In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Prejudice and Stereotyping

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Classic Perspectives on Prejudice
  • “New Racism” Theories of Prejudice
  • Maintaining the Status Quo
  • Consequences of Prejudice for Members of Stereotyped Groups
  • Methodology
  • Changing Stereotypes and Reducing Prejudice

Psychology Prejudice and Stereotyping
Theresa Vescio, Kevin Weaver
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 March 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 19 March 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0097


Prejudice and stereotyping are biases that work together to create and maintain social inequality. Prejudice refers to the attitudes and feelings—whether positive or negative and whether conscious or non-conscious—that people have about members of other groups. In contrast, stereotypes have traditionally been defined as specific beliefs about a group, such as descriptions of what members of a particular group look like, how they behave, or their abilities. As such, stereotypes are cognitive representations of how members of a group are similar to one another and different from members of other groups. Importantly, people can be aware of cultural stereotypes and have cognitive representations of those beliefs without personally endorsing such stereotypes, without feelings of prejudice, and without awareness that such stereotypes could affect one’s judgment and behavior. Prejudice and stereotyping are generally considered to be the product of adaptive processes that simplify an otherwise complex world so that people can devote more cognitive resources to other tasks. However, despite any cognitively adaptive function they may serve, using these mental shortcuts when making decisions about other individuals can have serious negative ramifications. The horrible mistreatment of particular groups of people in recent history, such as that of Jews, African Americans, women, and homosexuals, has been the major impetus for the study of prejudice and stereotyping. Thus, the original conceptions and experiments were concerned almost entirely with conscious, negative attitudes and explicitly discriminatory actions. However, as the social acceptability of prejudice and stereotypes has changed, the manifestations of prejudice and stereotypes have also changed. In response to these changes, and given that people who reject prejudice and stereotyping can still unwittingly internalize stereotypic representations, the study of prejudice and stereotyping has recently moved to include beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors that could be considered positive and not obviously or overtly prejudiced. Importantly, even when prejudice and stereotypes are ostensibly positive (e.g., traditional women are wonderful and adored), they preserve the dominance of powerful groups: they not only limit the opportunities of stereotyped groups but also produce a litany of negative outcomes when those group members defy them. Because of these new conceptions of bias, there have also been methodological adaptations in the study of prejudice and stereotyping that move beyond the conscious attitudes and behaviors of individuals to measure their implicit prejudice and stereotypes as well. This article gives a quick tour through the social psychological study of prejudice and stereotyping to inform the reader about its theoretical background, measurement, and interventions aimed to reduce prejudice.

General Overviews

There are several books and chapters that offer a broad view of the social psychological research on prejudice and stereotyping. There are two texts that are excellent for undergraduates. First, Whitley and Kite 2010 covers the general field of research on stereotyping and prejudice, providing an excellent primer for theory and research on the causes and consequences of prejudice and stereotyping. Second, Stangor 2000 is a collection of key social psychological readings on stereotypes and prejudice. The key readings text is especially useful, as it can be assigned in sections for a general class or used in its entirety for a class specifically on prejudice. Beyond the introductory text and primer for key readings, though potentially unsuitable for undergraduate use, there are three chapters from the Handbook of Social Psychology that are useful for researchers who want to get an understanding of the progression of research and focus of current theory and research. Although there is some overlap in the content of the three handbook chapters, each chapter makes a notably unique contribution that warrants their inclusion. Fiske 1998 provides a history and thorough review of influential perspectives on prejudice and stereotyping. Expanding on Fiske 1998, Yzerbyt and Demoulin 2010 provides an additional in-depth perspective on theories of how groups are created and sustained. Dovidio and Gaertner 2010 focuses on the bases of group-based biases and provides a thorough consideration of theory and research on stereotype change and prejudice reduction. Finally, in addition to the aforementioned chapters, Dovidio, et al. 2005; Dovidio, et al. 2010; and Nelson 2009 are collections of contemporary theory and research on stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination that characterize the current state of thinking and are appropriate for graduate students and researchers.

  • Dovidio, John F., and Samuel L. Gaertner. 2010. Intergroup bias. In Handbook of social psychology. 5th ed. Edited by Susan T. Fiske, Daniel Todd Gilbert, and Gardner Lindzey, 1084–1121. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

    Focuses mainly on the psychological foundations of intergroup bias and how to resolve those biases in order to reduce prejudice. There are discussions about the categorization process, explicit versus implicit biases and what mediates and moderates those biases.

  • Dovidio, John F., Peter Glick, and Laurie A. Rudman. 2005. On the nature of prejudice: Fifty years after Allport. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

    This collection takes a look back at Gordon Allport’s conceptualizations of prejudice and updates and extends his work with contemporary theories and evidence collected in the fifty years after the publication of On the Nature of Prejudice.

  • Dovidio, John F., Miles Hewstone, Peter Glick, and Victoria M. Esses. 2010. The SAGE handbook of prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination. London: SAGE

    An edited collection useful for students and researchers that covers the processes, expression, and consequences of prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination, as well as ways to reduce them at individual and societal levels.

  • Fiske, Susan T. 1998. Stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination. In Handbook of social psychology. Vol. 2. 4th ed. Edited by Daniel Todd Gilbert, Susan T. Fiske, and Gardner Lindzey, 357–411. New York: McGraw-Hill.

    In this oft-cited chapter, Fiske discusses the definitions of stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination along with a brief history of their study and their cognitive and social bases and effects. It is dense with information that is important for those researching prejudice.

  • Nelson, Todd D. 2009. Handbook of prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination. New York: Psychology Press.

    An accessible handbook that is useful for researchers who want to get acquainted with recent work on prejudice and stereotyping. It covers theoretical frameworks for the causes of prejudice and stereotyping with attention to the various characteristics of people and situations that interact to produce them.

  • Stangor, Charles. 2000. Stereotypes and prejudice: Key readings. Philadelphia: Psychology Press.

    A collection of classic social psychological works pertaining to stereotyping and prejudice, such as Allport’s original work and modern understandings of racism and sexism. This collection is written in a way that’s accessible to an undergraduate audience.

  • Whitley, Bernard E., and Mary E. Kite. 2010. The psychology of prejudice and discrimination. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

    Designed for an undergraduate course, this book covers the formation of stereotypes and how they are applied in the form of prejudice. It has been updated with the latest evidence from the field of social psychology.

  • Yzerbyt, Vincent, and Stéphanie Demoulin. 2010. Intergroup relations. In Handbook of social psychology. 5th ed. Edited by Susan T. Fiske, Daniel Todd Gilbert, and Gardner Lindzey, 1024–1083. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

    Yzerbyt and Demoulin write about the theoretical background of group formation and in their discussion go over what kinds of prejudiced behaviors arise in different situations because of the nature of group formation and social hierarchy.

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