The Effects of Stereotypes on Memory
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ALLEN, M. M. (2001). The Effects of Stereotypes on Memory. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 4. Available online at Retrieved April 25, 2017 .

The Effects of Stereotypes on Memory

Sponsored by: MUKUL BHALLA (
The purpose of this study was to determine if one`s memory of perceived events is influenced by stereotypes. Specifically, the present research sought to determine if age, gender, and personality type were correlated with the number of stereotypes applied (overall score on questionnaire). 51 participants (42 female, 9 male) viewed an ambiguous picture that displayed stereotypes and counterstereotypes for 10 seconds. Then, they were instructed to complete a personality survey based on the 5-factor model of personality. After 5 minutes, the participants completed a questionnaire that asked questions about the picture. The results indicated that correlational relationships between number of stereotypes used and the participants` age, gender, and personality type were insignificant and further study is needed.

Everyday we encounter numerous people with each person having their own backgrounds, racial and gender identity, age, and nationality. These encounters may only last for a few seconds, but in these few seconds we have made assumptions about these people based only on their appearances. Unfortunately, some of these assumptions are mere stereotypes. Stereotypes are defined as "a belief that associates a group of people with certain traits," (Brehm, Kassin, & Fein, 1999). People have divided themselves into categories based on race, gender, and ethnicity. This helps the human brain to distinguish differences among people, thus helping us to process information and make impressions of others quickly and easily (Hilton & von Hippel, 1996). In doing so, each category has become synonymous with certain characteristics, such as females are weak and emotional while senior citizens are forgetful and frail (Greenwald & Banaji, 1995). While these characteristics may be misrepresentative of some of the individual group members or the entire group, the stereotypes continue to exist and have a strong impact on the way we perceive others (Brehm et al., 1999). Grant and Holmes (1981) and Ryan, Judd, and Park (1996) studied the perceptions of groups and the stereotypes associated with them. Grant and Holmes (1981) asked participants to rate a person identified by a Chinese, Irish, or Somalian surname and a brief description by a "clinician" that was stereotypical of Chinese or Irish nationalities. The researchers found that despite the description given by the clinician, the participants were more heavily influenced by the stereotypes associated with the person`s last name. For example, the Chinese man was rated as having stereotypical Chinese traits, even though the clinician described him as having two stereotypical Irish traits (Grant & Holmes, 1981). Ryan, Judd, and Park (1996) ran correlational tests between beliefs about a particular social group and beliefs about a member of that social group. Participants were asked to judge fraternities, sororities, Asian Americans, and African-Americans by rating them on a questionnaire. At a later date the participants were asked to judge individuals from these groups. The individuals were described in an ambiguous manner, and the participants rated them on a scale that included stereotypical and counterstereotypical traits. The researchers found that participants who perceived the group in a stereotypic manner also perceived the individuals of that group in a stereotypic manner (Ryan et al., 1996). In an article posted on the American Psychological Association`s website, Spicher and Hudak (1997) discussed their findings on stereotyped gender roles in cartoons. The researchers watched popular Saturday morning cartoons and rated the characters based on sex, prominence, gender stereotypes, aggressiveness, and occupation. They found that the male cartoon characters had more prominent, powerful, aggressive, and smarter roles than female cartoon characters. Also, very few female characters had nontraditional occupations, despite the increasing number of women who work in these fields (Spicher & Hudak, 1997). Devine (1989) conducted a study that showed how widely known certain stereotypes are. Participants were asked to list every stereotype they could think of that pertained to African Americans. Afterwards, they filled out the Modern Racism Scale. The participants were then rated as either being high- or low-prejudiced and their lists were compared to each other. Devine (1989) found that the lists of stereotypes written by the high prejudice group were not significantly different than those written by the low prejudice group. Greenwald and Banaji (1995) tested the idea that stereotypes are implicit. They demonstrated that implicit memory is responsible for the application of stereotypes, whether consciously or unconsciously. Participants were given a list of famous and nonfamous names. Twenty-four hours later, they were given a different list of names that included previously unseen male and female nonfamous names. The participants were asked if the names on the second list were famous or nonfamous. The results showed that participants were more likely to incorrectly identify a nonfamous male name seen on day one as that of a famous name. The researchers concluded that these findings display the implicit gender stereotype of males achieving more success than females (Greenwald & Banaji, 1995.) In a similar study, Lenton, Blair, and Hastie (2000) gave participants a list of 75 words that was actually comprised of five lists containing 15 words each. The third list was made up of words that were either stereotypically related to males or females. After three minutes, they were given a recognition test comprised of 46 words, ten of which were on the first list, and were asked to identify the words that were on the first list. The researchers found that the participants were more likely to incorrectly identify new gender-related stereotype words as old, demonstrating that indirect stereotypes can invoke false memories (Lenton et al., 2000). As these studies show, stereotypes are associated with every aspect of life. Therefore, they are rampant, unavoidable, and possibly innate. Devine (1989) demonstrated that even those who are not considered prejudiced know the stereotypes that are often applied to certain groups. Grant and Holmes (1981), Ryan, Judd, and Parks (1996), and Spicher and Hudak (1997) demonstrated that individuals are stereotyped as having certain characteristics based on the social groups they belong to. And, Greenwald and Banaji (1995) and Lenton, Blair, and Hastie (2000) showed that there is a possible connection between stereotypes and the creation of false memories. The current study hoped to extend these findings. But, while the previous research was conducted considering one stereotype at a time, the current study tested for three different stereotypes at once (age, gender, and racial). Also, the previous research did not consider age, gender, or personality types to be factors in forming stereotypes, while the current study hoped to address this issue. The current study used an ambiguous and diverse picture to show how implicit stereotypes can distort the participants` recall, with participants remembering stereotypes instead of what was actually portrayed. The picture displayed an ambiguous scene involving people who are young and old, male and female, and black and white. The study used a questionnaire pertaining to the picture to test the recall (stereotypes) of the participants. Also, the current study used a personality survey to determine if certain stereotypes are more likely than others to form stereotypes. It was hypothesized that a correlation exists between number of stereotypes used and age, gender, and personality type. More specifically, it was predicted that participants who were younger than 25 years, females, and those who scored a seven or lower on at least one of the five factors of the personality survey would use more stereotypes in their recall of the picture.

Participants 54 participants (42 female, 9 male) who ranged in age from 18 to 58 (mean age 24.5 years) were recruited using convenience sampling from the psychology department subject pool at Loyola University New Orleans. However, only 51 participants had their data analyzed because one participant failed to follow instructions and two participants were tested before a change in the procedure was implemented. All genders and races were eligible to take part in the study, but participants must have been at least 18 years old and currently enrolled in a psychology course. While participation was voluntary, some were compensated with course credit. They signed up for a study that was titled "Personality traits of psychology majors at Loyola University New Orleans," because it was not possible to tell them up front what it really was we were studying. Materials To conduct the study, participants first filled out two informed consent forms to participate in a study testing personality types. One was returned to the researcher, and the other was for them to keep. Also, they filled out a demographic survey asking for their age, sex, major, and year of study (see Appendix A). A 3X2 colored picture that displayed an ambiguous scene was used for the participants to make impressions of. The picture involved six people in a hospital room: one young Caucasian male whose occupation was not clear; one professional, middle-aged Caucasian female whose purpose for being in the room was not certain; one female nurse; one elderly male patient; one middle-aged, male Caucasian doctor; and one young, African-American male who is wearing a white lab coat. Participants were shown the picture projected onto a screen for ten seconds, and in that time they were expected to make an impression about the people in it. A 13-item questionnaire was used to measure the participants` memories and to see if stereotypes played a role in their recollection of the picture (see Appendix B).The researchers created the questionnaire. Items 3, 6, and 12 measured gender stereotypes. Items 3, 8, and 11 measured racial stereotypes. Items 4 and 8 measured age-related stereotypes. Items 1, 2, 5, 7, 9, and 13 were neutral questions that received a score of zero no matter what the participant answered. However, items 2 and 7 were used in determining the scores for items 3 and 8 respectively. Stereotypic responses received a score of +1. A response was considered stereotypic if it was false in regards to the picture and if it was biased towards a social group. For instance, there was only one nurse in picture, but if the participant was to say that there were two nurses and they were both female, that question would be scored as a stereotype. Counterstereotypic responses received a score of -1. A response was considered counterstereotypic if it was false in regards to the picture and if it was the opposite of what a biased person would expect. If the participant said that the second nurse was male, then the question would be scored as a counterstereotype. And, if the participant stated correctly that only one nurse was present, then the question would receive a score of zero as would all other correct responses. All the scores for every item were added to get an overall value. If this value was greater than zero, the data was considered stereotypic. If the overall value was less than zero, the data was considered counterstereotypic. Data that received an overall value of zero was considered neutral. Between seeing the picture and remembering its contents, participants filled out a 15-item personality survey. This survey was based on the five-factor model of personality, which states that five personality dimensions (extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability, and openness to experience) underlie human behavior. It contains 15 word pairs, with each pair representing conflicting traits. Participants were asked to circle a number (ranging from one to five) closest to the trait that they felt characterized them. Extraversion was the sum of the numbers circled for questions one, six, and the reverse of eleven. Agreeableness was the total of questions seven, twelve, and the reverse of two. Conscientiousness was the addition of questions three, eight, and thirteen. Emotional stability was the sum of questions four, nine, and the reverse of fourteen. Lastly, openness to experience was the total of the reverses of questions five, ten, and fifteen. For reverses, if the participant circled one, they received a score of five, and so forth. Participants were given five minutes to complete this survey.Design and Procedure This study was a correlational design that looked at the relationships between the number of stereotypes used and the participants` age, gender, and score on the personality survey. Stereotypes were measured using the questionnaire about the picture. All participants saw the same picture and received the same questionnaire. Stereotypes were defined as an incorrectly recalled a fact that was biased in regards to the individual in question`s social group. Also, the perception of an ambiguous person in the picture that was biased in regards to the person`s social group was also scored as a stereotype. The participants` personality types were defined by their scores on certain questions that measured the five factors of personality. The participants` age and gender were determined by the demographic survey. Age was defined as how many years old the participant was at the time the study was conducted. Gender was defined as being male or female. Some controls were used in order to take care of confounding variables. First, all of the participants were treated exactly the same. Second, all of the participants went through the same procedure. Third, testing occurred at the same times on the same days. Finally, the participants were not aware of the real focus of the study until the debriefing. Participants were greeted and seated as they arrived for the study. The informed consent forms were filled out with one being returned. On the one not being returned, they were asked to write a four number code that was to be placed on every sheet the researchers gave them. The demographic survey was filled out. Then, the participants were shown the ambiguous picture for ten seconds. The participants were then given five minutes to complete the personality survey. Once the five minutes were up, the participants were handed the questionnaire. They were given three minutes to answer the questions regarding the picture. Then, the demographic survey, personality survey, and questionnaire were collected. The participants were debriefed thoroughly about the deception used and were informed of the real study that was taking place. Also, they were asked to not discuss the study with anyone to avoid future participants from finding out the real study. Then, they were thanked and dismissed from the room.

The means and standard deviations of the variables, along with the Pearson correlations among the variables, are presented in Table I. The hypothesis, which stated that age, gender, and personality type were correlated to the number of the stereotypes used, was not supported by the results. Although it was not a part of our research, one finding that was interesting to note was that females (M=3.60, SD=0.66) had a higher rate of emotional stability than the males (M=3.03, SD=0.80), t(49)=0.303, p=0.03 (two-tailed).

The study conducted did not come up with any overall significant results, and the hypothesis was not supported by the findings. However, while the overall numbers were shown to be insignificant, some patterns did emerge. For instance, Grant and Holmes (1981), Ryan, Judd, and Park (1996), and Spicher and Hudak (1997) showed that members of certain social groups were characterized in manners stereotypical to the social groups that they belonged to, despite being depicted in an ambiguous or completely opposite way. In the present study, few participants described the African-American man as being a doctor, even though he was wearing a doctor`s coat. Also, many participants described the woman in blue as being a nurse, despite the fact that she was dressed in professional attire and was not doing anything medical. Therefore, as the the previous research indicated, prejudiced people were not the only ones who use stereotypes, since it is highly unlikely that all of these females were prejudiced against their own gender. Greenwald and Banaji (1995) and Lenton, Blaire, and Hastie (2000) showed that stereotypes play a role in the creation of false memories, with participants remembering the stereotypes instead of the facts. The present study used a picture that contained one female nurse, one male patient, one male doctor, one African American male wearing a white lab coat, and two ambiguous figures (man and woman in blue). The results of the present study suggested that a majority of the participants did not distort these factual characters. When stereotypes were applied, they were used in describing the ambiguous characters. Therefore, the results contradict the previous research in that participants did not remember stereotypes instead of the facts, but used stereotypes to make perceptions about the ambiguity of the picture. There were a few limitations to the present study. First, the scoring of the questionnaire was highly subjective, with researchers basing whether a stereotype or counterstereotype was made on their own knowledge and perceptions. To help combat this and increase reliability, the researchers had two neutral people score the data as well. Also, deception was required in order for the researchers to get true results from the participants. Since the study ran for three days a week for two weeks, it is possible that participants inadvertently or purposely tipped off future participants as to what the real study was, which would affect the results. Another limitation would be the sample size. It was small (n = 51), and mostly female (F = 42, M = 9). The results could have turned out very differently if the sample size was larger and included an equal number of males and females. To test the validity of the questionnaire, the researchers had two psychology professors look it over to make sure it would work. The researchers hoped that this study would add to the body of knowledge in the area of stereotypes by extending the findings of previous researchers. However, the study did not yield any significant results. Thus, the researchers had to reject the hypothesis that age, gender, and personality type play a role when using stereotypes to interpret ambiguous situations. This study`s findings suggested that stereotypes are frequently made, but not rampantly. Future research should focus on this idea of bias against one`s group.

APA News Release. (1997, August 17). Cartoons still stereotype gender roles. Retrieved from, S. S., Kassin, S. M., & Fein, S. (1999). Social Psychology. 4th ed. Boston:Houghton Mifflin Company.Devine, P. (1989). Stereotypes and prejudice: Their automatic and controlled components. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 56, 5-18.Formy-Duval, D.L., Williams, J.E., Patterson, D.J., Fogle, E.E. (1995). A `Big Five` scoring system for the item pool of the adjective check list. Journal of Personality Assessment, 65, 59-76.Grant, P. R. & Holmes, J. G. (1981). The integration of implicit personality theory schemas and stereotype images. Social Psychology Quarterly, 44, 107-115.Greenwald, A. G. & Banaji, M. R. (1995). Implicit social cognition: Attitudes, self-esteem, and stereotypes. Psychological Review, 102, 4-27. Hilton, J. L. & von Hippel, W. (1996). Stereotypes. Annual Review of Psychology, 47, 237-271.John, O.P. (1990). The big five factor taxonomy: Dimensions of personality in the natural language and in questionnaires. In L.A. Pervin (Ed.), Handbook of Personality Theory and Research, (pp. 66-100). New York: Guilford Press.Lenton, A. P., Blair, I. V., & Hastie, R. (2001). Illusions of gender: Stereotypes evoke false memories. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 37, 3-14.Ryan, C. S., Judd, C. M., & Park, B. (1996). Effects of racial stereotypes on judgments of individuals: The moderating role of perceived group variability. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 32, 71-103. Scene of a hospital room [Image]. (2001, October 30). Retrieved from

Means, Standard Deviations, and Intercorrelations of the Variables

Variable M SD Age Sex Over Ext Agr Con Emo Age 24.52 9.6 Sex 1.82 .38 .15 Over .11 1.54 -.01 .10 Ext 3.31 .89 -.05 .24 -.06Agr 3.71 .71 .10 .15 -.19 .11Con 4.09 .65 .31* .20 .02 .18 .26Emo 3.50 .71 .27 .30* -.10 .45* .38* .15OpEx 3.09 .69 -.28*-.20 -.03 -.09 .16 -.07 -.17

Note: * Correlation is significant at the 0.05 level (2-tailed) Ext = Extraversion Agr = Agreeableness Con = Conscientiousness Emo = Emotional Stability OpEx = Openness to Experience Over = Overall Score on Questionnaire

Demographic SurveyPlease take 1 minute to provide us with the following information about yourself:

1. Age_____ years2. Sex (circle one): M F3. Major__________________4. Year (circle one): FR SO JR SRThanks! Please do not turn over to the next page until asked to do so by the experimenter.

Directions: Please answer the following questions about the picture to the best of your ability. If you do not know the answer to a question, please circle "I Don`t Know." Please be honest; individual responses will be kept confidential. You will have three minutes to complete this questionnaire. 1. Where did the scene take place? ____________________________ I Don`t Know2. How many nurses are in the room? ____________________________ I Don`t Know3. What gender and race is/are the nurse(s)? _____________________________I Don`t Know4. What is wrong with the patient? ____________________________ I Don`t Know5. Who is cleaning the room? _____________________________I Don`t Know6. What career does the woman in blue have? ____________________________ I Don`t Know7. How many doctors are in the room? ____________________________ I Don`t Know8. What age and race is/are the doctor(s)? ____________________________ I Don`t Know9. How old is the patient? ____________________________ I Don`t Know10.What career does the man in blue have? ____________________________ I Don`t Know11.What was the African-American man doing? ____________________________ I Don`t Know12.Who appears to be sad? ____________________________ I Don`t Know13.What was the African-American woman holding? ____________________________ I Don`t Know

Submitted 12/13/2001 5:45:57 PM
Last Edited 12/13/2001 6:56:59 PM
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