Stereotypes as Consensual Beliefs
R. C. Gardner University of Western Ontario
Prejudice is bad! To declare that someone is prejudiced is to make a critical comment about them. Stereotypes, too, are bad! They are perceived to be so by many researchers because they are seen as comprising "a set of beliefs that is incorrectly learned, overgeneralized, factually incorrect, or rigid" ( Ashmore & Del Boca, 1981, p. 16). To accuse someone of stereotyping is a serious condemnation. Often, stereotypes and prejudice are seen to coexist (cf. Ashmore & Del Boca , 1981). They are both bad. As Stroebe and Insko ( 1989) stated: "It will be argued that the concepts of 'stereotype' and 'prejudice' are closely related and that prejudice as a negative attitude towards an outgroup or the members of that group is usually based on a negative stereotype, that is, on beliefs that associate that group with predominantly negative attributes" (p. 4).
The argument put forth in this chapter is that the terms prejudice and stereotypes are bad in a different sense, namely, their scientific utility: Both terms have acquired such a great deal of excess meaning (often in the absence of any empirical justification) that when researchers gather to discuss them, they often talk at cross purposes. Theorists use the same terms to refer to very different phenomena, often referring to the same previous research, and then are surprised to find that they disagree on very basic conclusions.
The difficulty can be seen by considering the concept of prejudice. At one level, the term prejudice refers simply to a judgment about something before the fact (a prejudgment). It represents a preconceived notion about something, often a social object or class of objects. Conceptually, therefore, it is identical to many