Stereotypes are generalized beliefs that are widely held but oversimplified — sometimes to the point of being dangerously erroneous — about a specific type of person, thing, or phenomenon. Social psychology has shown that stereotypes are highly rigid and fixed ideas and expectations about how particular groups or individuals ought to behave. Bigotry is a common example of stereotypes taken to unhealthy and even harmful extremes.

Typically, any counterexamples that don’t fit the stereotype are tossed out as “exceptions” to the rule. Seemingly no amount of amassing evidence or cultural change over time is enough to dislodge the stereotypes some people hold of others.

Stereotypes exaggerate reality

Walter Lippman wrote about stereotypes in his 1922 work Public Opinion, that they add colored lenses to both the familiar and the exotic. As tweaked by stereotypes, what’s slightly familiar becomes very familiar, and what’s somewhat strange becomes sharply foreign.

These stereotypes create patterns that make up our world, such that the world emerges and exists not as we would like it to be, but as we expect it to be.

Terms related to stereotypes

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