Social scientists have been obsessed with stereotypes for well over half a century. Have we learned anything in those 70-plus years? Yes, we have. Quite a bit, actually, and it is probably fair to say that modern conceptions of stereotypes would hardly be recognized by early investigators in this area. I conclude this lengthy book with a brief discussion of what has changed, in part because it is always good to document progress in the social sciences, but also because so many people, including some social scientists, have not fully grasped the "new look" in stereotypes.
In the early days, there was essentially universal agreement that stereotypes were rotten generalizations that smelled up the mental household. They were inaccurate, largely produced by prejudiced minds or shoveled into ignorant minds by prejudiced culture. They were negative, rigidly held, and impervious to disconfirming evidence. Unfortunately, most of this is wrong. Some stereotypes are like that, but most are not, not usually, not inevitably.
The first assumption was that stereotypes were inaccurate generalizations, maintained through ignorance, prejudice, and cultural realities. Today few social psychologists would endorse this as a general description, racist stereotypes notwithstanding. We now recognize that stereotypes cannot easily be divorced from more "normal" ways of thinking about people. As a cognitive process, stereotyping seems pretty much like business as usual. Stereotypes are simply generalizations about groups of people, and as such they are similar to generalizations about dogs, computers, Anne Rice novels, city buses, or Beethoven piano sonatas. We have them because they are useful. I use stereotypes about students when I prepare my lectures (and, for that matter, stereotypes about prospective readers of this book while I write it); my physician uses them when he categorizes me as a guy with sinus problems; movie producers use them when they decide how to cast movies; politicians eagerly embrace