Subtyping refers to a process whereby people come to view individuals who don’t fit a stereotype as exceptions or as poor members of a group. The concept is important because it explains why people often do not change their stereotypes in the face of disconfirming information. Subtyping involves psychologically fencing off deviant group members so that perceivers need not consider information about those individuals when thinking about the group as a whole.
Subtyping Background and Research
Early research on stereotype change showed that the same amount of stereotype disconfirming information was more likely to weaken a stereotype when it was dispersed across many group members rather than concentrated in only a few. In these studies, participants read about multiple group members who each exhibited various behaviors. Participants who read about many group members who committed one disconfirming behavior each later reported weaker stereotypes than those who read that the disconfirming behaviors were all committed by a small subset of the group. This finding suggests that it may be easy to subtype, and therefore ignore, small numbers of extreme deviants.
Researchers have gone on to study specific conditions that promote subtyping. Strong evidence indicates that people are especially likely to subtype individuals who seem atypical rather than typical of their group. For example, in one study, people were more likely to change their stereotype that lawyers are extraverted if they learned about an introverted lawyer who seemed otherwise typical of the group (e.g., was White), rather than one who seemed deviant on multiple dimensions (e.g., was Black). Other research suggests that people are more likely to subtype individuals who deviate a lot on a particular stereotypic trait rather than just a little, presumably because extreme deviants seem more atypical of the group. At least one study points to the disturbing finding that getting to know someone in a stereotyped group personally can promote subtyping, suggesting that making friends across group boundaries is not enough to change stereotypes. Research also suggests that people may perceive neutral information about a disconfirming group member in ways that promote sub-typing and stereotype preservation.
Subtyping is not an inevitable process. When people encounter large numbers of disconfirming individuals, subtyping may become more difficult. In addition, if perceivers view disconfirming individuals as legitimate group members, a process referred to as subgrouping rather than subtyping, then perceivers may come to see the group as more diverse, and the stereotype may eventually weaken. As predicted by this theoretical distinction, people encouraged to pay attention to similarities and differences among all group members, a manipulation intended to induce subgrouping, later report weaker stereotypes than those in a subtyping condition instructed to think about distinctions between typical and atypical group members.
- Kunda, Z., & Oleson, K. C. (1995). Maintaining stereotypes in the face of disconfirmation: Constructing grounds for subtyping deviants. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 68, 565-579.
- Park, B., Wolsko, C., & Judd, C. M. (2001). Measurement of subtyping in stereotype change. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 37,325-332.