A stereotype is “...a fixed, over generalised belief about a particular group or class of people.” (Cardwell, 1996).
One advantage of a stereotype is that it enables us to respond rapidly to situations because we may have had a similar experience before.
One disadvantage is that it makes us ignore differences between individuals; therefore we think things about people that might not be true (i.e. make generalisations).
The use of stereotypes is a major way in which we simplify our social world; since they reduce the amount of processing (i.e. thinking) we have to do when we meet a new person.
By stereotyping we infer that a person has a whole range of characteristics and abilities that we assume all members of that group have.
Stereotypes lead to social categorisation, which is one of the reasons for prejudice attitudes (i.e. “them” and “us” mentality) which leads to in-groups and out-groups.
Stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination are understood as related but different concepts.
Stereotypes are regarded as the most cognitive component and often occurs without conscious awareness, whereas prejudice is the affective component of stereotyping and discrimination is one of the behavioral components of prejudicial reactions.
In this tripartite view of intergroup attitudes, stereotypes reflect expectations and beliefs about the characteristics of members of groups perceived as different from one's own, prejudice represents the emotional response, and discrimination refers to actions.