Role, Status or Cooperation?
Stereotypes can have real world consequences, such as affecting members of a marginalized group’s chances of getting hired for a job. Stopping stereotypes at their source may be a way to prevent these real-world consequences, but how do we identify their source? Through four experiments, Koenig and Eagly examine emerging stereotypes in fictional groups by manipulating roles (positions in society) and intergroup relations (interactions between groups). The roles among the fictional groups were usually contrasting, such as warriors and caretakers or hunters and healers. Intergroup relations were measured by high or low group status and group cooperativeness.
The first three experiments included U.S. undergraduate students and adults who read about the fictional groups and rated them on typical attributes. Koenig and Eagly first assessed what stereotypes emerged by providing only role information or only intergroup information. Then, they assessed emerging stereotypes from both types of information. Roles still had an influence on stereotypes when intergroup information was present and vice-versa when showing how they work together to create similar stereotype content.
The fourth experiment was conducted to examine how the roles and groups are intertwined. This study included adult volunteers who were asked to generate a list of occupational roles where a group is overrepresented (e.g., women are typically teachers, secretaries, or nurses). Afterward, they rated these roles and intergroup relations. They found a strong and positive correlation between ratings of roles and intergroup relations, showing they produce similar attribute ratings. Koenig and Eagly conclude that stereotypical content is linked to groups’ social position in society and can emerge from both social roles and group relationships. This study has implications for bridging psychological and sociological theories on stereotype formation.