The Effect of Stereotyping on Memory Recall
Sponsored by Missouri Western State University Sponsored by a grant from the National Science Foundation DUE-97-51113
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The proper APA Style reference for this manuscript is:
GRAVES, C. -. (2001). The Effect of Stereotyping on Memory Recall. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 4. Available online at Retrieved April 25, 2017 .

The Effect of Stereotyping on Memory Recall

Sponsored by: MUKUL BHALLA (
The purpose of this study was to determine if stereotypes affect memory recall. Fifty-one psychology students participated in the study. Of these, nine were male and forty-two were female. They ranged in age from eighteen to fifty-eight. They were asked to look at an ambiguous scene and given a personality test and questionnaire about the picture. The scores on the personality test and stereotypical responses were compared to see if any relationships existed. Findings indicated that more agreeable persons are less likely to use stereotypes in their judgments. It was also found that women report being more emotionally stable than men.

The Effect of Stereotyping on Memory Recall “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” This cliché has been around for years. One interpretation is to not judge persons by their outward appearance. It is not unusual for someone to judge another person based solely on appearance. Most of the time, this cognitive process of stereotyping is done unconsciously. According to Macrae and Bodenhausen (2001), research has shown that “categorical thinking” or stereotyping is done automatically. Various researchers have cited explanations for this process; such as it simplifies “the demands of the person perception process.” In other words, it is a quick and easy way to gather information about other people. A study done by Grant and Holmes (1981) concluded that an impression of a person from another ethic group is influenced by stereotype information. They also suggest that social perception is influenced by stereotypes. Participants were given a booklet describing a certain person, either from Chinese, Italian, or Somalian descent. They were then asked to rate how various traits accurately described the person with a known nationality, such as ambitious, neat, and talkative. The participants were more likely than not to attribute stereotypical traits to the appropriate nationality. As seen in the previous study, some sort of stimulus is needed to trigger the process of stereotyping, like a list of nationalities and their stereotypical traits. Since social desirability can affect the validity of any research concerning stereotypes, then the types of measurements used have to be examined. Macrae and Bodenhausen (2001) state that various researchers have concluded that using indirect measurements yields the automatic process of stereotyping. If participants are unaware of the nature of the research, then one can assume that stereotyping is an “automatic mental process.” Indirect measures can include subliminally presenting the stimuli or explaining the experiment in a way that no relationship can be made. According to the literature review written by Greenwald and Banaji (1995), Crosby, Bromley, and Saxe (1980) concluded that “anti-Black sentiments are much more prevalent among White Americans than the survey data [i.e., direct or explicit measures of stereotypes] lead one to expect.” Crosby, Bromley, and Saxe’s research was conducted using indirect measures of testing so as to avoid participants’ likelihood to provide social desirable responses. Fazio, Jackson, Danton, and Williams (1995) attempted a study to rate the validity of using indirect measures. Participants who scored high and low on the Modern Racism Scale were shown faces of Black and White males and females. They were then asked to make judgments about the adjectives that followed each picture. Then the researchers rated participants’ interaction with a Black experimenter and gave the participants a questionnaire pertaining to the Rodney King verdict and the 1992 Los Angeles riots. A link between the judgments and behaviors and the scores from the Modern Racism Scale was examined. The study concluded that indirect measures of testing have some validity. It also concluded that people are likely to create automatic impressions of a minority person. Contrary to the belief of Fazio, Jackson, Danton, and Williams that stereotyping is an automatic response to a triggering stimulus, research has shown that it is possible for people to suppress their automatic stereotypes when evaluating another individual. This process must be done consciously and with much effort. Congruent with this proposal, Gilbert & Hixton (1991) performed a study based on the Asian-American stereotype. They found that “cognitive busyness inhibits activation of the Asian-American stereotype but facilitates application of it.” This suggests that stereotypes are not automatic at all and require conscious awareness and effort (Hilton and Von Hippel 1996). Whether stereotypes are automatic depends on the method of the experiment. Devine’s (1989) study used tasks in which the participants did not know were related to stereotyping. She chose only the participants with perfect eyesight who scored on the upper and lower third of the distribution of scores on the Modern Racism Scale. First they were primed using stereotypical words related to African-Americans. Then they were asked to identify the words presented earlier as being on the right or the left. The second task included reading a story about a man engaging in ambiguous hostile actions and forming an impression about him. The most common theme was that “Blacks were aggressive, hostile, and criminal-like.” She concluded that stereotypes were automatically primed when the participants did not think so. No relationship was found between levels of racism and the automatic process of stereotyping. Sherman and Bessenoff (1999) found that participants did not use their stereotypes to help them formulate judgments when they were given more time to become familiar with the testing materials. When the participants were unsure, they relied on their stereotypes to help their recollections of the materials. Congruent with these findings, Greenwald and Banaji (1995) concluded that automatic stereotyping could also be influenced by “decreased attention, due to distraction or time pressure.” Of all the research presented, only a few mentioned anything regarding stereotypes and memory. Lenton, Blair, and Hastie (2001) were a few of the first experimenters to conclude that indirect measures of stereotypes can produce memory errors in participants. Their participants were shown a list of words that were either stereotypic of women or stereotypic of men. They were then given arithmetic problems to work on for a couple of minutes. After this, a recognition test was given via computers in which participants had to decide if the word shown was shown previously. They found that false memories can be produced by stereotypical associations.The present study attempted to add to this research by testing participants on their memory recall and how the stereotyping process affected their accuracy. Participants were given a brief amount of time to observe a scene. Then they were distracted by filling out a survey. After the surveys were completed the participants were given a questionnaire about the scene they observed earlier. The study incorporated the idea of using indirect measures to allow the automatic process of stereotyping to take place. Thus, we expected participants to incorrectly answer some of the questions about the scene because of the stereotypes they harbor. Since indirect measures were used, then the participants were unaware of any correlation between their stereotypes and the questionnaire about the picture. Therefore, the process of automatic stereotyping was expected to influence the participants’ responses. The answers to the questionnaire would reflect stereotyping if incorrect answers were given by the participants.


Participants included 54 psychology students from Loyola University who volunteered to participate. Three of these were not used because they failed to complete the study as directed. Some participants received course credit from their professors for participation. They were recruited through convenience sampling through their psychology classes. A few of the participants were also recruited through the Psychology Department Subject Pool.

Before the materials were distributed, the participants were required to sign two informed consent forms, one for the researchers to keep on file and one for the participants to take with them. Participants were allowed to use their own writing instruments to complete a demographic sheet, including age, sex, major, and year in college. The color picture they were shown was an ambiguous scene depicting various stereotypes (Union College) (see Appendix). The setting was a hospital room with men and women standing around a patient, who was lying in the bed. It was projected on a large screen through a laptop computer. The personality assessment included a Likert scale and various adjectives (John 1990) and (Formy-Duval, Williams, Patterson, and Fogle 1995) (see Appendix). The questionnaire regarding the picture included thirteen questions such as “What gender and race is/are the nurses?” and “How old is the patient?” (see Appendix). Some of the questions were bogus questions and not tallied into the overall score. A question answered correctly received a score of zero. A positive one was given if the answer reflected stereotypical answers, a negative one if the answer was counter-stereotypical.

This was a single variable, quasi-experimental design. The independent variable was the various stereotypes each participant harbored. A stereotype can be defined as a perception about an individual belonging to a group based on the traits possessed by the group. These traits include age, gender, and race. The participants possessed the stereotypes before the experiment began. The dependent variable was the correct/incorrect responses to the questionnaire regarding the picture. The responses were incorrect if the response was not factual according to the picture. Incorrect responses were indicative of either stereotyping or counter-stereotyping. The controls were the factual or correct answers to the questions.The participants were selected using convenience sampling. Psychology faculty were asked to announce to their classes that a project that wishes to study personality types of Loyola students needed volunteers to participate in a study. A sign-up sheet was distributed throughout each introductory psychology class. The participants signed their name and phone number next to a time convenient to them. Participants were also recruited using the Psychology Department Subject Pool. All participants were then contacted and reminded of their scheduled time.Participants were tested in eight groups. They were seated comfortably in an air-conditioned classroom on Loyola’s campus. Then the participants were asked to take out a writing utensil and given two informed consent forms to read and sign. One was for them to keep, and one was for the researchers. Next, they were given a demographic sheet to fill out. They were told not to sign their names on the sheets and were given a randomly assigned number.Participants were told to view the picture of the scene because they would be asked to write a story about what was going on in the scene. The picture was displayed via overheard projector for ten seconds. The picture was then removed. The participants were then given five minutes to complete a bogus personality assessment. After the five minutes were over, a questionnaire about the picture previously shown was given to the participants. They were allowed three minutes to complete the questionnaire.After the study was finished, the participants were debriefed. They were told that the study was not about personality but about the effects of their stereotypes on their memory recall of the picture. They were also told that any frustrations or embarrassment they experienced were completely normal. Contact information for the researchers was given to the participants if they wanted to ask further questions about the study or the results. They were then thanked and dismissed.

The Pearson product-moment correlation yielded a significant relationship between the overall (stereotypical) score (M = 0.1176, SD = 1.5446) on the questionnaire and the agreeableness score (M = 3.7190, SD = 0.7130) on the personality survey (r = -0.284, p = 0.043). A two-tailed t-test yielded that women (M = 3.6032, SD = 0.6676) reported being more emotionally stable than men (M = 3.0370, SD = 0.8070), (t (49) = -2.226, p = 0.031).

The purpose of this study was to determine whether stereotypes affect memory recall. In our sample of 51 college students, this could not clearly be determined. We did conclude that the more agreeable a person describes himself/herself, the less likely they are to use stereotypes in memory recall. This could indicate that these people are less likely to judge a person based on stereotypes common to the other person. Another relationship observed from this study, but unrelated to the original hypothesis, was that women reported being more emotionally stable than men. None of the previous research reviewed suggested either of these relationships. This is probably due to the techniques used in the study. A personality test was not given to any of the participants in the previous research. The element of the ambiguous picture was also not present in any previous studies. Because of these differences, the results of this study were not comparable to any of the others. Similar to previous research, though, indirect measures were used in this study. Previous research suggests that this is the best approach to use when conducting this study of study. This eliminates participants from providing socially desirable answers, which may not be accurate. These differences between this study and previous studies could have affected the validity of the research. The ambiguous picture and the questionnaire regarding the picture were not tested for their validity. Another limitation was that the degree to which the participants harbored stereotypes was not measured. A racism scale could have been used to measure this before the study was conducted. The actual stereotypes of the participants were not known. The results of this study imply that agreeable people are less likely to use stereotypes in response to other people. This can be used in the workplace, in public situations, or anywhere someone is needed that will not make hasty judgments about other people. The fact that women reported being more emotionally stable than men can be used in a variety of situations, such as when determining who should handle crisis situations in the workplace or even at home. Future research is needed to determine if these results can be generalized to a large population. The conclusions of this study cannot be generalized to any particular population of people, except, possibly, Loyola psychology students. A more diverse sample of participants is needed to make any assumptions regarding the public. Other studies may want to elaborate on the relationship between personality and stereotypes, the result that women are more emotionally stable than men, or precisely how stereotypes affect memory recall. The specific sample of participants needed would depend on the nature of any future studies.

Devine, P.G. (1989). Stereotypes and Prejudice: Their Automatic and Controlled Components.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 56, 5-18.Fazio, R.H., Jackson, J.R., Dunton, B.C., & Williams, C. J. (1995). Variability in AutomaticActivation as an Unobtrusive Measure of Racial Attitudes: A Bona Fide Pipeline?Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69, 1013-1027.Formy-Duval, D.L., Williams, J.E., Patterson, D.J., and 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 Intergration 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. Psychology 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 NaturalLanguage and in Questionnaires, in L.A. Pervin (ed.). Handbook of Personality Theoryand Research. New York: Guilford Press.Lenton, A.P., Blair, I.V., & Hastie, R. (2001). Illusions of Gender: Stereotypes Evoke FalseMemories. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 37, 3-14.Macrae, C.N. & Bodenhausen, G.V. (2001). Social cognition: Categorical person perception.British Journal of Psychology, 92, 239-255.Sherman, J.W. & Bessenoff, G.R. (1999). Stereotypes as Source-Monitoring Cues: On theInteraction Between Episodic and Semantic Memory. AmericanPsychological Society, 10, 106-110. Union College. (n.d.). Retrieved October 30, 2001, from

Submitted 12/16/2001 7:15:47 PM
Last Edited 12/16/2001 7:23:51 PM
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