Misconceptions of Perception

Stereotypes & Cultural Misconceptions


What is a stereotype?

"A fixed idea or image that many people have of a particular type of person or thing, but which is often not true in reality." 
                                                               - Oxford Dictionary

American views of French

  • They hate us
  • Rude
  • Drink a lot of wine
  • Wear berets and stripes
  • Don't shave
  • Stink
  • Smoke a lot


French view of Americans

  • Loud
  • Overweight
  • Lazy
  • Eat a lot of burgers
  • Arrogant
  • Politically misguided
  • Lack culture

Resource 2
Stereotypes span across cultures:

Top 10 National Stereotypes

How do stereotypes form and how does do they lead to cultural misconceptions?

There are several beliefs among psychologists regarding how stereotypes are formed.  Research in Psychology Today describes a more inclusive way of looking at the formation of stereotypes.  

The cognitive approach of the 70's "made the simple but profound point that we all use categories- of people, places, things--to make sense of the world around us" (Paul 1).  Drawing on that, recent studies have shown activity in the unconscious regarding the formation of stereotypes.  We take information and images that we are exposed to everyday and consciously make split-moment decisions to accept them.  We may not agree with what they say, but when the same message is conveyed in mass quantities as we grow up, it is a part of our environment and we choose to not question these "known" truths.  After our conscious has been repeatedly exposed, our subconscious stores this information.  Therefore, when we see someone of a certain culture, in an instant our subconscious relays the stored information to our conscious and stereotypes and bias form.  

To further this understanding, social psychologists introduce the term "in-group/out-group" (Paul 2). Meaning that as humans, we want to be accepted or a part of the in-group.  Therefore, we think highly of ours and tend to put negative feelings towards others (age, race, gender, religion, etc.).  Then, we see our grouping as individuals and tend to group the out-groups as a whole, or mass.  Thus, stereotypes or generalizations are formed.

Due to this continual exposure, "By five years of age, many children have definite and entrenched stereotypes..." says Margo Monteith, Ph.D.  Whether we believe the generalizations or not, they are perpetuated by "peer pressure, mass media, and the actual balance of power in society" (Paul 3).
Cultural misconceptions are formed from perpetuated stereotypes.
 Jillian Johnson, Guy Larcom, and Candace Marcotte