Last Updated 21 May 2021

The Formation of Stereotypes and Their Effect on Behavior (Guideline)

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A stereotype is a widely held mental picture that represents an oversimplified, prejudiced, or uncritical judgment, which can be either a positive or negative generalization. The explanation of stereotypes lies in the behaviors of socio-cultural groups and/or individuals, where they determine a certain ‘image’ of particular group. Many studies have been carried out to explain the formations of stereotypes, which include: Social-Cognitive Theory, Group Theory, and Social Representation Theory . However, I will be using Social-Cognitive Theory and studies done by Steele & Aronson (1995) and Hamilton & Gifford to support my explanation of the formation of stereotypes and their effects on behaviors.

Paragraph Social-Cognitive

Theory suggests that, stereotype formation are based on the following reasoning:

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  • Our social world is very complex and presents us with an overabundance of information oSince our capacity to process information is limited there is a need to simplify our social world
  • oOne of the ways in which we avoid information overload is social categorization oThe categories used in social categorization are stereotypes.
  • One source of stereotype is illusory correlations, which was claimed by Hamilton and Gifford (1976).

Illusory correlation is when individuals assume a relationship between two variables, they tend to overestimate the degree of correlation – or see a correlation where none exists. For example, “women” and “the ability to drive well”. It is believed that when we see these two variables we will conclude that “women cannot drive well”. Once the illusory correlation is made, the individuals tend to seek, notice and remember the information that supports the belief, which brings us to our second source of stereotypes, confirmation bias.

Bias is the tendency to search for new information that confirms our ideas and overlook information that contradicts what we think. By using confirmation bias we gather more evidence to support our illusory correlation. For example, when we have the illusory correlation that “women cannot drive well” then we will tend to find more bad female drivers while ignoring good female drivers (e. g. female race drivers). After, stereotypes are formed has a major effect on the behavior of the subject of the stereotype, which is called the stereotype threat. Stereotype threat refers to the performance impairment that results when individuals asked to carry out some task and made aware of a negative stereotype held against them regarding their groups’ ability to perform well in a task. Stereotype threat is cued by the mere recognition that a negative group stereotype could apply to you in the given situation.

And even if the person may not believe the stereotype, he or she may experience a threat. Steele, who is the person who first came up with the idea of stereotype, created an experiment with Aronson to demonstrate that stereotype threat can undermine intellectual performance. Steele & Aronson (1995) used common stereotype that Black Americans are unintelligent and academically untalented to create the experiment and gave a test under two conditions. The test was said to be highly related to academic ability and that it was just a laboratory exercise. The findings were astonishing. When the task was described as ‘unimportant or when participants were not asked to record their ‘race’, the black and white students did equally well. However, when the test was said to be for ‘academic ability’ or when ‘race’ was recorded, clack students did less well.

Using his findings, Steele (1997) was able to conclude that spotlight anxiety is responsible for stereotype threats because the emotional distress and pressure can undermine performance. Although many of the psychologists have confidence in their theories I can evaluate that investigating stereotypes is difficult because of the social desirability effect. Moreover, researchers are instead using implicit measures of prejudice such as the IAT (Implicit Association Test) which has its own array of problems.


In conclusion stereotypes are formed by social categorization, which leads to the social-cognitive theory, whereas their effects of behaviors are affected by believing certain traits (illusionary correlation) and confirmation bias demonstrates that we can percept the traits to influence our behavior.

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The Formation of Stereotypes and Their Effect on Behavior (Guideline). (2018, Jan 15). Retrieved from

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