The role of theories in the formation
of stereotype content
Patricia M. Brown and John C. Turner
… groups differ in many ways. Some of the attributes that differentiate one group from other groups will become stereotypic of the group, whereas other such attributes will not. What determines which differences between groups will become central to the content of the stereotype? This is an important question but one that has been relatively neglected by social cognitive research.
(Hamilton, Stroessner & Driscoll, 1994, p. 309)
In recent decades the emphasis of research into stereotype formation, and indeed stereotyping more generally, has tended to be on process rather than content. The rise of the social cognition approach within this field has shifted the focus of research towards an investigation of the cognitive processes involved in stereotyping. This is also true of approaches to stereotype formation, such as distinctiveness-based illusory correlation (Hamilton & Gifford, 1976). The actual content of stereotypes has appeared somewhat secondary in such accounts. However, recently we are witnessing something of a revival of interest in the content issue, with increased research into the functions served by stereotypes and an emphasis on stereotypes as 'aids to explanations' (see McGarty, Yzerbyt & Spears, this volume). Indeed, if one takes a 'meaning' based approach to stereotype formation, it would seem that the content of stereotypes should be highly significant to understanding stereotypes as explanations or sense-making devices.
In this chapter we take the formation of stereotype content as our focus. Importantly, however, we do not seek to separate content from process as has been done in many past accounts. It is not necessary to see these as two separate topics, and indeed we will argue that content and process are inextricably intertwined. We will be arguing that the formation of stereotype content is not separate from the formation of stereotypes and social categories – all are aspects of the same underlying process.