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A stereotype is a commonly held public belief about specific social groups, or types of individuals. The concepts of "stereotype" and "prejudice" are often confused with many other different meanings. Stereotypes are standardized and simplified conceptions of groups, based on some prior assumptions.

Stereotypes are created based on some idea of abstract familiarity. For example, the same behavior or trait being repeatedly observed by multiple witnesses over an extended period of time. For a stereotype to develop and 'stick' in the popular imagination, a stereotype cannot be completely false, and must have an element of social recognition.

A stereotype can be deemed 'positive', or 'negative'. Concepts of stereotype are rarely invoked in instances of positive stereotypes being held about a group. The moniker 'stereotype' is more likely to be deployed in relation to stereotypes deemed to be negative.


The word stereotype is of Greek origin (στερεότυπος), literally meaning "solid-kind". It was invented by Firmin Didot in the world of printing; it was originally a duplicate impression of an original typographical element, used for printing instead of the original. American journalist Walter Lippmann coined the metaphor, calling a stereotype a "picture in our heads" saying "Whether right or wrong, ...imagination is shaped by the pictures seen... Consequently, they lead to stereotypes that are hard to shake." (Public Opinion, 1922, 95-156). In fact, cliché and stereotype were both originally printers' words, and in their literal printers' meanings were synonymous. Specifically, cliché was a French word for the printing surface for a stereotype.<<A href=",M1" target="_blank"> Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage.> Springfield, Illinois: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 1994. p. 250.

The term "stereotype" derives from Greek στερεός (stereos) "solid, firm" + τύπος (typos) "blow, impression, engraved mark" hence "solid impression".The term, in its modern psychology sense, was first used by Walter Lippmann in his 1922 work Public Opinion although in the printing sense it was first coined 1798.


Sociologists believe that mental categorizing (or labelling) is necessary and inescapable. One perspective on how to understand stereotyping process is through the categories or ingroups and outgroups. Ingroups are viewed as normal and superior, and are generally the group that one associates with or aspires to join. An outgroup is simply all the other groups. They are seen as lesser or inferior than the ingroups.

A second perspective is that of automatic and implicit or subconscious and conscious. Automatic or subconscious stereotyping is that which everyone does without noticing. Automatic stereotyping is quickly preceded by an implicit or conscious check which permits time for any needed corrections. Automatic stereotyping is affected by implicit stereotyping because frequent conscious thoughts will quickly develop into subconscious stereotypes.

A third method to categorizing stereotypes is general types and sub-types. Stereotypes consist of hierarchical systems consisting of broad and specific groups being the general types and sub-types respectively. A general type could be defined as a broad stereotype typically known among many people and usually widely accepted, whereas the sub-group would be one of the several groups making up the general group. These would be more specific, and opinions of these groups would vary according to differing perspectives.

Certain circumstances can affect the way an individual stereotypes. For instance: Studies have shown that women stereotype more negatively than men, and that women read into appearance more than men. Some theorists argue in favor of the conceptual connection and that one’s own subjective thought about someone is sufficient information to make assumptions about that individual. Other theorists argue that at minimum there must be a casual connection between mental states and behavior to make assumptions or stereotypes. Thus results and opinions may vary according to circumstance and theory. An example of a common, incorrect assumption is that of assuming certain internal characteristics based on external appearance. The explanation for one’s actions is his or her internal state (goals, feeling, personality, traits, motives, values, and impulses), not his or her appearance.

Sociologist Charles E. Hurst of the College of Wooster states that, “One reason for stereotypes is the lack of personal, concrete familiarity that individuals have with persons in other racial or ethnic groups. Lack of familiarity encourages the lumping together of unknown individuals.

Stereotypes focus upon and thereby exaggerate differences between groups. Competition between groups minimizes similarities and magnifies differences.This makes it seem as if groups are very different when in fact they may be more alike than different. For example, among African Americans, identity as an American citizen is more salient than racial background; that is, African Americans are more American than African.Yet within American culture, Black and White Americans are increasingly seen as completely different groups.


Different disciplines give different accounts of how stereotypes develop: Psychologists focus on how experience with groups, patterns of communication about the groups, and intergroup conflict. Sociologists focus on the relations among groups and position of different groups in a social structure. Psychoanalytically-oriented humanists have argued (e.g., Sander Gilman) that stereotypes, by definition, the representations are not accurate, but a projection of one to another.

Many scientific theories have derived from the sociological studies of stereotyping and prejudicial thinking. During the early studies it was believed or suggested that stereotypes were only used by rigid, repressed, and authoritarian people. Sociologists concluded that this was a result of conflict, poor parenting, and inadequate mental and emotional development. They now know differently. Scientist and theorists have concluded that stereotypes do not only exist, but are actually a never ending chain of thoughts.

One theory as to why people stereotype is that it is too difficult to take in all of the complexities of other people as individuals. Even though stereotyping is inexact, it is an efficient way to mentally organise large blocks of information. Categorization is an essential human capability because it enables us to simplify, predict, and organize our world. Once one has sorted and organized everyone into tidy categories, there is every incentive to avoid processing new or unexpected information about each individual. Assigning general group characteristics to members of that group saves time and satisfies the need to predict the social world in a general sense.

Another theory is that people stereotype because of the need to feel good about oneself. Stereotypes protect one from anxiety and enhance self-esteem. By designating one’s own group as the standard or normal group and assigning others to groups considered inferior or abnormal, it provides one with a sense of worth.

Some believe that childhood influences are some of the most complex and influential factors in developing stereotypes. Though they can be absorbed at any age, stereotypes are usually acquired in early childhood under the influence of parents, teachers, peers, and the media. Once a stereotype is learned, it often becomes self-perpetuating.

Effects, accuracy, terminology

Stereotypes can have a negative and positive impact on individuals. Joshua Aronson and Claude M. Steele have done research on the psychological effects of stereotyping, particularly its effect on African-Americans and women. They argue that psychological research has shown that competence is highly responsive to situation and interactions with others. They cite, for example, a study which found that bogus feedback to college students dramatically affected their IQ test performance, and another in which students were either praised as very smart, congratulated on their hard work, or told that they scored high. The group praised as smart performed significantly worse than the others. They believe that there is an 'innate ability bias'. These effects are not just limited to minority groups. Mathematically competent white males, mostly math and engineering students, were asked to take a difficult math test. One group was told that this was being done to determine why Asians were scoring better. This group performed significantly worse than the other group.

Possible prejudicial effects of stereotypes are:
  • Justification of ill-founded prejudices or ignorance
  • Unwillingness to rethink one's attitudes and behavior towards stereotyped group
  • Preventing some people of stereotyped groups from entering or succeeding in activities or fields

The effects of stereotyping can fluctuate, but for the most part they are negative, and not always apparent until long periods of time have passed. Over time, some victims of negative stereotypes display self-fulfilling prophecy behavior, in which they assume that the stereotype represents norms to emulate. Negative effects may include forming inaccurate opinions of people, scapegoating, erroneously judgmentalism, preventing emotional identification, distress, and impaired performance. Stereotyping painfully reminds those being judged of how society views them.

Role in art and culture

Stereotypes are common in various cultural media, where they take the form of dramatic stock characters. These characters are found in the works of playwright Bertolt Brecht, Dario Fo, and Jacques Lecoq, who characterize their actors as stereotypes for theatrical effect. In commedia dell'Arte this is similarly common. The instantly recognizable nature of stereotypes mean that they are effective in advertising and situation comedy. These stereotypes change, and in modern times only a few of the stereotyped characters shown in John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress would be recognizable.

In literature and art, stereotypes are clichéd or predictable characters or situations. Throughout history, storytellers have drawn from stereotypical characters and situations, in order to connect the audience with new tales immediately. Sometimes such stereotypes can be sophisticated, such as Shakespeare's Shylock in The Merchant of Venice. Arguably a stereotype that becomes complex and sophisticated ceases to be a stereotype per se by its unique characterization. Thus while Shylock remains politically unstable in being a stereotypical Jew, the subject of prejudicial derision in Shakespeare's era, his many other detailed features raise him above a simple stereotype and into a unique character, worthy of modern performance. Simply because one feature of a character can be categorized as being typical does not make the entire character a stereotype.

Despite their proximity in etymological roots, cliché and stereotype are not used synonymously in cultural spheres. For example a cliché is a high criticism in narratology where genre and categorization automatically associates a story within its recognizable group. Labeling a situation or character in a story as typical suggests it is fitting for its genre or category. Whereas declaring that a storyteller has relied on cliché is to pejoratively observe a simplicity and lack of originality in the tale. To criticize Ian Fleming for a stereotypically unlikely escape for James Bond would be understood by the reader or listener, but it would be more appropriately criticized as a cliché in that it is overused and reproduced. Narrative genre relies heavily on typical features to remain recognizable and generate meaning in the reader/viewer.

The teen sitcom, Saved By The Bell features a typical group of high school stereotypes such as a class clown (Zack Morris), a jock (A.C. Slater), a nerd (Samuel "Screech" Powers), a cheerleader (Kelly Kapowski), a feminist (Jessie Spano), and a superficial fashion plate (Lisa Turtle). Some observed the sitcom, like many teen sitcoms of that time, in addition to stereotyping people, stereotyping an institution itself, that of high school. TV stereotypes of high schools have often promoted a "typical American school" as football games, fashion styles, skirt chasing, and not much devotion to academics or studying.

In movies and TV the halo effect is often used. This is when, for example, attractive men and women are assumed to be happier, stronger, nicer people, explained by Greenwald and Banaji from Psychological Review.

Racial and ethnic stereotyping

Native Americans

Native Americans have been stereotyped by others in both a negative and positive sense. There has long been an admiration of Native Americans as fitting the archetype of the noble savage within European thought, stemming from a cultural sympathy grounded within the post-Enlightenment theory of primitivism. These positive portrayals of Native Americans as being noble, peaceful people, who lived in harmony with nature and each other continue within modern culture, e.g. the 1990 film Dances with Wolves.

Over time, as settlers spread west, Native Americans were seen as obstacles and their image became more negative. Native Americans were portrayed in popular media as wild, primitive, uncivilised, dangerous people who continuously attack white settlers, cowboys, and stagecoaches and ululate while holding one hand in front of their mouths. They speak invariably in a deep voice and use stop words like "How" and "Ugh".

In drawings their skin colour was depicted as deep red. In westerns and other media portrayals they are usually called "Indians". Examples of this stereotypical image of Native Americans can be found in many American westerns until the early 1960s, and in cartoons like Peter Pan. In other stereotypes, they smoked peace pipes, wore face paint, danced round totem poles (often with a hostage tied to them), sent smoke signals, lived in tepees, wore feathered head-dresses, scalped their foes, and said 'um' instead of 'the' or 'a'.

As colonisation continued in the US, groups were separated into categories like “Christians” and “heathens” and “civilised” and “savage”. Many Whites view Native Americans as devoid of self-control and unable to handle responsibility. Malcolm D. Holmes and Judith A. Antell hypothesise that such ideas about Native Americans form the ideology that is used today to justify the disparity between Whites and Native Americans.[10] Today, a 19th century stereotype of Native Americans lives on for many people. Modern Native Americans as they live today are rarely portrayed in popular culture.

Due to somewhat recent reparations made by the U.S. government to the tribes which allow unregulated construction of casinos, along with unmonitored revenue received from the gambling, it has become a modern stereotype that a Native American must either own a casino or be in the family of one who does.

Inuit stereotypes

Inuit or Eskimo people are usually dressed in parkas, carving out trinkets, living in igloos, going fishing with a harpoon, traveling by sleigh and huskies, eating cod-liver oil and the men are usually called Nanook in reference to the famous documentary Nanook of the North. Eskimo children may have a seal for a best friend. Eskimos are often believed to have an unusually large number of words for snow. This is however an urban legend.

Eskimos are sometimes shown rubbing each other noses together as some sort of greeting ritual (Eskimo kissing). They're also often depicted surrounded by polar bears, walruses and inaccurately, with penguins, which only live in the Southern hemispheremarker and not on the North Polemarker. Sometimes Eskimos themselves are depicted living on the South Pole, which is again wrong for the same reason.

Black stereotypes

Early stereotypes

[[File:Virginia Minstrels, 1843.jpg|thumb|150px|right|Earlyminstrel shows lampooned the supposed stupidity of black people. Detail from cover of The Celebrated Negro Melodies, as Sung by the Virginia Minstrels, 1843]]

In centuries before and during the first half of the 20th century black people were often depicted as dumb, evil, lazy, poor, animalistic, smelly, uncivilised, un-Christian people. The early British colonists brought these initial thoughts with them to the US. White colonists commonly believed that black people were inferior to white people. These thoughts helped to justify black slavery and the institution of many laws that continually condoned inhumane treatment and perpetuated to keep black people in a lower socioeconomic position.

Black people were usually depicted as slaves or servants, working in cane fields or carrying large piles of cotton. They were often portrayed as devout Christians going to church and singing gospel music. In many vaudeville shows, minstrel acts, cartoons, comics and animated cartoons of this period they were depicted as sad, lazy, dim-witted characters with big lips who sing bluesy songs and are good dancers, but get excited when confronted with dice games, chickens or watermelons (examples: all the characters portrayed by Stepin Fetchit and black characters in cartoons like "Sunday Go to Meetin' Time" and "All This and Rabbit Stew").

A more joyful black image, yet still very stereotypical, was provided by eternally happy black characters like Uncle Tom, Uncle Remus and Louis Armstrong's equally joyous stage persona. Another popular stereotype from this era was the black who is scared of ghosts (and usually turns white out of fear). Butlers were sometimes portrayed as black (for example the butler in many Shirley Temple movies). Housemaids were usually depicted as black, heavy-set middle-aged women who dress in large skirts (examples of this type are Mammy Two-Shoes, Aunt Jemima, Beulah and more recently the title character of Big Momma's House). Children are often pickaninnies like Little Black Sambo and Golliwog. Black jive was also often used in comedy, like for instance in the show Amos 'n Andy.

African black people were usually depicted as primitive, childlike, cannibalistic persons who live in tribes, carry spears, believe in witchcraft and worship their wizard. White colonists are depicted tricking them by selling junk in exchange for valuable things and/or scaring them with modern technology. A well-known example of this image is Tintin in Africa. When white people are caught by African tribes they are usually put in a large, black cauldron so they can be cooked and eaten. Sometimes black Africans are depicted as pygmies with childlike behavior so that they can be ridiculed as being similar to children.

Other stereotypical images are the male black African dressed in lip plates or with a bone sticking through his nasal septum. Stereotypical female black African depictions include the bare breasted woman with large breasts and notably fat buttocks (examples of this stereotype are the 19th century sideshow attraction Saartjie Baartmanmarker and Robert Crumb's comic strip character Angelfood McSpade) or the woman who wears multiple rings around her giraffe-like neck (note: this type of neck ornament is also common in Burmamarker with women from the Kayan tribe, but is generally associated with Africa (like in the Bugs Bunny cartoon "Which Is Witch").

Secretary of State John C. Calhoun arguing for the extension of slavery in 1844 said "Here (scientific confirmation) is proof of the necessity of slavery. The African is incapable of self-care and sinks into lunacy under the burden of freedom. It is a mercy to give him the guardianship and protection from mental death."

Even after slavery ended the intellectual capacity of Black people was still frequently questioned. Lewis Terman wrote in The Measurement of Intelligence in 1916:
"(Black and other ethnic minority children) are ineducable beyond the nearest rudiments of training.
No amount of school instruction will ever make them intelligent voters or capable citizens in the sense of the world…their dullness seems to be racial, or at least inherent in the family stock from which they come…Children of this group should be segregated in special classes and be given instruction which is concrete and practical.
They cannot master abstractions, but they can be made efficient workers…There is no possibility at present of convincing society that they should not be allowed to reproduce, although from a eugenic point of view they constitute a grave problem because of their unusual prolific breeding.)"

Modern black stereotypes

Since the 1960s the stereotypical image of black people has changed in some media. More positive depictions appeared where black people and African-Americans are portrayed as great athletes and superb singers and dancers. In many films and television series since the 1970s black people are depicted as good natured, kind, honest and intelligent persons. Often they are the best friend of the white protagonist (examples: Miami Vice, Lethal Weapon, Magnum Force).

Some critics believed this political correctness led to another stereotypical image where black people are often depicted too positively. Spike Lee popularized the term Magical negro, deriding the archetype of the "super-duper magical negro" in 2001 while discussing films with students at Washington State Universitymarker and at Yale Universitymarker.

One media survey in 1989 showed that blacks were more likely than whites to be described in demeaning intellectual terms. Political activist and one-time presidential candidate Rev. Jesse Jackson said in 1985 that the news media portray blacks as less intelligent than we are. Film director Spike Lee explains that these images have negative impacts. "In my neighborhood, we looked up to athletes, guys who got the ladies, and intelligent people," and the images widely portrayed black Americans as living in inner-city areas, very low-income and under-educated than whites.

Even so-called positive images of Black people can lead to stereotypes about intelligence. In Darwin's Athletes: how sport has damaged Black America and preserved the myth of race, John Hoberman writes that the prominence of African-American athletes encourages a de-emphasis on academic achievement in black communities.

In a 1997 study on racial stereotypes in sports, participants were shown a photograph of a white or a black basketball player. They then listened to a recorded radio broadcast of a basketball game. White photographs were rated as exhibiting significantly more intelligence in the way they played the game, even though the radio broadcast and target player represented by the photograph were the same throughout the trial. Several other authors have said that sports coverage that highlights 'natural black athleticism' has the effect of suggesting white superiority in other areas, such as intelligence.

Patricia J. Williams, writer for The Nation, said this of Jar Jar Binks, a character from the 1999 and 2002 Star Wars films The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, respectively: "...intentionally or not, Jar Jar's pratfalls and high jinks borrow heavily from the genre of minstrelsy. Despite the amphibian get-up, his manchild-like idiocy is imported directly from the days of Amos 'n' Andy." Many aspects of Jar Jar's character are believed to be highly reminiscent of the archetypes portrayed in blackface minstrelsy.)

Middle Eastern and Muslim stereotypes

Stereotypes of Muslims often involve themes associated with violence. Other stereotypes may revolve around negative treatment of women, gay people, and non-Muslims. Also related is the concept of Islamophobia, about the fear, hatred and dislike of Muslims.

White stereotypes

A classic, negative example is Homer Simpson, the obese, lazy and dim-witted middle American from the cartoon, The Simpsons. The show itself parodies many aspects of American life, culture and society.Turner, p. 78

Irish stereotypes

An analysis of nineteenth-century British attitudes by Mary J. Hickman and Bronwen Walter wrote that the 'Irish Catholic' was one viewed as an "other", or a different race in the construction of the English nationalist myth. Likewise, the Irish considered the English "other" and fought hard to break away and create their own homeland, which they finally did in the 1920s.

Benign in comparison to some of the more vulgar generalizations against other ethnicities but nonetheless incorrect are those accusing the Irish as quick-tempered brawlers and alcoholics. One 19th century British cartoonist even depicted Irish immigrants as simian and racially different from Anglo-Saxons. One American doctor in the 1850s, James Redfield, argued that "facial angle" was a sign of intelligence and character; likening the physiognomies of human ethnic groups to animals. Thus Irishmen resembled dogs, Yankees were like bears, Germans like lions, Negroes like elephants and Englishmen like bulls.In the 20th century physical stereotypes survived in the comic books until the 1950s, with Irish characters like Mutt and Jeff, and Jiggs and Maggie appearing daily in hundreds of newspapers.

Irish are also stereotypically viewed as stupid and the butt of many jokes. An example of this would be the "an Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman" joke, which usually ends in the Irishman doing something stupid.

Italian stereotypes

See also Anti-Italianism about stereotypes and prejudice towards Italian people.

Polish stereotypes

See also Anti-Polonism about stereotypes and prejudice towards Polish people.

Jewish stereotypes

Jewish people have been stereotyped throughout the centuries as scapegoats for a multitude of societal problems. Antisemitism continued throughout the centuries and reached a climax in the Third Reich during World War II. Jews are still stereotyped as greedy, nit-picky, stingy misers. They have been often shown counting money or collecting diamonds. Early films such as Cohen's Advertising Scheme (1904, silent) stereotyped Jews as "scheming merchants.".

In caricatures and cartoons they're often depicted having curly hair, large hook-noses, thick lips, and wearing kippahs. Common objects, phrases and traditions used to emphasize or ridicule Jewishness include bagels, playing violin, klezmer, circumcision, haggling and phrases like "Mazal Tov", "Shalom" and "Oy Vey".

Other Jewish stereotypes are the rabbi, the complaining and guilt-inflicting Jewish mother stereotype, the spoiled and materialistic Jewish-American Princess and the often meek Nice Jewish Boy.

East Asian and South Asian Stereotypes

See also Stereotypes of East Asians such as Chinese people and Stereotypes of South Asians such as East Indians.

Hispanic/Latino Stereotypes

See also Hispanophobia on fear, hatred and dislike of Latinos.

Sexually oriented stereotypes

Sexual orientation stereotypes

People with negative views of gay, lesbian, and transgender people often use stereotypes about them to justify their attacks. Sometimes, it has also fueled violence against LGBT people. According to ABC News, "Gay activists often criticize media coverage of gay pride parades, saying, correctly, that the media focus on the extreme, the more flamboyantly feminine men and very masculine women. But that's not us, they say. Most of us are just like everyone else."


Gay individuals are often stereotyped as being sexually promiscuous, alcoholics, as having substance abuse problems, using cliche vocabulary, and as being wealthy. They are also stereotyped as having feminine characteristics.


Often characterized as either butch "dykes", or Lipstick lesbians. Relationships are portrayed often as one acting male and one acting female.


Bisexual individuals are stereotyped as being sexually promiscuous and not wanting commitment. Male bisexuals are stereotyped as acting zealously homophobic but with secret homosexual tendencies which often surface when under the influence of alcohol of other controlled substance. Female bisexuals are depicted as nymphomaniacs with low standards regarding sexual partners or as being "attention starved".

Sexual Behaviour stereotypes

Gender stereotypes

Masculine Gender

Feminine Gender


Labels such as transgender serve both to challenge normative gender and at the same time are self stigmatizing. Individuals who do not fit the gendered binary are often stereotyped as being sexually promiscuous, sex workers, and as having drinking problems and drug addictions.


The first reference to "stereotype", in its modern, English use was in 1850, in the noun, meaning "image perpetuated without change".

Socioeconomic Stereotypes

Homeless Stereotypes
Homeless individuals are stereotyped as having behavior problems, substance abuse problems, being lazy, and being dirty and/or smelly.

Working class stereotypes
Members of the working class or blue collars are stereotyped as being poorly educated or being neglectful of their education either out of laziness or because they perceive the more educated members of society as "naive" and lacking "street smarts"(See Reverse snobbery). Working class males are stereotyped as placing more value on strength and athletic ability over intellect as intellectuals are perceived as being physically weak in the eyes of working class males. This is related to the "dumb jock" stereotype as jocks are often stereotyped as only being able to work blue-collar jobs later in life.

Spousal abuse and other violent crimes are also elements related to the stereotype as well as excessive alcohol consumption.

Specialised use in ethology

In ethology, stereotyped behavior or fixed action pattern is an innate, pre-programmed response that is repeated when an animal is exposed to an environmental innate releasing mechanism.

Criminal Profiling

Offender profiling is a criminal investigative tool which uses details relating to a criminal's Modus Operandi in order to develop a detailed set of psychological characteristics of the offender.

By group

See also



External links

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