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You're Smart but Cold, or Nice but Dumb; We, of Course, are Both Smart and Nice: Stereotypes Combine Positive and Negative Assumptions

Stereotypes, like people, come in many shapes and sizes. Some groups are stereotyped as incapable (e.g. elderly people), while some are written off as cold (e.g. rich people). Psychologists have generally agreed that stereotypes are characterized by unflattering assumptions. However, a series of studies conducted by Princeton and other researchers challenges this view.

Princeton psychologists Susan Fiske and Amy Cuddy, along with psychologists Peter Glick, of Lawrence University, and Jun Xu, of University of California, Los Angeles, demonstrate that stereotypes are captured in two distinct dimensions -- warmth and competence. Furthermore, they’ve found that a positive stereotype in one of these dimensions is generally consistent with a negative stereotype in the other.

In surveys of 734 people, the researchers found that stereotypes of an out-group are usually characterized by a mixture of negative and positive reactions, either liking but disrespecting or respecting but disliking. Prejudice includes mixed emotions, such as pity and envy, as well as straightforward contempt and admiration. They found that high-status, allegedly competitive groups tend to be characterized by a stereotype of high competence and low warmth. Low-status, allegedly non-competitive groups tend to be characterized by a stereotype of low competence and high warmth.

The data linking stereotypes to a group’s own status and relations with other groups suggest that prejudice is likely to be affected by changes in a group’s social circumstances:

“Stereotypes and prejudice come from the relative positions of groups in society,” notes Fiske. “Accidents of social history put groups in certain power positions, defining their seeming status and competitiveness as soon as they step on American soil. Stereotypes and prejudice result more from temporary circumstances than people typically think.”

Published in The Journal of Personality and Psychology (2002, Vol. 82, No. 6), the paper encompassed four separate studies drawing on a range of participants, including students and non-students in five different states. The results have replicated recently on a nationally representative U.S. sample and in dozens of international samples.

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