AskDefine | Define stereotypical

Dictionary Definition

stereotypical adj : lacking spontaneity or originality or individuality; "stereotyped phrases of condolence"; "even his profanity was unimaginative" [syn: stereotyped, stereotypic, unimaginative]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. banal, commonplace and clichéd because of overuse
    I was disappointed by the stereotypical' the-butler-did-it ending.

Extensive Definition

A stereotype is a simplified and/or standardized conception or image with specific meaning, often held in common by people about another group. A stereotype can be a conventional and oversimplified conception, opinion, or image, based on the assumption that there are attributes that members of the other group hold in common. Stereotypes are sometimes formed by a previous illusory correlation, a false association between two variables that are loosely if at all correlated. Stereotypes may be positive or negative in tone. They are typically generalizations based on minimal or limited knowledge about a group to which the person doing the stereotyping does not belong. Persons may be grouped based on racial group, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, age or any number of other categories.


Stereotyping is a way of representing other people. Stereotypes can revolve around a certain characteristic of the group of persons to which they are assigned. The persons of that group may even be reduced to being known and understood through a lens based on the stereotype that results from this, rather than being viewed as individuals. Stereotypes may refuse to recognize a distinction between an individual and the group to which he or she belongs. Stereotypes may represent people entirely in terms of narrow assumptions about their biology, nationality, sexual orientation, disability, or any other number of categories. Stereotype maybe either positive or negative.Stereotype may appear in media because of the base of writers, directors, reporters, producers and editors.


Sociologist Charles E. Hurst of the College of Wooster states that, “One reason for stereotypes is the lack of personal, concrete familiarity that individuals have with persons in other racial or ethnic groups. Lack of familiarity encourages the lumping together of unknown individuals” Groups which enjoy fewer social and economic advantages will be stereotyped in a way which helps explain disparities, such as lower employment rates. Although disadvantaged group members may have greater difficulty finding a job due to in-group favoritism, racism, and related social forces, the disadvantaged group member is unjustifiably characterized as 'unmotivated' (he could find a job if he looked hard enough), 'unintelligent' (he's not smart enough to have that job), and 'lazy' (he would rather take hand-outs than work).
Stereotypes focus upon and thereby exaggerate differences between groups. Competition between groups minimizes similarities and magnifies differences.
This makes it seem as if groups are very different when in fact they may be more alike than different. For example, among African Americans, identity as an American citizen is a more salient categorization than racial background; that is, African Americans are more American than African.
Yet within American culture, Black and White Americans are often seen as completely different groups.
For as long as there has been a human species, individuals have been different from one another. Persons have gravitated to groups of other persons like themselves. People create and develop categories of qualities by which to classify the groups; some were based on ancestry. Many of these groupings have become the key factors in determining which groups have political, social, and economic power in the world.
Automatic stereotype activation can be totally involuntary, and is described as the activation of categorically associated "nodes", according to Leopold and Brown from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Effects, accuracy, terminology

For individual people there can be both positive and negative effects of a stereotype which is seen to apply to them. The overall effects of stereotyping are seen by many to always be negative.
Some people believe that stereotypes are generally based on actual differences. Others believe that they are always false generalizations (by definition).
For some individual people the effects of this might be positive or negative - a separate issue to whether they are positive or negative for society.
Stereotypes can be self-fulfilling to at least some extent (e.g. group 1 treats group 2 in a more hostile way because they are afraid of the dangerous nature they are supposed to display; people from group 2 accordingly react more aggressively, thus confirming the stereotype) .
Stereotypes can be deeply embedded in a culture. The term 'stereotype' is more often used once those perceived truths are put into arguments.
There are some complicating factors which arise when the accuracy of stereotypes is discussed. One of these is that a factor leading to stereotyping can be the existence of a group of people who do share a characteristic. For instance, there might be a reasonably significant number of men working in sales roles, and showing little integrity and honesty ('significant' in this context does not imply a majority). This can lead to the creation of a stereotype of a 'salesman' figure. In this limited sense it might be seen that the stereotype is based on a real group of people (i.e. salesmen who behave with little integrity).
Possible prejudicial effects of stereotypes are:
  • Justification of ill-founded prejudices or ignorance
  • Unwillingness to rethink one's attitudes and behavior towards stereotyped group
  • Preventing some people of stereotyped groups from succeeding in activities or fields
Often the terms ‘’stereotype’’ and ‘’prejudice’’ are confused. Stereotypes are ‘’standardized’’ and ‘’simplified’’ conceptions of groups, based on some prior assumptions. Stereotypes are created based on some idea of abstract familiarity. Prejudices are more specific - they are predispositions to differential behavior patterns.

Role in art and culture

Stereotype is often used as a form of dramatic shorthand for "stock character". Stereotypes change with time. The unwitting use of some stereotypes appears awkward to a present-day audience which refuses to tolerate a representation of individuals based on that stereotype. Many other stereotypes pass unnoticed, sometimes even by those being stereotyped. Examples of active use are found in the work of Brecht and other dramatic styles which allow the actor to demonstrate a character's level of role distance, thus showing the active use. Retrospectively these stock characters have been illuminated by the work of Brecht, Dario Fo and Jacques Lecoq, despite their original reference to local Italian stereotypes in their early genesis. Importantly in drama the actor does not create a stereotype; rather their characterisation may be simple in that they represent an uncritical reflection of the stereotype, and it is this simplicity which aggravates a present-day audience. A subtle and detailed characterisation, especially of the commedia Dell'arte stock characters, results in a unique and immediate performance that will be enjoyed by an audience due to the clear active use of the characters by the actor.
In literature and art, stereotypes are clichéd or predictable characters or situations. Throughout history, storytellers have drawn from stereotypical characters and situations, in order to connect the audience with new tales immediately. Sometimes such stereotypes can be sophisticated, such as Shakespeare's Shylock in The Merchant of Venice. Arguably a stereotype that becomes complex and sophisticated ceases to be a stereotype per se by its unique characterisation. Thus while Shylock remains politically unstable in being a stereotypical Jew, the subject of prejudicial derision in Shakespeare's era, his many other detailed features raise him above a simple stereotype and into a unique character, worthy of modern performance. Simply because a feature of a character can be categorized as being typical does not make the entire character a stereotype.
Despite their proximity in etymological roots, cliché and stereotype are not used synonymously in cultural spheres. For example a cliché is a high criticism in narratology where genre and categorization automatically associates a story within its recognizable group. Labeling a situation or character in a story as typical suggests it is fitting for its genre or category. Whereas declaring that a storyteller has relied on cliché is to pejoratively observe a simplicity and lack of originality in the tale. To criticize Ian Fleming for a stereotypically unlikely escape for James Bond would be understood by the reader or listener, but it would be more appropriately criticized as a cliché in that it is overused and reproduced. Narrative genre relies heavily on typical features to remain recognizable and generate meaning in the reader/viewer.
The instantly recognisable nature of stereotypes mean that they are very useful in producing effective advertising and situation comedy. Media stereotypes change and evolve over time - for instance, we now instantly recognize only a few of the stereotyped characters shown to us in John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress. The teen sitcom, Saved By The Bell features a typical group of high school stereotypes such as a class clown (Zack Morris), a jock (A.C. Slater), a nerd (Samuel "Screech" Powers), a cheerleader (Kelly Kapowski), a feminist (Jessie Spano), and a superficial fashion plate (Lisa Turtle). Some observed the sitcom, like many teen sitcoms of that time, in addition to stereotyping people, stereotyping an institution itself, that of high school. TV stereotypes of high schools have often promoted a "typical American school" as football games, fashion styles, skirt chasing, and not much devotion to academics or studying.
In movies and TV the halo effect is often used. This is when, for example, attractive men and women are assumed to be happier, stronger, nicer people, explained by Greenwald and Banaji from Psychological Review.

Racial and ethnic stereotyping

Black stereotypes

Early stereotypes

The movie Birth of a Nation questioned whether or not Black people were fit to run for governmental offices or vote. Secretary of State John C. Calhoun arguing for the extension of slavery in 1844 said "Here (scientific confirmation) is proof of the necessity of slavery. The African is incapable of self-care and sinks into lunacy under the burden of freedom. It is a mercy to give him the guardianship and protection from mental death."
Even after slavery ended the intellectual capacity of Black people was still frequently questioned. Lewis Terman wrote in The measurement of intelligence in 1916 "(Black and other ethnic minority children) are uneducable beyond the nearest rudiments of training. No amount of school instruction will ever make them intelligent voters or capable citizens in the sense of the world…their dullness seems to be racial, or at least inherent in the family stock from which they come…Children of this group should be segregated in special classes and be given instruction which is concrete and practical. They cannot master abstractions, but they can be made efficient workers…There is no possibility at present of convincing society that they should not be allowed to reproduce, although from a eugenic point of view they constitute a grave problem because of their unusual prolific breeding."

Modern stereotypes

Patricia J. Williams, writer for The Nation, said this of Jar Jar Binks, a character from the 2002 Star Wars film: "...intentionally or not, Jar Jar's pratfalls and high jinks borrow heavily from the genre of minstrelsy. Despite the amphibian get-up, his manchild-like idiocy is imported directly from the days of Amos 'N' Andy." Many aspects of Jar Jar's character are believed to be highly reminiscent of the archetypes portrayed in blackface minstrelsy.
According to Robert M. Entman and Andrew Rojecki, authors of the The Black Image in the White Mind, in television and film Black characters are less likely to be "the intellectual drivers of its problem solving." In one example, a study of the portrayal of race, ethnicity and nationality in televised sporting events by journalist Derrick Jackson in 1989 showed that blacks were more likely than Whites to be described in demeaning intellectual terms. Political activist and one-time presidential candidate Rev. Jesse Jackson said in 1985 that the news media portray blacks as less intelligent than we are. Film director Spike Lee explains that these images have negative impacts. "In my neighborhood, we looked up to athletes, guys who got the ladies, and intelligent people," said Lee.
Even so-called positive images of Black people can lead to stereotypes about intelligence. In Darwin's Athletes: how sport has damaged Black America and preserved the myth of race, John Hoberman writes that the prominence of African-American athletes encourages a de-emphasis on academic achievement in black communities. In a 1997 study on racial stereotypes in sports, participants were shown a photograph of a white or a black basketball player. They then listened to a recorded radio broadcast of a basketball game. White photographs were rated as exhibiting significantly more intelligence in the way they played the game, even though the radio broadcast and target player represented by the photograph were the same throughout the trial. Several other authors have said that sports coverage that highlights 'natural black athleticism' has the effect of suggesting white superiority in other areas, such as intelligence.

History of ethnic stereotypes in the United States

The stratification and separation of groups, especially racial minorities, in the United States began in the nation’s earliest years of colonization. With the colonists’ first contact with the Native Americans, the stereotype of “the savage” was born. The idea of a “savage” was the framework the colonists used to judge and interpret the Native Americans .
The early Anglo-Saxon colonists had a very different relationship with the first African Americans in the United States than they did with the Native Americans. Their initial thoughts were shaped by popular “English views of Blacks as evil, animalistic, uncivilized, and un-Christian”

English stereotypes

The English people are stereotyped as inordinately proper, prudish, and stiff and as having bad teeth. Characters in historical movies often have English accents even when the setting has nothing to do with England. Upper-class characters are also often given English accents. In more recent times, many movie villains, including Jafar from Aladdin, Benedict from Last Action Hero movie, Scar from The Lion King, and Hannibal Lecter from The Silence of the Lambs, have all been portrayed by British actors or given English accents.
Notably, in Disney films from the 1990s onward, English accents are generally employed to serve one of two purposes: slapstick comedy or evil genius. Examples include Aladdin (the Sultan and Jafar, respectively), The Lion King (Zazu and Scar, respectively), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Victor the Gargoyle and Frollo, respectively), and Pocahontas (Wiggins and Ratcliffe, respectively, both of whom happen to be played by the same actor, American David Ogden Stiers).

White American stereotypes

Especially in European countries, Americans are stereotyped as brash, ignorant, self-important, unintelligent and obese. This could be due to perception of the American diet, such is the popularity and global spread of American fast food franchises such as McDonald's and Burger King, which has fueled America's obesity crisis.
There are many examples throughout the media, but a classic example is Homer Simpson, the obese, lazy and dim-witted middle American from the cartoon, The Simpsons. The show itself parodies many aspects of American life, culture and society.

Irish stereotypes

Although the Irish, Germans, French, etc are considered ethnic groups today, the common term in the 19th century was "race". Much was made of Celtic versus Anglo-Saxon racial characteristics, regarding historic identity and behavior patterns. An analysis of nineteenth-century British attitudes by Mary J. Hickman and Bronwen Walter wrote that the 'Irish Catholic' was one viewed as an "other," or a different race in the construction of the British nationalist myth [of course this view no longer exists in any way, the Irish are now seen as fellow inhabitants of the British Isles]. Likewise the Irish considered the English "other" and fought hard to break away and create their own homeland, which they finally did in the 1920s.
One 19th century British cartoonist even depicted Irish immigrants as ape-like and as racially different. One American doctor in the 1850s James Redfield, argued that "facial angle" was a sign of intelligence and character. He likened the facial characteristics of the human races to animals. Thus Irishmen resembled dogs, Yankees were like bears, Germans like lions, Negroes like elephants, Englishmen like bulls, Turks like turkeys, Persians like peacocks, Greeks like sheep, Hindus like swans, Jews like goats, and Frenchmen like frogs.,M1 In the 20th century physical stereotypes survived in the comic books until the 1950s, with Irish characters like Mutt and Jeff, and Jiggs and Maggie appearing daily in hundreds of newspapers.

Jewish stereotypes

Modern European antisemitism has its origin in 19th century theories—now mostly considered as pseudo-scientific—that said that the Semitic peoples, including the Jews, are entirely different from the Aryan, or Indo-European, populations, and that they can never be amalgamated with them. In this view, Jews are not opposed on account of their religion, but on account of their supposed hereditary or genetic racial characteristics including: greed, a special aptitude for money-making and low cunning.
In early films such as Cohen's Advertising Scheme (1904, silent) stereotyped Jews as "scheming merchants"
To this day Jewish people are sometimes stereotyped in media as being intellectually gifted, and focused on money.

Sex and gender stereotyping

Sex and gender stereotyping could be classified as a single idea. Although sex is usually defined as a person's biological traits, gender is defined as how a person identifies themselves to the world. Gender relates to those affectations that are attributed to men and those affectations that are attributed to women. It is important to understand that in this discussion it requires a social structure that tends to enforce a binary sex and gender role based on a persons biological characteristics.
Gender stereotypes are those ideas, usually imposed by society of what is expected of men and women in the social structure. In most modern Western cultures, men are expected to be assertive, risk-taking, tough, unfeeling, insensitive, combative, the owner or ruler of the home, whereas women are expected to be the nurturers, caregivers, demure, polite, the family homemaker.


The word stereotype was invented by Firmin Didot in the world of printing; it was originally a duplicate impression of an original typographical element, used for printing instead of the original. American journalist Walter Lippmann coined the metaphor, calling a stereotype a "picture in our heads" saying "Whether right or wrong, ...imagination is shaped by the pictures seen... Consequently, they lead to stereotypes that are hard to shake." (Public Opinion, 1922, 95-156). In fact, cliché and stereotype were both originally printers' words, and in their literal printers' meanings were synonymous. Specifically, cliché was a French word for the printing surface for a stereotype.
The first reference to "stereotype", in its modern, English use was in 1850, in the noun, meaning "image perpetuated without change".

Specialised use in Ethology

In ethology, stereotyped behavior or fixed action pattern is an innate, pre-programed response that is repeated when an animal is exposed to an environmental innate releasing mechanism.

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