Cultural, Ethnic and Racial Stereotyping

Stereotyping  represents  a  category-driven,  formulaic,  and  oversimplified  process  of  making  broad-brush  suppositions  and  generalizations  about  a group of people to whom specified sets of characteristics are attributed. The characteristics ascribed to  identified  groups  can  be  positive,  neutral,  or negative and can be originated and sustained relatively easily when there are clearly visible and discernibly  observable  features.  Characteristics  upon which stereotypes are formed and promulgated are innumerable, and a non-exhaustive categorical list includes cultural, ethnic, racial, age, gender, sexual orientation,  socioeconomic  status  (SES),  physical and  mental  disabilities,  personality,  careers  (e.g., athletes, white-collar jobs, blue-collar jobs), sensory (e.g.,  hearing,  sight,  smell,  touch,  taste),  regional (e.g., southern, northern, western, eastern), generational (“the sixties,” “old school,” “the me generation”), appearances (e.g., height, weight, skin color), and relational status (e.g., single, married, divorced, partnered). On an individual level, stereotypes imply that a person possesses the characteristics alleged to be part of the group being stereotyped. Accurate or not, these inferences shape beliefs and perceptions about the targeted individual. Last, stereotyping is a  within and  across-group  social  categorization process in which all communities around the world participate. As such, no one individual or group is immune from being stereotyped or from experiencing  the  relative  impact  of  this  always-present  and conventional phenomenon.

Stereotypes and stereotyping are learned directly and vicariously, usually emanating from childhood and fostered actively and cumulatively by parents, family,  community,  school,  religious  institutions and the media in all of its forms (e.g., visual, print, auditory). A related issue is that a lack of familiarity with other groups (e.g., cultural, ethnic, racial) increases vulnerability to socially promoted images that  fuel  stereotyping.  Intergroup  conflicts  and competitions  minimize  similarities  and  magnify differences.  The  utility  of  stereotypes  and  stereotyping  across  time,  circumstance  and  situations suggests  its  sustainable  permanence  among  our global citizenry.

Stereotyping  serves  multiple  purposes.  It  positions persons seeking to simplify a complex world with  degrees  of  freedom  (df)  to  (a)  organize  and synthesize  information,  (b)  control  and  at  some level  predict  likely  outcomes,  and  (c)  decrease the  amount  of  time  it  takes  to  absorb  and  make sense  of  myriad  interpersonal  and  intrapersonal stimuli radiating from other individuals or groups. The  challenges  associated  with  this  purpose  are expressed  in  the  human  tendency  to  resist  new information and input, fearing loss of the hitherto organized  data  and  feeling  forced  to  manage  the need to construct new images and perceptions.

For persons holding meritocratic beliefs rooted in  notions  of  superiority  stereotyping  allows  persons in this type of in-group to justify ill-founded prejudices,  engage  in  scapegoating,  and  to  hold on  to  judgmental  attitudes  toward  alleged  “less than” and “inferior” out-group members. Finally, and  at  its  negative  extreme,  stereotyping  positions  oppressors  and  persons  bent  on  exploitation  to  evade  and  escape  thinking  of  themselves as wrongdoers and justify continued exploitation. Abundant  historical  and  contemporary  examples of  the  latter  purpose,  seen  across  national  (e.g., African American, American Indian, Asian-Pacific Islander,  and  Latino  or  Latina)  and  international groups  throughout  world  history  are  replete  in scholarship  across  disciplines  (e.g.,  psychology, sociology, anthropology, and history).

The impact of stereotyping varies by individuals and  groups  and  can  be  understood  and  appreciated  within  the  contexts  of  circumstances;  situations;  the  conscious  and  unconscious  motivation and  intent  of  the  perpetrator;  and  the  receiver’s unconscious and conscious awareness of, sensitivity to, and focus on the stereotype being expressed. Stereotypes  and  stereotyping  distort  perceptions and  advance  social  judgments.  Stereotypes  and stereotyping stimulate overestimation of the occurrence  of  negative  beliefs  and  perceptions  of  ethnic  minority  and  other  marginalized  populations and thus, preclude really seeing the uniqueness of individuals and the groups to which they belong. Caricatures of athletes as “dumb jocks,” portrayals showing that “white men can’t jump,” images of  female  athletes  participating  in  sports  seen traditionally  as  male  (e.g.,  basketball,  football, baseball,  soccer)  as  “tomboy”  and  “butch,”  and perceptions  of  Asian  athletes  as  “intelligent”  and athletes  of  African  descent  as  “natural  athletes” and “less intelligent” represent just a few examples of impressions that fuel believable misperceptions. Information  that  persons  notice,  attend  to,  and process is impacted by this process of social categorization. Once learned, stereotyping is a difficult habit to break. What’s more, stereotyping becomes self-perpetuating  for  both  the  person  engaging  in stereotyping  and  the  individual  or  group  on  the receiving  end.  Related,  stereotyping  influences self-perceptions  particularly  around  competence and  confidence,  and  these  markers  of  self-doubt represent  cornerstones  to  experiences  of  stereotype  threat.  Stereotype  threat,  essentially,  is  an anxiety-based  response  to  an  appraisal  situation that carries with it the potential for the individual to  confirm  negative  stereotypes  about  the  group (i.e., cultural, ethnic, racial) to which he or she is a member.

Stereotyping  relative  to  cultural,  ethnic,  racial, and  other  traditionally  marginalized  groups  continues  to  be  the  focus  of  abundant  scholarship, across  disciplines.  Scholars  have  examined  stereotyping  from  historical  and  contemporary  perspectives,  and  much  has  been  learned  about  how stereotypes  begin,  persist,  and  are  transmitted  to individuals and groups irrespective of the region of the world where it continues to manifest.

Stereotyping  is  an  ever-present  social  process whose   impact   worldwide   is   undeniable.   The degree  to  which  stereotyping  impacts  individuals and groups, however, varies based on the confluence of numerous factors. Also, the ways in which individuals and groups respond to stereotypes and stereotyping differs across myriad dimensions. The institutionalized  and  systemic  nature  of  stereotyping  precludes  its  eradication.  That  being  said, engaging in difficult dialogues about this complex social  force  represents  a  reasonable  approach  to managing this pervasive social reality.


  1. Hilton, J. L., & Hippel, W. V. (1996). Stereotypes. Annual Review of Psychiatry, 47, 237–271.
  2. Katz, D., & Braley, K. (1933). Racial stereotypes of onehundred college students. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 28, 280–290.
  3. Schneider, D. J. (2004). The psychology of stereotyping. New York: Guilford Press.
  4. Steele, C. (2010). Whistling Vivaldi: And other clues to how stereotypes affect us. New York: Norton.
  5. Stone, J., Chalabaev, A., & Harrison, C. K. (2011). Stereotype threat in sports. In M. Inzlicht & T. Schmader (Eds.), Stereotype threat: Theory, process and application (pp. 217–230). New York: Oxford University Press.
  6. Wininger, S., & White, T. (2008). The dumb jock stereotype: To what extent do student-athletes feel the stereotype? Journal of the Study of Sport and Athletes in Education, 2(2), 227–237.

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