Stereotypes are predictive generalizations about people and situations. Based on the category in which we place someone or something and how it measures up against personal constructs we apply, we predict what it will do. For instance, if you define someone as a liberal, you might stereotype her or him as likely t o vote Democratic, support social legislation, be pro-environment, and so forth. You may have stereotypes of fraternity and sorority members, athletes, and people from other cultures. The stereotypes you have don't necessarily reflect actual similarities among people. Instead, stereotypes are based on our perceptions of similarities among people or on widely held stereotypes we've internalized. We may perceive similarities that others don't, and we may fail to perceive commonalities that are obvious to others. Stereotypes maybe accurate or inaccurate. In some cases we have incorrect understandings of a group, and in other cases individual members of a group don't conform to the behaviors typical of a group as a whole. Although we need stereotypes in order to predict what will happen around us, they can be harmful if we forget that they are based on our perceptions, not objective reality.
Symbols can stereotype. Our capacity to abstract can also distort thinking. A primary way this occurs is through stereotyping, which is thinking in broad generalizations about a whole class of people or experiences. Examples of stereotyping are "sorority women are preppy," " teachers are smart," "jocks are dumb," "feminists hate men," "religious people are good," and " conflict is bad" Notice that stereotypes can be positive or negative generalization. .
Common to all stereotypes is classifying an experience or person into a category based on general knowledge of that category. When we use stereotypical terms such as African Americans, lesbians, White males, and working class, we may see only what members of each group have in common and not perceive differences among individuals.