Sociology: Stereotypes and Their Influence

Table of Contents


The concept of social stereotype was brought into scientific use by Walter Lippman, who considered it as the ordered, and schematic image or picture determined by the culture of the world in people’s head.

Lippman outlined the following principal causes based on which people resort to stereo-identification: first, based on the principle of saving the efforts, they do not aspire to react each time in a new fashion to surrounding phenomena, but bring them under already available categories; secondly, in such way people protect collective values and own rights.

A stereotype is some steady image of any phenomenon or person, which is used as a known “shortcut” when interacting with this phenomenon. In that context, this paper analyzes stereotypes and their influence on perception and listening.

Overview of Stereotypes and Social Stereotypes

In the mechanism of forming the stereotypes, not only a schematization, categorization, and etc. are involved, but also cognitive processes, first of attributing the reasons of behavior and achievements of individuals on the basis of group (in particular, ethnic) affiliation.

People explain behavior as an influence of internal (personal, subjective) and external (situational, environmental, and objective) factors. Even so, they are inclined to explain their successes as internal qualities and failures as external circumstances. On the contrary, the successes of others often explained as external and failures as internal factors.

This phenomenon inseparably linked with function, which in the psychological structure of the person is carried out by the I-image, which was developed as a result of the interaction of base estimated relations of the person to the world, and other people. This function consists of the protection of a positive self-estimation in different ways, from overestimating of own self-appraisal to underestimating others.

Stereotypes get into all spheres of our life. In spite of the fact that social stereotypes grow out of life experience, they represent excessively general concepts which, in some cases, do not prove to be true.

In a wider context, all these effects can be considered as a display of a special process accompanying the perception of the person by another person, namely the stereotyping process. Stereotypes in the dialogue, arising, in particular, when people learn about each other, have both a specific origin and a specific sense.

As a rule, a stereotype occurs on the basis of sufficiently limited last experience as a result of the aspiration to build conclusions on the basis of limited information. Very often, the stereotype occurs concerning a group affiliation of the person, for example belonging to a certain profession.

In connection with the analysis of the concept “stereotype,” it is exclusively important to consider stereotyping as one of the mechanisms of social perception. It is necessary to accurately differentiate these concepts as negative estimation was strongly related to the stereotype in ordinary consciousness.

But if stereotype roots are found in factors of social order, stereotyping is, first of all, a universal psychological process. The stereotyping phenomenon is caused by the principle of saving peculiar to human thinking, its ability to move from single concrete instances to their generalization, and back to this fact, which is already understood within the limits of the general rule.

Objectively, stereotyping carries out a useful function, as rudeness, informality, and sketchiness are the backside of the medal, and inevitable costs necessary for mental regulation of human activity such as the process of selection, restriction, stabilization, and categorization.

The Effect of Stereotypes

Stereotyping in the course of people knowing each other can lead to two different consequences. On the one hand, to certain simplification of the process of knowledge of another person; in this case, the stereotype not necessarily bears a valuation loading: in the perception of the other person, there is no “shift” towards hisher emotional acceptance or nonacceptance.

There is simply a simplified approach which, though, does not promote accuracy in constructing the image of another, forces to replace it often with cliché, but, nevertheless, in any sense, this simplification is necessary, as it helps to shorten the knowledge process.

In the second case stereotyping leads to the occurrence of bias. If the judgment is based on the last limited experience, and this experience was negative, any new perception of a representative of the same group is affected by aversion.

The occurrence of such biases is fixed in numerous experimental researches, but it is natural, that they are especially negatively proven not in the conditions of the laboratory, but in the conditions of a real-life when they can do serious harm not only to the dialogue of people among themselves but also to their mutual relations. Stereotypes perform a number of positive functions in the course of the dialogue.

Among which is the acceleration of categorization by the separate indication that facilitates the dialogue process and the realization of a protective function that gives the chance to “hide” behind a stereotype when facing something new that is difficult to understand. It is possible to consider as the stereotyping shortcoming, the simplification in approaching people and social phenomena, and certain conservatism in the process of thinking.

Analyzing the aforementioned positive effect of stereotypes, an example could be given on the process of listening. For example, listening to compliments and praise from another person can improve and simplify the perception of the information that comes from that particular person. On the other, listening to positive feedbacks about educational performance can prove to worsen the educational progress.

Relating such findings to stereotyping, it can be assumed that people have a certain image that when they are praised, that indicates that they achieved a particular success, even if that is not true. The same can be told about a situation when students are told that their lackluster educational performance is typical for many other students, and they will improve over time can improve their performance.

In general, the perception of information can be easier when this information is initially categorized by certain assumptions. The negative effects of stereotypes are generally more common. For example, the information cannot be accepted properly if there is a certain stereotype that speakers belonging to certain groups are known to be liars or love to exaggerate.

In that sense, neither the stereotype nor the stereotyping process can be considered as unequivocally negative or positive phenomena of the social life. Only the formation of prejudices and biases, bearing negative charge and leading to interpersonal intensity, is a serious obstacle to the mutual understanding between people.


Elliot, A. J., & Dweck, C. S. (2005). Handbook of competence and motivation. New York: Guilford Press.

Lester, P. M. (1997). Images and Stereotypes.

Lippmann, W. (2004). Public Opinion: Courier Dover Publications.

Stereotype & Society (2009).

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