Stereotypes are prejudices which can produce a positive or a negative over-generalisation of people based on assumptions regarding things such as beliefs or group membership (Gross, 2010). These assumptions can be biased and have a tendency to place an individual into certain categories based on readily available features such as skin colour, or gender. Eysenck (2006) states that stereotypes are formed when labels are applied to individuals, and qualities attributed to them that are believed to be typical to members of a particular category, without taking into account that each person is an individual and has his or her own thoughts or feelings.
There are several explanations of how stereotypes are formed. One of these is that they arise through cognitive shortcuts within the human mind, and function to remember prior information and knowledge, and then use that information to make judgements (Gross, 2010). Allport (1954) described most stereotypes as containing an element of truth and argued that ‘The Human mind must think with the aid of categories’. Asch (1952) agreed with Allport and stated that in many situations, the behaviour of individuals is determined by their group membership, and that stereotyping could be seen as a way of representing social reality (Gross, 2010). Both arguments suggest that stereotypes can be self fulfilling in nature. Kassin (2010) suggests that human beings may routinely act in ways which are consistent not with their own attitudes, beliefs, or feelings, but rather with the stereotypes others hold of them, suggesting that the power of others beliefs over peoples behaviours is extremely strong. A negative impact of this ‘self fulfilling prophecy’ is the pressure put on people to discredit a negative stereotype, which can then lead to poor performance by arousing anxiety (Breckler, 2006).
Gross (2010) states that, the primacy effect has a role with stereotypes and their impact on human behaviour. This occurs when we mentally store initial information about a person and this stored information is then more greatly believed or valued than subsequent information. Anderson (1974) argues that people pay more attention to information that is presented when they are first trying to form an impression about someone. However, Hodges (1974), states that a negative first impression is more resistant to change than a positive one (Gahagan, 1984). A likely explanation for this is that it is more adaptive for us as humans to be aware of people’s negative traits than the positive (Nevid, 2008). Inconsistencies in a stereotype are often explained away and an atypical behaviour regarded as the result of special circumstances. When information cannot be explained away, people still defend their stereotypical views by resorting to subtypes and creating an “exception-to-the-rule” subcategory, which allows stereotypes to hold for most members of the specific group (Durkin, 2002).
Tajfel and Turner (1979) proposed that it is natural within human behaviour to want to belong to a group of similar people. This is known as the social identity theory (Eysenck, 2006). They proposed that there are three mental processes involved in evaluating others; Social categorisation, social identification and finally social comparison (Hill, 2001). The central hypothesis of social identity theory is that members of an in-group will try to find negative aspects of an out-group, therefore enhancing their own self-image. During a study carried out by Tajfel (1971), a group of school boys were randomly divided into two groups. Their findings showed that the individual members allocated more points to their own group, and also maximised the differences between their groups (Hill, 2001). This suggests that merely dividing people into groups is enough to develop a prejudice which we know can lead to stereotype. The social