What is a Stereotype? - Definition, Function & Formation

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Attitudes: Components, Formation & Measurement

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:04 Cognitive Schemas
  • 0:31 Function of Stereotypes
  • 2:39 How Prejudices Are Formed
  • 3:23 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Speed Speed

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Paul Bautista
Stereotyping is something we do daily, even if we don't realize it. By classifying groups of people, we can better understand the world around us, although prejudice may be a result. In this lesson, we'll watch Amy categorize strangers she sees on a bus and determine the reasons why humans tend to stereotype.

Meet Amy. Amy is going to help us to better understand stereotypes. When she rides the bus to work, she makes assumptions about the other passengers. She looks around the bus, trying to decide where to sit. For each person, she looks at gender, age, ethnicity, religion and other social groupings. These categories are called cognitive schemas, which are based on preconceived expectations. Who will she sit next to?

Function of Stereotypes

Before we answer that question, let me explain that stereotypes allow us to process new information, compare this information in terms of our past experiences and make decisions on appropriate behavior.

After a quick scan of the strangers on the bus, Amy sits down next to this guy. She's feeling social and he looks like a fun, friendly guy who seems like he'd be easy to strike up a conversation with. They chat and he asks for her number, which boosts her self-esteem, but also makes her uncomfortable, so she gets off at the next bus stop.

Not having thought this through, Amy finds herself in an unfamiliar part of town. One of the other passengers gets off the bus, too, and is walking behind her. To avoid what she believes is a potentially dangerous situation, Amy ducks into a convenience store to wait for the next bus.

On a basic level, stereotypes help us to quickly determine whether to initiate a flight, fight or social response to any situation. The other passenger could potentially be a friend or enemy, but Amy makes a quick judgment based on stereotypes.

Evolutionary psychologists have suggested that the ability to stereotype gives humans an advantage for survival. We may stereotype snakes as bad, and although not all are harmful to us, this positive stereotype helps us to avoid potentially dangerous snakebites.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account