What is a Stereotype Simple Definition?

Wondering about stereotypes and what to do about them? Let the English Forward team help you.

Matthew Hamel Written by Matthew Hamel · 3 min read >
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A stereotype is defined in the dictionary as “a generalized belief about a particular group or class of people.” These beliefs can allow us to respond quickly to situations that we may have experienced before since they can help you judge a group of people or a situation quickly. But stereotypes also have a disadvantage in that they enable the observer to ignore the differences in individuals, judging the whole group as one can make you think things about an individual that may not be true.

It is easy to confuse a stereotype with prejudice because both are based on a prior assumption. But a stereotype differs from prejudices in that the stereotype is created about people of a specific group such as a race or culture and what they are like.

Here, we take a look at stereotype the word, what it means, and how to use it.

What does stereotype mean?

By dictionary definition, a stereotype is a highly generalized belief about a class or group of people. In psychology, a stereotype might be explained as the general expectation that you may have about the behavior, responses of a particular group of people. As you might already guess, stereotypes can be as varied as there are groups of people and among other things, they can be used to generalize expectations of the group’s preferences, abilities, and even preferences.

Because people tend to have both positive and negative aspects, stereotypes can also be good or bad. Positive stereotypes can elevate the group’s place in society while negative stereotypes can significantly diminish the group’s standing in society.

The problem with stereotyping a particular group of individuals is that the generalizations in terms of personality, abilities, and preferences can be out of focus. When you generalize as stereotyping tends to do, you completely miss an individual’s own capabilities that may be in sharp contrast to the ideas you have about whichever group or class they are in.

What is a stereotype in simple words?

The stereotype definition we have looked at above is perhaps the simplest way to describe what a stereotype is. But examples may also be necessary to bring the point home. You may already be familiar with examples.

Racial profiling

Racial profiling is one of the most common stereotype examples. For example, people often think that many Black people are good at sports. But this doesn’t mean there isn’t one or two who aren’t. This stereotype can affect the way black students are taught in schools and when combined with other stereotypes influence their future.

Gender profiling stereotypes

There are also a lot of stereotypes about what men and women can do. Examples include the following:

  1. Women don’t do the job as good as men
  2. The stereotype that men are stronger than women
  3. Women can’t progress in their careers as easily as men
  4. A Woman needs to stay home to raise children
  5. The stereotype that stay-at-home dads are unusual

Culture stereotypes

People can also be stereotyped based on their culture or country of origin. For example:

  1. Italians or French people make the best lovers
  2. All black people are poor
  3. All people in third-world countries are unhealthy
  4. The best chefs are French
  5. The stereotype that all Arabs and Muslims are terrorists.
  6. All Asians are smarter than most other groups
  7. All white Americans are lazy, obese, and dim-witted.
  8. All Irish people are drunks
  9. All Americans can be stereotyped as friendly, tolerant, and generous.

Social groups of individuals

This type of stereotyping will often happen in organized systems like schools, companies, or governments and are used to describe what certain groups of individuals are like. Examples include the following:

  1. Goths will often wear black makeup, black clothes, and never smile.
  2. The Stereotype that all blondes are not smart
  3. All Politicians are liars and only care about themselves
  4. All elderly individuals are unhealthy.

Sexual stereotypes

These can suggest that any feminine man is gay and any masculine woman is a lesbian. Many people who believe these stereotypes can also believe that being gay or lesbian is immoral or wrong.

How do you use the word stereotype?

The word stereotype as described in the dictionary can be used as a verb or a noun.

An example is

The actor has been stereotyped as the hero.

In the example above, the word “stereotyped” has been used as a verb.

An example is:

It is a common stereotype to regard all women as emotional and unhinged.

In this example, “stereotype” is used as a noun

What is an example of a stereotype threat?

Stereotypes can be both negative and positive. But even when they are positive, they tend to make a generalization that can have an adverse effect on the individual. For example, the stereotype that all blacks have specialized athletic activity can be a positive stereotype, except when society begins to regard blacks without athletic ability as anything but normal.

In extreme cases, stereotypes have been used to persecute whole groups of people or deny them access to some services. But even in everyday life, stereotyping a person can prevent them from accessing and using their potential. In this way, stereotypes can severely limit the development of relationships between one person and another not considered of the same group.

Written by Matthew Hamel
Matt has spent over a decade in international and ESL education both as a teacher and instructional designer. In addition to classroom and online teaching experience, Matt has written hundreds of lessons and articles about English with an emphasis on ESL learners. Profile