The Development of Stereotypes
There has been surprisingly little empirical work on the origins of our stereotypes. In part, that is because these seem so obvious. After all, stereotypes are a salient part of our culture. We see them exemplified on television and in the movies, and sometimes parents, teachers, and other socialization agents deliberately or inadvertently preach them under the guise of conveying the wisdom of age. They are part of the cultural air that we breathe.
Indeed, it has seemed so obvious that stereotypes are bound up with culture that many of the classic studies in this area (e.g., Katz & Braly, 1933) explicitly assumed not only that stereotypes are products of cultures, but that generalizations about groups of people can be stereotypes only if they are widely held. These two assumptions feed off one another. If stereotypes are a part of the general culture, it would be a bit strange if they were not generally believed. Cultural beliefs and values are, almost by definition, widely accepted. At the same time, if a large number of people hold the same beliefs, the easiest (but not, as we shall see, the only) explanation is that they have been subjected to the same cultural tuition.
The more modern approach has been to forgo assumptions about the cultural heritage of stereotypes and to focus instead on how stereotypes affect how we process information about others. For much of the research discussed in this book, it matters little whether the stereotype being examined is held only by the subjects in the experiments or by nearly everyone. If I believe that violent career criminals are actually compassionate and caring people, then this will affect the ways I perceive, interpret,