Stereotypes as Explanations: The Formation of Meaningful Beliefs about Social Groups

By Craig McGarty; Vincent Y. Yzerbyt et al. | Go to book overview

2
Stereotype formation as category formation
Craig McGarty

In this chapter I explore the contribution of research on category formation to the study of stereotype formation. The rationale for this is fairly straightforward. Stereotypes are based on or rely on categories, and in particular they rely on categories of people. If we accept the additional point that stereotypes are explanations then we are left with an important question: how does categorization contribute to the explanatory power of stereotypes?

As we will see in this chapter the explanatory nature of categories has been acknowledged for a long time. This is seen most clearly when we consider that the use of the term concept in cognitive psychology has been almost indistinguishable from the use of the term category. The term 'concept' is synonymous with the assignment of meaning or the development of understanding. If stereotypes are inextricably bound to categories then it should also be the case that stereotypes involve gaining or developing understanding as was argued in Chapter 1. It follows that the cognitive psychological work on category and concept formation should repay a close look.

The path Iwill follow is first to discuss how that approach that Iterm the constraint relations formulation helps us to understand treatments of categorization in cognitive and social psychology. Iuse this formulation to arrive at a summary of some key implications of the categorization process for understanding stereotype formation. These implications centre around the idea that the explanatory potential of categories is realized in the form of relatively enduring understandings of the differences between social groups. These understandings in turn provide bases for developing and communicating perceptions so that stereotypes come to be shared with other people.

After completing this review Ithen consider two important distinctions drawn from other work on explanation that helps us to understand stereotype formation. The first distinction is between explanation (which tends to be implicit) and justification (which tends to be explicitly available to consciousness and therefore in a communicable form). This distinction is

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