Attitude Formation And Stereotypes

‘Stereotypes’, according to Hogg and Vaughan(2002:46), are impressions of people that are strongly influenced by widely shared assumptions of personality, behaviour and attitudes based on group membership for example, sex, race, ethnicity and nationality. These assumptions are a simplified evaluative image of someone or a social group and its members, mental representations influence impressions we form of a person or group and are seen as a social schema.

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As individuals stereotypes help us to deal with a large amount of social information we receive from a person or group of people. All this information helps us to simplify our social world to make it manageable, controllable and predictable. According to Pennington and McLoughlin (2008:184) Hogg and Vaughan (2002) have done many studies over the last 50 years and they summarise there research, the findings include;

Stereotypes are quick to form and hard to change.

Many stereotypes form in childhood and early teens.

We show a tendency to rapidly stereotype others on the basis of a small number of traits and characteristics.

Stereotypes are important as they influence impression formation, example when we first meet a person we assign them to a social group without finding any information out about them; from this we have formed a pre existing stereotype from our first impressions.


We cannot see or measure attitudes directly; the term attitude is used to represent a quite complex mental process. As individuals we continually seek to discover others attitudes, we tell others our views and try to change others opinions. According to Petty and Cacioppo (1986) say attitudes are a general evaluation we make about ourselves, others and issues, they go on to say ‘attitudes have a past, present and future; they were developed from past experience, they guide our current behaviour and can direct our development in the future’, (Pennington and McLoughlin, 2008:193). Through this definition it is thought attitudes strongly influence the way we behave.

There are two different approaches to understanding attitudes; the structural approach and the functional approach. The structural approach (Katz 1960)- states that attitudes are an evaluation (positive or negative) of an attitude, i.e. It is expected for you to hold a positive attitude towards a close friend and you might hold a negative attitude towards a political issue, this approach is broken down into three components. (Pennington and McLoughlin 2008:193-194).

Cognitive- our thoughts;

Affective- our feelings and emotions;

Behavioural- our behaviour

The functional approach ties to understand and explains what the purpose of the attitude is for the individual; there are five different attitudes in this function. (Pennington and McLoughlin 2008:197).

Adaptive function- helps achieve goal and avoids the undesirable.

Self- expression- our opinion, attitudes and views.

Ego- defensive function – protects self- esteem and promotes positive self image, Freudian theory.

Knowledge function- helps with structure and organisation.

Social adjustment function- helps manage social situation.

Central traits – are pieces of information we latch onto whilst forming first impressions, these have disproportional influences over our final impressions.

Primacy effect – information presented first has the strongest influence on impressions formed.

Asch (1946 carried out a study to see whether impressions formed of a person are influenced by the order of information given to us. He did this using an experiment; he gave participants one of two lists of adjectives describing a person. Each one contained the same adjectives but was in a different order.

A: intelligent, industrious, impulsive, critical, and stubborn. Positive Negative

B: stubborn, critical, impulsive, industrious, and intelligent. Negative Positive

Participants were then asked to rate the person on another list, including honest, sociable, reliable and happy. The findings showed that those who were given List A ratings of the person were more positive than those given List B. and they said the person was honest, sociable, reliable and happy than those given List B. The participants given List A said the person was honest, sociable, reliable and happy. Asch concluded that the order in information appears is important in influencing impression formation. This demonstrates primacy effect and central traits.

Peripheral traits – have much less influence over the formation of impressions.

Recency effect – information presented last has the greatest influence on impressions.

Luchin’s (1957) conducted a study to show recency effect occurs when there’s a time delay between two pieces of information. This was done in an experiment, participants were given two paragraphs of a person, paragraph 1 described the person as extrovert, outgoing and someone who enjoyed talking to people, the second paragraph described the person as introvert, who preferred to be alone and did not want to talk to people. In one condition the participants read the extrovert paragraph first, followed by the introvert paragraph after a 15 minutes delay, at this point they read a magazine. In another condition the introvert paragraph was read first followed by the extravert paragraph with same delay. The findings showed that participants were influenced by the second paragraph. Luchin concluded that when two sets of information are given with a timed delay between them recency effect is likely to occur. This study demonstrates peripheral traits and recency effect

Adorno (1950) carried out the authoritarian personality study which looked at whether there was a specific type of personality which was associated with prejudice. Adorno did this by using a field study; he distributed a questionnaire known as the fascism scale to 2,000 members. The findings showed that ethnocentrism was displayed and suggested that individuals are likely to exhibit prejudice, discrimination and negative attitudes towards others. The origins of this are rooted from the Freudian theory, the theory states that harsh parenting and an overly disciplinarian could result with an adult with a weak ego. Adorno concluded that someone having this type of personality was likely to be anti-Semitic and ethnocentric; He proposed prejudice was the result of an individual personality type, who is likely to be hostile and are said to be rigid and inflexible, they can be submissive and aggressive.

Tajfel (1970) carried out a study called social identity theory (SIT) to demonstrate that random assignment to a group would be sufficient to result in prejudice between an in- group and out-group. This was done in a field study, two groups of children aged 11-14; they were told which group they were assigned to on the basis of the preference to one of two famous artists. Each child was asked to allocate a monetary reward to each of the two groups; this was based on the models they had produced. The findings showed the allocation of monetary rewards and points maximised the inter-group differention and favoured the in-group. Tajfel concluded that they did show prejudice to the out-group and acted in favour of the in-group when membership is anonymous and no interaction takes place amongst the members. He believed we divide the world in to groups the ‘us’ and ‘them’. The ‘us’ being the in-group and the ‘them’ being the out-group this is done through social categorisation. In this theory it states that the in-group will be prejudice and are likely to discriminate against the out-group.

Sheriff (1936) carried out a study to investigate how conflict develops between two groups known as the realistic conflict theory (RCT). He conducted this using a field study which lasted three weeks, in the study Sheriff had two groups of boys aged 11-12 who were randomly assigned to either the Eagles or the Rattlers, each group lived in a cabin, each cabin were set a distance apart. At the start the groups were not aware of each other. Sheriff set up a series of activities between the Eagles and Rattlers for competition of resources for instance tug of war and football. The winning team would receive prizes i.e. best food at a party. The findings showed that conflict rapidly spread between the two groups; such as name calling, raids and fighting this showed vicious and disturbed behaviour. Sheriff then attempted to reduce this conflict by stopping the competitive games. Sheriff concluded that if the groups were in completion prejudice and conflict was displayed, by getting the groups to work together this was reduced.

Adorno’s original authoritarian personality theory has been supported by Christie and Cook (1958) there research did show a strong positive correlation between authoritarism and ethnocentrism. Adorno believed this personality type developed in early childhood. Most recent research Carried out by Altermeyer (1996) produced an updated questionnaire (F-scale) for the authoritarian personality which is both reliable and valid. Altermeyer found that individuals who scored high as an authoritarian personality are likely to be prejudice towards groups such as homosexuals. They are conventional i.e. they support fundamental religious beliefs and are likely to be against abortion. This does support Adorno’s original theory. However other researchers have criticised Adorno concept that individuals display authoritarian personality because prejudice is shown on the extreme right and the extreme left of the political spectrum. Rokeach (1960) developed the idea of closed minds according to this research people with closed minds have a rigid style of thought and that individuals are intolerant to different views. He separates authoritarianism from political views. This is something Adorno failed to do.

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There are many weaknesses with Adorno’s original theory, the authoritarian explanation of prejudice does not explain how whole social groups can be prejudiced, and some people who are prejudice will not conform to the authoritarian personality type. The theory doesn’t explain why individuals are prejudice against certain groups and not others. Hyman and Sheatsley (1954) found that lower educational level was probably a better explanation of high F-scale scores than an authoritarian. (Simply psychology, 2010:1).

D- Deception R- Right to withdraw I – Informed consent P- Protection

Drip is used in psychology.





When assessing whether Adorno had followed the DRIP guidelines, it was clear that participants were not deceived as they knew what was happening, they had the right to withdraw, they would have given informed consent and protection would have been in place.

Tajfel’s theory of social identity was a three component model: social categorisation, social identification and social comparison. The theory became known as the minimal group paradigm because the groups don’t know each other and there is no form of interaction between them. The theory has been supported by many researchers such as Turner (1978) who continued with Tajfel’s theory but abolished the link between money and points. The participants would just distribute points; the findings were similar and concluded that being categorised as a group member was sufficient to produce ethnocentrism and competitive intergroup behaviour, Turner decided social categorisation was necessary but might not be sufficient enough to explain intergroup behaviour. (Hogg and Vaughan 2002:400). Experiments such as the minimal group paradigm have been criticised for being too artificial to generalise the results to prejudice. Individuals are members of different groups; a lot of research carried out on social identity has only looked at the membership of one group, when in real life individuals are members of many groups. So the social identity theory doesn’t help understand what ones are most important to the individual (Pennington and McLoughlin 2008:207).





Tajfel’s theory has good internal construct and good face value but lacks eco-validity. In the social identity theory the participants were deceived as the was not told what the experiment was for, they did have the right to withdraw but would not have given informed consent as they were un aware what was really going on although there was protection there as members were kept separate.

The realistic conflict theory carried out by sheriff has been supported by Murrel (1994) carried out a study in the USA where white people support equality in employment, Murrel discovered that they do not support taking positive action that will help black people get a better job. The research that was given to the white people showed that jobs would be limited leading the white people to believe they would be disadvantaged through taking positive action. This recent research showed that prejudice developed from competition of limited resources just like sheriff’s experiment did. However this theory was criticised by Bobo (1988) who argued that when members of a dominant or majority group feel that their interests are being threatened they is likely to justify their prejudicial attitudes.

In sheriff’s study concerns were raised over the ethics of the experiment because it was set up to purposely to cause conflict between the two groups which caused distress to the participants .realistic conflict theory is valuable when explaining prejudice as it can be applied to real issues where there is competition for resources. Prejudice cannot solely be explained by this theory. Realistic conflict theory and social identity theory are complementary not contradictory, each study explains prejudice arising as consequence of completion and membership of social groups.





In this study deception did take place as members were not informed that compations were being set up deliberately to cause conflict. The boys would have had the right to withdraw and informed consent would have been given but only on the grounds that the boys were at a summer camp. Protection was not carried out as fights broke out and boys were left distressed (Pennington and McLoughlin 2008:205).

Part 2: Jigsaw Technique

Elliot Aronson (1971) conducted the jigsaw technique study to see whether an explosive situation could be diffused using certain techniques. This was done using a field study where Aronson observed students after being called in to an elementary school in Austin, Texas by the schools superintendant. Austin Texas was previously racially segregated and had become desegregated, all off a sudden children from Hispanic, white and African American families were put in a class room together for the first time. Inter-ethnic conflict and aggression soon erupted and ‘suspicion, fear and distrust produced an atmosphere of turmoil and hostility’ (jigsaw classroom, 2010:1). Results of classroom observations showed that the teacher would ask a question and students who knew the answer were eager for the teacher to pick them by raising the hands high to attract the teacher’s attention; the eager students who weren’t chosen were left disappointed. This was because the classroom room environment was competitive. The emphasis from a relentlessly competitive atmosphere needed to be shifted to a cooperative one.

Aronson devised an intervention for the teacher which was called the cooperative jigsaw structure. The students were split into small groups which were diversified by ethnicity, gender and race, they were given a topic such as the life of Eleanor Roosevelt, and each student was given a specific task to do where they would need to obtain information on their topic. The groups were then split again i.e. all the 1’s together, 2’s together and so on. The students would then go back to their original group and recite their findings.

(Cutting edge, 2010:1)

The results showed that the children gained confidence, the jigsaw structure made each student speak aloud to the group. At the start the students passed negative comments to each other such as; you can’t speak English, this was because they were skilled in being competitive, when the children were reminded that the situation had changed.

Children began to realise in order to achieve they needed to change their habits, working together helped them succeed, negative jibes soon stopped and students became supportive and stereotyping started to change. Students started to build friendships and the school became fun and more humane. Because Aronson only introduced the structure into certain classrooms he was able to compare his findings: jigsaw students had started to show less prejudice and negative stereotyping and were more self confident compared to students in the traditional classroom. Aronson concluded that the jigsaw reduced racial conflict and increased positive education; it encouraged listening, engagement and empathy (jigsaw classroom, 2010:2). If students work together they achieve a common goal, children have to cooperate to achieve.

The jigsaw technique was proven to work and discrimination and prejudice was reduced the children started to work together and friendships building took place, students were happy and enjoyed going to school. I think the study is a good one and shows by making a few changes and implementing a structure that promotes team work which the students respond positively to, it helps form positive relationships.



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