Stereotypes and Prejudice

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Most historical accounts suggest that the term stereotype was introduced by Lipmann in reference to the typical image formed when thinking about a specific social group. Therefore Stereotypes can be defined as generalized ideas about the traits that characterize behaviors of a particular social group or social category. Social perceivers, therefore, use stereotypes as cognitive outlines to process information about others. In addition to traits characterizing social groups, stereotypes also infer the significant amount of information about a particular group that is beyond their apparent characteristics while creating expectations about their behaviors in new circumstances (Dovidio, Hewstone, Glick and Esses, 2010, p7).

Merits and Demerits of Stereotypes

Stereotypes can be viewed in terms of merits and demerits. They are often regarded as a double-edged sword by scholars such as Brislin. On the one hand, stereotypes are useful tools in helping people to think intelligently and efficiently while on the other hand they are used to categorize people in perceived traits and behaviors that are associated with a specific social group (Houghton, 2010, p182). The aspect of stereotyping though negatively thought in most cases, its effects are not always harmful. For instance, stereotypes can be used as a source of knowledge about particular social group especially when information about that group is not available and such information will be useful if it is correct. On the other hand stereotyping can be harmful due to the generalized beliefs about the traits and behaviors of a particular social group. Since stereotypes are overgeneralized beliefs, they may be inaccurate and therefore leading to distortion of perceptions (Houghton, 2010, p182). Stereotypes can, therefore, be used as sources of information about certain groups but cannot be wholly relied on since they may provide inaccurate information and distorted perceptions.

The Universality and Importance of Stereotypes

Stereotypes exist in every community, society, and culture making them universal and significant to the organization since they are a reflection of human traits and attributes. Even though today’s world negatively views stereotypes, they are however useful since they help in shaping attitudes and behaviors of people from different societies, cultures, and races. Stereotypes, therefore, provide communities with conscious awareness about differences in customs and beliefs and helps people understand that various norms and values exist. Stereotypes are therefore important since they make people learn to be anticipative and always seek to verify their beliefs about others during their interactions with members of another group (McFarlane, 2014, p155).

Utilizing Stereotypes to Fill Knowledge Gaps

Since stereotyping is about making assumptions, another merit of relying on stereotypes is that it helps in filling the knowledge gaps in understanding people and things around us. For instance, studies show that stereotypes help in understanding people and cultures outside our schema by relying on their apparent act, trait, or attributes. Stereotypes, therefore, help in making assumptions that someone outside our schema acts and behaves like others of the same culture or social group (McFarlane, 2014, p144). Before further knowledge is acquired about an individual, the use of stereotypes becomes handy since it helps in forming an understanding of a specific individual by relying on the stereotypes created from the cultural or social group that he or she belongs. Since organizations may be having insufficient knowledge about people, they will, therefore, rely on stereotypes as knowledge fillers until they learn real facts (McFarlane, 2014, p144).

Guiding Social Interactions and Avoiding Blunders

Another significant merit of relying on stereotypes according to McFarlane (2014) is that they help in the avoidance of making both cultural and social blunders. For instance, stereotypes offer individuals with a restrained and refrained state of mind during interaction with other cultures hence cautioning them and saving them from making social and cultural mistakes. Stereotypes also help people to categorize others in a more meaningful. Stereotypes are therefore useful because they guide people’s social experiences during interactions with others from complex and diverse cultures by cautioning them on how to regard and relate to others (McFarlane, 2014, p156).

Problems with Relying on Stereotypes

Relying on stereotypes is however problematic. Studies have shown that in spite of learning new facts about a certain social group, stereotypes continue to persist which is a major setback to continued reliance on stereotypes. Studies have also proven that when stereotypes continue to persist even after learning facts about a certain social group, they eventually lead to prejudice, bias, and discrimination (McFarlane, 2014, p156). One of the problems associated with stereotyping is gender discrimination during the selection of applicants seeking employment. Studies show that applicants are categorized into schemas during the selection process. After the categorization of applicants into schemas, the applicant’s traits are then compared with a certain jobholder schema, and then the applicant is selected if his/her attributes are perceived to conform to the jobholder schema. For example, if the jobholder schema is associated to be male, then applicants who do not have male congruent characteristics are unlikely to be selected. Instead, those likely to be picked are those perceived to have attributes that are more male congruent. The reliance of such stereotypic attitudes leads to gender discrimination in hiring, salary determination and reward since it is often believed that some specific traits necessary for success are only present in men and lacking in women (Berry and Bell, 2012, p9).

Flawed Information and Persistence of Stereotypes

Another problem associated with relying on stereotypes is the flawed information learnt about a certain social group. In most scenarios, perceptions about certain groups are often acquired from people who have formed their ideologies and modes of thinking about a certain group. These people also have prejudices and bias against a certain social group. Stereotyping being learnt through socialization in the form of education, experience, worldviews, and from parents, therefore, forms the basis on how to approach human interaction and perception. For instance, children raised by either white supremacists or black supremacists will always be racially stereotyped about other racial or ethnic groups (McFarlane, 2014, p145). Therefore relying on stereotypes may not be wise since most of the acquired knowledge or information about a particular social group may not be accurate since it is learned from individuals who have biased, prejudiced, and their ideologies about a specific social or cultural group.

The Persistence of Stereotyped Perceptions

Relying on stereotypes is also problematic since it is often difficult to discard the acquired or observed perceptions about a certain group even after learning new facts. Studies show that in most cases behaviors of a given social group are observed, and assumptions are made about them and those similar to them (McFarlane, 2014, p146). The observed behaviors are then used to evaluate others and categorize them in contexts that are useful to the perceiver’s social pathways. The observed or acquired behaviors about others can be used to stereotype others. The stereotyped perception can remain or be discarded upon learning new facts. Unfortunately, this does not happen in most cases since people choose to hold to their beliefs about others than learning new facts (McFarlane, 2014, p146). Therefore relying on stereotypes may not be the best since stereotypes and stereotyping may remain even after observing and learning new facts about a certain social group.

Obstacles and Threats for Minority Groups

It has also been proved through studies that stereotyping presents obstacles to members of minority groups. According to studies, stereotyping has adverse effects on the careers of minority members in an organization (White, 199, p473). For instance, research shows that stereotyping presents obstacles to hiring overweight people and persons living with disabilities. Members of the minority groups are also expected to be affected by stereotypes due to power imbalances between the majority groups and the minority groups. Due to such stereotypes minority members are in most instances not likely to be accepted as leaders by the majority groups. Also, stereotypes are also factors in job segregation based on identity group. They also contribute to biasness in recruitment and rating of performances between the majority and minority groups (White, 199, p473).

Stereotype Threat and Pigeonholing

Relying on stereotypes could also be problematic since it could lead to stereotype threat against a certain group. According to studies, stereotype threat arises when individuals fear that the will be negatively evaluated in the context of a social group that they belong. For example, when a woman performs in an area that is perceived to be a male preserve such the technology industry, she will be aware that if she performs poorly, other people will view her performance in confirmation to the negative stereotype about women and technology. Stereotyping has therefore been found to be psychologically threatening. Research has proved that when people believe that their abilities are evaluated with a domain that they are identified with, they will be likely to perform poorly than their capabilities due to stereotype threat (Walton, Murphy and Ryan, 2015, p524). In addition to hindering performance, studies have also shown that stereotyping can also lead to the stereotyped group disliking those propagating the stereotypes. Positive stereotypes could also lead to individuals into pigeonholed into some careers or professions which will attract high expectations within the group that they have been stereotyped (Kay, Day, Zanna, and Nussbaum, 2013, p287).

The Negative Impact of Stereotypes

Theorists such as Darwinian and Malthusian also argue that stereotypes are decisively negative since they are encourage undermining others with during the scramble scarce resources. According to the Darwinian theory, stereotypes are used to undermine the character, worth, value and capabilities of others who must be competed against so as to survive. It is therefore from the Darwinian perspectives that some people use stereotypes in organizations so as to get competitive advantage ahead of those that they should compete against. The Darwinian Theory is also applied by countries and cultures by using stereotypes to undermine strengths and virtues of other countries and cultures (McFarlane, 2014, p146).


Stereotypes are overgeneralized beliefs about attributes and behaviors of a certain social group or culture. The term stereotype refers to an image formed in one’s mind when thinking about a certain group or culture. In spite of stereotypes being negatively valenced, they are however useful since they can be used as knowledge gap fillers in providing information about a certain group, information which could otherwise not be available. Stereotypes are also helpful since they help in shaping the attitudes and behavior of people from other societies, cultures, and races by assisting them to understand that various norms. In spite of the advantages of relying on stereotypes, they also pose some problems. Studies have proven that if stereotypes persist, they may lead to prejudice, discrimination, and bias due to flawed and inaccurate information about a given group. Reliance on stereotypes against someone from another culture without an idea of what they believe in will be advantageous only if the stereotyped information is accurate without which inaccurate and distorted perceptions will be made against a certain group or individual.


Berry, D., & Bell, M. P. (2012). Inequality in organizations: stereotyping, discrimination, and labor law exclusions. Equality, Diversity and Inclusion: An International Journal, 31(3), 236-248. doi:10.1108/02610151211209090

Dovidio, J. F., Hewstone, M., Glick, P., & Esses, V. M. (2010, July 12). Prejudice, Stereotyping and Discrimination: Theoretical and Empirical Overview. The SAGE Handbook of Prejudice, Stereotyping and Discrimination, 3-28. Retrieved from

Houghton, S. (2010). Managing Stereotypes through Experiential Learning. Intercultural Communication Studies, 19(1), 182-198. Retrieved from

Kay, A. C., Day, M. V., Zanna, M. P., & Nussbaum, A. D. (2013). The insidious (and ironic) effects of positive stereotypes. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 49(2), 287-291. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2012.11.003

McFarlane, D. A. (2014). A Positive Theory of Stereotyping and Stereotypes: Is Stereotyping Useful? Journal of Studies in Social Sciences , 8(1), 140-163. Retrieved from

Walton, G. M., Murphy, M. C., & Ryan, A. M. (2015). Stereotype Threat in Organizations: Implications for Equity and Performance. Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior, 2(1), 523-550. doi:10.1146/annurev-orgpsych-032414-111322

White, R. D. (1999). Managing the Diverse Organization: The Imperative for a New Multicultural Paradigm. Public Administration & Management: An Interactive Journal, 4(4), 469-493. Retrieved from

October 30, 2023


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