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Stereotyped attitudes or stereotypes are simplified and/or standardized conceptions or images with specific meaning, often held in common by members of a group. A stereotype can be a conventional and oversimplified conception, opinion, or image. Stereotypes can range from those that are wildly inaccurate and negative to those that are more than a little bit true and may even shed positive light upon the group of individuals. They are typically generalizations based on minimal or limited knowledge about a group to which the person doing the stereotyping does not belong. Persons may be grouped based on race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or any number of other categories.

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” [1].

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, are never accurate representations, but a projection of an individual's fears onto others, regardless of the reality of others. Although stereotypes are rarely entirely accurate, statistical studies have shown that in some cases stereotypes do represent measurable facts.


According to the Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology [2], a stereotype is a way of representing and judging other people in fixed, unyielding terms. Stereotypes can revolve around a certain characteristic of the group of persons to which they are assigned. Generally, the persons of that group are reduced to being known and understood as the stereotype that results from this, rather than being viewed as individuals. Stereotypes refuse to recognize a distinction between an individual and the group to which he or she belongs. Stereotypes represent people entirely in terms of narrow assumptions about their biology, nationality, sexual orientation, disability, or any other number of categories.

Stereotypes can be based on:

  • Historical factors
  • Simplification
  • Exaggeration
  • Presentation of cultural attributes as being 'natural'
  • Racism, sexism, homophobia and other forms of discrimination
  • Association of persons with other groups
  • Physical Disorders

Possible prejudicial effects of stereotypes are:

  • Justification of ill-founded prejudices or ignorance
  • Unwillingness to rethink one's attitudes and behavior towards stereotyped group
  • Self-fulfilling prophecy for both stereotyping and stereotyped group (e.g. white people treat black people in a more hostile way because they are afraid of them; black people accordingly react more aggressively, thus confirming the stereotype)
  • Preventing some people of stereotyped groups from succeeding in activities or fields

Stereotypes are not only part of the culture and identity of those groups who are stereotyped, but they are also part of the culture of those who recognize and utilize them for interpreting certain groups. Michael Pickering, professor of sociology at Loughborough University said, “Those who generate and perpetuate stereotypes of others are usually in positions of greater power and status than those who are stereotyped. Stereotypes not only define and place others as inferior, but also implicitly affirm and legitimate those who stereotype in their own position and identity.” Also, different cultures don't necessarily recognize the same stereotypes.

Stereotype vs. prejudice[]

Often the terms "stereotype" and "prejudice" are confused. Stereotypes are "standardized" and "simplified" conceptions of groups, based on some prior knowledge. Stereotypes are created based on some idea of abstract familiarity. Prejudices are preconceived judgments formed "without grounds or sufficient knowledge." "Prejudices are claims made without knowledge or familiarity with a person."


For as long as there has been a human species, individuals have been different from one another. Throughout history, persons have gravitated to groups of other persons like themselves. People create and develop categories of qualities by which to classify the groups; some of the first attempts were based on ancestry. Many of these definitions and classifications have become the key factors in determining which groups have political, social, and economic power in the United States [3].

Stereotypes in the United States[]

The stratification and separation of groups, especially racial minorities, in the United States began in the nation’s earliest years of colonization. With the colonists’ first contact with the Native Americans, the stereotype of “the savage” was born. The idea of a “savage” was the framework the colonists used to judge and interpret the Native Americans [4]. As colonization continued in the US, groups were separated into categories like “Christians” and “heathens” and “civilized” and “savage” [5]. It took merely decades for these attitudes and ideas to firmly plant themselves with the minds of Americans; today’s stereotypes of Native Americans are rooted in the colonists’ initial thoughts. The media perpetuates these stereotypes by portraying Native Americans in a negative light, such as savage and hostile [6]. Many Whites view Native Americans as devoid of self control and unable to handle responsibility. Malcolm D. Holmes and Judith A. Antell hypothesize that such ideas about Native Americans form the ideology that is used today to justify the disparity between Whites and Native Americans [7].

The early Anglo-Saxon colonists had a very different relationship with the first African Americans in the United States than they did with the Native Americans. Their initial thoughts were shaped by popular “English views of Blacks as evil, animalistic, uncivilized, and un-Christian” [8]. White colonists commonly believed that the Blacks were inferior to Whites; these thoughts helped justify slavery and the institution of many laws that continually condoned inhumane treatment and perpetuated the keeping of Blacks in a lower socioeconomic position [9]. The first American settlers’ thoughts on African Americans were shaped by those of the English; and many of their same initial thoughts still permeate the thoughts and stereotypes of African Americans today. Like it does with the stereotypes of Native Americans, the media continues to perpetuate the stereotypes of African Americans. Not only are African Americans present less frequently in the media than Whites, they are often portrayed negatively. In the past African Americans have been depicted as subservient, lazy, violent, and maybe “slow;” it is clear that such negative stereotypes like these would grow out of the thoughts of slaveholders.

The most clear historical basis for today’s stereotypes is seen in those stereotypes used for viewing Native Americans and Blacks; however, other minority groups are also subject to stereotypes that are based in history. Mexican Americans and Asian Americans are typically seen within a very fixed, rigid framework. Since Mexican Americans, like other Hispanics, have traditionally been immigrants to the United States for the purpose of doing agricultural work, they were often seen has inferior and dispensable [10]. Even now, the stereotypes of Mexican Americans revolve around this idea of desperate laborers, many of whom struggle with speaking English, flocking to the United States illegally to work. Groups of Asian Americans have also experienced stereotyping and unequal treatment, especially when the events of Pearl Harbor were piled on top of years of negative thoughts about Asian laborers. However, groups of Asian Americans came out of the years of unfair treatment with a very different image than the Hispanics. Today, Chinese Americans are viewed as groups of model citizens. Many Chinese Americans rival Whites in their levels of education, earnings, and social prestige. Today’s media often depict Asian Americans as a “model minorities,” whose lives are built on values of education and family values [11].

Stereotypes in the King's College Hong Kong[]

The topic of "Stereotyping in Gender" has been used up for one of the title of Secondary TWO Curriculam-Integrated Project in the school term of 2007-2008. This project will be discuss about the problems raised by Stereotyping(focus on female ONLY). The monitor teacher of this project is Miss Mui Ka Wai who is mainly teaching Visual Art in this school. The group leader is Cheng Ka Chun鄭嘉俊.

In culture[]

Stereotypes are common in the world of drama, where the term is often used as a form of dramatic shorthand for "stock character". Increasingly the active use of stereotypes in drama is a prerequisite for an audience accepting them as legitimate. Stereotypes change with time. The unwitting use of some stereotypes appears hackneyed to a present-day audience which refuses to tolerate a representation of individuals based on that stereotype. Many other stereotypes pass unnoticed, sometimes even by those being stereotyped. Examples of active use are found in the work of Brecht and other dramatic styles which allow the actor to demonstrate a character with a degree of role distance, thus showing the active use. The Italian commedia Dell'arte was known for its stock characters and stock situations, which could be considered drama stereotypes. Retrospectively these stock characters have been illuminated by the work of Brecht, Dario Fo and Jacques Lecoq, and revealed to be far from simple stereotypes in their current evolution, despite their original reference to local Italian stereotypes in their early genesis. Importantly in drama the actor does not create a stereotype; rather their characterisation may be simple in that they represent an uncritical reflection of the stereotype, and it is this simplicity which aggravates a present-day audience. A subtle and detailed characterisation, especially of the commedia Dell'arte stock characters, results in a unique and immediate performance that will be enjoyed by an audience due to the clear active use of the characters by the actor.

In literature and art, stereotypes are clichéd or predictable characters or situations. For example, the stereotypical devil is a red, impish character with horns, bifurcated tail, and a trident, whilst the stereotypical salesman is a slickly-dressed, fast-talking individual who cannot usually be trusted. Throughout history, storytellers have drawn from stereotypical characters and situations, in order to quickly connect the audience with new tales. Sometimes such stereotypes can be very complex and 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 characterisation. 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 a 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. Labelling 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.

Of course, there is plenty of room for criticizing the representation of the 'Bond girls' as stereotypical.

The instantly recognisable nature of stereotypes mean that they are very useful in producing effective advertising and situation comedy. Media stereotypes change and evolve over time - for instance, we now instantly recognize only a few of the stereotyped characters shown to us in John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress. 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.

Racial and ethnic stereotyping[]

Black stereotypes[]

See also: Stereotypes of blacks

Early stereotypes[]

File:Virginia Minstrels, 1843.jpg

Early minstrel shows lampooned the supposed stupidity of Blacks. Detail from cover of The Celebrated Negro Melodies, as Sung by the Virginia Minstrels, 1843

Early minstrel shows lampooned the supposed stupidity of Blacks, movies such as Birth of a Nation questioned whether or not Black people were fit to run for governmental offices or vote. 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 uneducable 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 stereotypes[]

See also: Acting white

Some regard Jar Jar as a thinly veiled version of the type of portrayals used in minstrelsy to lampoon the supposed stupidity of Black people.

Patricia J. Williams, writer for The Nation, said this of Jar Jar Binks, a character from the 2002 Star Wars film: "...intentionally or not, Jar Jar's pratfalls and high jinks borrow heavily from the genre of minstrelsy. Despite the amphibian get-up, his relentless, panicky, 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.[12]

According to Robert M. Entman an Andrew Rojecki, authors of the The Black Image in the White Mind, in television and film Black characters are less likely to be the "the intellectual drivers of its problem solving." Entman and Rojeki assert that media images of Blacks may have profound effects on the perceptions by both Blacks and Whites about black intellectual potential.[13]

Contemporary sports commentators have questioned whether blacks are intelligent enough to hold "strategic" positions or coach games such as football.[14] In another example, a study of the portrayal of race, ethnicity and nationality in televised sporting events by journalist Derrick Jackson in 1989 showed that blacks were more likely than Whites to be described in demeaning intellectual terms.[15] 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.[16] 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," said Lee. "[Now] If you're intelligent, you're called a white guy or girl."[17]

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.[18] 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.[19] 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.[20]

East Asian stereotypes[]

See also: Media portrayal of East and Southeast Asians#Model minority
File:The Doctor.jpg

Fu Manchu.

Asians have generally been portrayed in the media as intelligent but unsociable.[21] The early 20th century fictional character Fu Manchu was one startling example of this kind of media portrayal:

Imagine a person, tall, lean and feline, high-shouldered, with a brow like Shakespeare and a face like Satan, a close-shaven skull, and long, magnetic eyes of the true cat-green. Invest him with all the cruel cunning of an entire Eastern race, accumulated in one giant intellect, with all the resources of science past and present... Imagine that awful being, and you have a mental picture of Dr. Fu-Manchu, the yellow peril incarnate in one man. –The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu

White stereotypes[]

See also: Stereotypes of whites

The cartoon above (New Physiognomy, New York, 1866), contrasts Florence Nightingale, the Civil War nurse, with "Bridget McBruiser", the stereotypical Irish woman.

File:Scientific racism irish.gif

Scientific Racism from an American magazine, Harper’s Weekly, says that the Irish are similar to 'Negroes' and wonders why both groups are not extinct.

The social definition of "White" has changed over the years, and several White groups have at times been portrayed by the media as unintelligent. This includes ethnic groups such as the British, Irish, and Slavs.[22]

English stereotypes[]

The English people are stereotyped as inordinately proper, prudish, and stiff and as having bad teeth.[23] Characters in historical movies often have English accents even when the setting has nothing to do with England. Upper-class characters are also often given English accents. In more recent times, many movie villains, including Jafar from Aladdin, Scar from The Lion King, Hans Gruber from Die Hard, and Hannibal Lecter from The Silence of the Lambs, have all been portrayed by British actors or given English accents.

Notably, in Disney films from the 1990s onward, English accents are generally employed to serve one of two purposes: slapstick comedy or evil genius.[24] Examples include Aladdin (the Sultan and Jafar, respectively), The Lion King (Zazu and Scar, respectively), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Victor the Gargoyle and Frollo, respectively), and Pocahontas (Wiggins and Ratcliffe, respectively, both of whom happen to be played by the same actor, American David Ogden Stiers).

These two stereotypes are compounded in a scene in Pocahontas, in which Ratcliffe menacingly mentions giving the savages a "proper English greeting", in response to which Wiggins holds up two gift baskets.

Irish stereotypes[]

See also: Irish jokes

Although the Irish, Germans, French, etc are considered ethnic groups today, the common term in the 19th century was "race". Much was made of Celtic versus Anglo-Saxon racial characteristics, regarding historic identity and behavior patterns. 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 British 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. [25]

One 19th century British cartoonist even depicted Irish immigrants as ape-like and as racially different. One American doctor in the 1850s James Redfield, argued that "facial angle" was a sign of intelligence and character. He likened the facial characteristics of the human races to animals. Thus Irishmen resembled dogs, Yankees were like bears, Germans like lions, Negroes like elephants, Englishmen like bulls, Turks like turkeys, Persians like peacocks, Greeks like sheep, Hindus like swans, Jews like goats, and Frenchmen like frogs. [1] 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. [26]

Jewish stereotypes[]

See also: Racial antisemitism

Modern European antisemitism has its origin in 19th century theories—now mostly considered as pseudo-scientific—that said that the Semitic peoples, including the Jews, are entirely different from the Aryan, or Indo-European, populations, and that they can never be amalgamated with them. In this view, Jews are not opposed on account of their religion, but on account of their supposed hereditary or genetic racial characteristics including: greed, a special aptitude for money-making and low cunning.

In early films such as Cohen's Advertising Scheme (1904, silent) stereotyped Jews as "scheming merchants"[27]

To this day Jewish people are sometimes stereotyped in media as being intellectually gifted.[28]

Sex and gender stereotyping[]

See also: Gender roles
See also: LGBT stereotypes


The word stereotype 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).[29] 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.[30]

The first reference to "stereotype", in its modern, English use was in 1850, in the noun, meaning "image perpetuated without change".[31]


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

Different stereotypes by group[]

  • Disabled (atitude towards)
  • Ethnic stereotype
    • Stereotypes of Arabs and Muslims
    • Stereotypes of East and Southeast Asians
    • Stereotypes of Hispanics
    • Stereotypes of Native Americans
    • Stereotypes of West and Central Asians
    • Stereotypes of blacks
    • Stereotypes of whites
  • LGBT stereotypes and Homosexuality (attitude towards)

See also[]


  1. Hurst, Charles E. Social Inequality: Forms, Causes, and Consequences. 6. Boston: Pearson Education, Inc, 2007
  2. Pickering, Michael. "Stereotyping and Stereotypes." Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology. Ritzer, George (ed). Blackwell Publishing, 2007. Blackwell Reference Online. 03 December 2007. ISBN 1405124334
  3. Hurst, Charles E. Social Inequality: Forms, Causes, and Consequences. 6. Boston: Pearson Education, Inc, 2007
  4. Hurst, Charles E. Social Inequality: Forms, Causes, and Consequences. 6. Boston: Pearson Education, Inc, 2007
  5. Hurst, Charles E. Social Inequality: Forms, Causes, and Consequences. 6. Boston: Pearson Education, Inc, 2007
  6. Hurst, Charles E. Social Inequality: Forms, Causes, and Consequences. 6. Boston: Pearson Education, Inc, 2007
  7. Holmes, Malcolm D., and Judith A. Antell. 2001. “The Social Construction of American Indian Drinking: Perceptions of American Indian and White Officials.” Sociological Quarterly 42:151-173
  8. Hurst, Charles E. Social Inequality: Forms, Causes, and Consequences. 6. Boston: Pearson Education, Inc, 2007
  9. Hurst, Charles E. Social Inequality: Forms, Causes, and Consequences. 6. Boston: Pearson Education, Inc, 2007
  10. Hurst, Charles E. Social Inequality: Forms, Causes, and Consequences. 6. Boston: Pearson Education, Inc, 2007
  11. Hurst, Charles E. Social Inequality: Forms, Causes, and Consequences. Another one is that girls are better than boys.6. Boston: Pearson Education, Inc, 2007
  12. Patricia J. Williams: Racial Ventriloquism. The Nation. URL accessed on June 11, 2006.
  13. Entman, Robert M. and Andrew Rojecki The Black Image in the White Mind: Media and Race in America. 2001
  14. America's Mishandling of the Donovan McNabb-Rush Limbaugh Controversy
  15. The Portrayal of Race, Ethnicity and Nationality in Televised International Athletic Events
  16. Jackson Assails Press On Portrayal of Blacks (NYT)
  17. Spike Lee discusses racial stereotypes
  18. Darwin's Athletes: how sport has damaged Black America and preserved the myth of race By John Milton Hoberman ISBN 0395822920
  19. "White Men Can't Jump": Evidence for the Perceptual Confirmation of Racial Stereotypes Following a Basketball Game Jeff Stone, ‌W. Perry, ‌John M. Darley. Basic and Applied Social Psychology 1997, Vol. 19, No. 3, Pages 291-306
  20. The Ball Curve: Calculated Racism and the Stereotype of African American Men Ronald E. Hall Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 32, No. 1 (Sep., 2001), pp. 104-119
  21. Katz/Braly(1933), Karlins, Coffman, & Walters, 1969; Maykovich, 1972
  22. Leo W. Jeffres, K. Kyoon Hur (1979) White Ethnics and their Media Images Journal of Communication 29 (1), 116–122.
  23. "A staple of American humor about the UK is the population's bad teeth."
  24. "Why Villains in Movies Have English Accents". January 15, 2003
  25. Deconstructing Whiteness: Irish Women in Britain Mary J. Hickman, Bronwen Walter Feminist Review, No. 50, The Irish Issue: The British Question (Summer, 1995), pp. 5-19 doi:10.2307/1395487
  26. Kerry Soper, "Performing 'Jiggs': Irish Caricature and Comedic Ambivalence toward Asøsimilation and the American Dream in George McManus's Bringing Up Father." Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era 4.2 (2005): 72 pars. 30 Mar. 2007 online.
  27. The Movies, Race, and Ethnicity: Jews
  28. Not Crazy About Goy Crazy By Lynn Melnick
  29. Ewen and Ewen, Typecasting: On the Arts and Sciences of Human Inequality, 2006, 3-10.
  30. Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage. Springfield, Illinois: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 1994. p. 250. <,M1>

Further reading[]

Key texts[]



  • Taylor, S.E., Fiske, S.T., Etcoff, N.L. and Ruderman, A.J. (1978) The categorical and contextual bases of personal memory and stereotyping, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 36: 778-3.

Additional material[]



External links[]

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