Judging books by their covers

Stereotyping is a short-term strategy that often causes long-term problems

It is well known that all scientists are grey-haired men in white coats and glasses. At least, that is what many children typically draw when asked to describe a scientist. It’s a stereotype and one that is proving hard to shift.

Stereotypes are useful because they enable us to infer information very quickly. The drawbacks are that they may be inaccurate and are indiscriminate – everyone gets the same label. So our assumptions about an individual may be quite misleading. Stereotypes are also a sure-fire route to prejudice and discrimination.

Traditionally, we have grouped people by physical appearance and attributed collective characteristics to them. The notion of races emerged this way. Historically, racial stereotyping has been one of the most damaging forms of prejudice. Attitudes shaped by stereotyping are often a result of unfamiliarity: there is good evidence that negative feelings about other races can, under the right conditions, be tempered by greater exposure to individuals from those races.


About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘How We Look’ in June 2008 and reviewed and updated in November 2014.

How We Look
Education levels:
16–19, Continuing professional development