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An unvarying view about the physical appearance, personality, or behavior of a particular group of people.

Some people believe and perpetuate stereotypes about particular ethnic groups: Italians are emotionally sensitive, loud, and talk with their hands; Irish people drink too much; Germans are serious and intelligent. While such characteristics may apply to few members of that ethnic group, some people characterize all people in a certain group to share these traits. Psychologists have also noted the role stereotypes play in human memory. When meeting a new person, for example, people sometimes combine their firsthand perceptions of that person—appearance, personality, intelligence—with stereotypes they have formed about similar people. Later, when trying to describe or recall that person, the actual characteristics become distorted by the stereotypical features that often have no relation to that person.

Television has been criticized for perpetuating stereotypes, particularly regarding racial groups and women. Studies have shown that early television programs, in particular, were guilty of portraying stereo-typed characters. For instance, minorities were more likely than whites to be criminals, and women were often shown in the roles of wife, mother, or sex object. Children proved to be especially vulnerable to the influence of these stereotypes. The civil rights movement of the 1960s and the women's movement of the 1970s prompted the development of "prosocial" programs such as Sesame Street that sought to counter racial, ethnic, and gender stereotypes.

Further Reading

Liebert, Robert M.; Joyce N. Sprafkin; and Emily S. Davidson. The Early Window: Effects of Television on Children and Youth. New York: Pergamon Press, 1982.

Additional topics

Psychology EncyclopediaPsychological Dictionary: Perception: early Greek theories to Zombie