms his grain of truth hypothesis, in which he argued that experiences are generalized and passed on to groups, as a result of an experience shared with an individual of the group or stereotype that are categorized to.
      • However, this theory has been criticized, since errors in attribution are common.
  • Illusory Correlation (Social Cognitive Theory) 
    • Hamilton and Gifford (1976) argued instead that stereotypes formed through a type of cognitive bias, “a person"s tendency to make errors in judgement based on cognitive factors,” which is known as illusory correlation. 

  • Cognitive bias may be relevant to stereotypes 
    • After illusory correlations are formed, people actively seek to confirm and support their beliefs by looking for evidence in a "biased" way, which is known as confirmation bias.
    • Illusory correlation comes in many forms such as culturally based prejudice about social groups. Cognitive bias may cause us to reinforce previously developed stereotypes 
    • Therefore making this bias, “stereotypical thinking resistant to change.” 

  • Introduce key study 
    • A study done by Hamilton and Gifford (1976), argued that stereotypes are a result of an illusory correlation, because “people see a relationship between two variables even when there is none,” e.g. "blonds" or "women," etc.
    • That is, for example, that people can form “false associations between membership of a social group and specific behaviours.” 

Key Study 1: Hamilton & Gifford (1976) 

  • To investigate illusory correlation of group size and negative behaviour.
  • Researchers asked participants to read descriptions about two made-up groups (Group A) and (Group B).
  • Descriptions were based on a number of positive and negative behaviours. 
    • Group A (majority group) – twice as many members than B; performed 18 positive and 8 negative behaviours. 
    • Group B (minority) – performed 9 positive and 4 negative behaviours. 
  • Asked to attribute behaviours to group. 
  • Although there was no correlation between group membership and the types of behaviours exhibited by the groups, in that the proportion of negative and positive was the same for both groups, the participants did seem to have an illusory correlation.
  • More of the undesirable behaviours were attributed to the minority Group B, than the majority of Group A. 
  • The findings are based on the idea that distinctive information draws attention.
  • Group B members and negative behaviours are both numerically fewer and therefore more distinct than Group A members and negative behaviour, therefore, stands out more than the combination of Group A members performing such behaviours causing illusory correlation. 
This study shows that... 
  • Evidence for illusory correlation, as the p"s had formed an illusionary correlation between the size of the group 

Other Shorter Supporting Study 3: Synder and Swann (1978) – study of confirmation bias 

  • Method 
    • In a research study by Snyder and Swann (1978), female participants were told that they would meet a person who was either introverted or extroverted.
    • They were asked to prepare a set of questions for the person they were going to meet. 

  • Results: 
    • The study showed that the participants wrote questions that were consistent with whom they were expecting to meet. 

  • Conclusion: 
  • Researchers concluded that the questions asked confirmed participants" stereotypes of each personality type. 
Connection to question 
  • Evidence for illusory correlation.
  • This belief is biased, because we pay attention to behaviours that confirm what they believe about a group and ignore those behaviours contrary to their beliefs. 


  • These studies show the formation of stereotypes according to the social cognitive theory, social categorization, grain of truth hypothesis and illusory correlation. 
  • Shows how stereotypes simplify our social world and how as the studies demonstrate, stereotypes are widely held to evaluate generalise a group of people. 
  • Stereotypes may lead to discrimination and prejudice and affect the behaviour of those who create the stereotype and also those who are stereotyped. 
  • From this, it can be concluded that stereotypes most often negatively affect our behaviour; however more research has to be made in order to investigate how stereotypes are formed and how they affect behaviour.