The spontaneous formation of stereotypes via cumulative cultural evolution

Douglas Martin*, Jacqui Hutchison, Gillian Slessor, James Urquhart, Sheila J. Cunningham, Kenny Smith

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    36 Citations (Scopus)
    233 Downloads (Pure)


    All people share knowledge of cultural stereotypes of social groups—but what are the origins of these stereotypes? We examined whether stereotypes form spontaneously as information is repeatedly passed from person to person. As information about novel social targets was passed down a chain of individuals, what initially began as a set of random associations evolved into a system that was simplified and categorically structured. Over time, novel stereotypes emerged that not only were increasingly learnable but also allowed generalizations to be made about previously unseen social targets. By illuminating how cognitive and social factors influence how stereotypes form and change, these findings show how stereotypes might naturally evolve or be manipulated.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to) 1777–1786
    Number of pages10
    JournalPsychological Science
    Issue number9
    Early online date22 Jul 2014
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2014


    • Stereotypes
    • Stereotype formation
    • Cultural evolution
    • Social cognition
    • Person perception


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