Stereotypes are vital for social interaction by facilitating social decision making as well as conserving limited time and cognitive resources. Previous studies on stereotype activation mainly focus specific social groups, such as gender, race, etc. However, exactly how stereotypes are activated among various social groups remains unknown.
To fill this gap, we classified social groups into four clusters according to stereotype content model in the present study, measuring for perceptions of warmth and competence. These clusters form a four-way axis, that is, high warmth-high competence (HW-HC), high warmth-low competence (HW-LC), low warmth-high competence (LW-HC) and low warmth-low competence (LW-LC). Two experiments were conducted to investigate the behavioral patterns of stereotype activation among these four clusters. We predicted that the stereotype activation pattern would be similar among these four clusters.
In the first experiment, we employed a sequential priming paradigm to explore stereotype activation explicitly. The prime stimuli were 24 social groups equally attributed to these four clusters and the target stimuli were stereotype trait words of these 24 social groups. All of the prime stimuli and target stimuli were obtained from pilot study. The participants were instructed to judge whether the target word was consistent with the stereotypes of the prime social group. Fifty undergraduates (35 female, 19~25 years old, M = 20.68, SD = 2.08) were recruited for this experiment.
In the second experiment, to validate the findings of Experiment 1, we utilized a lexical decision task to further investigate the stereotype activation patterns among the four clusters implicitly, using the same stimuli from Experiment 1. Pseudowords were also added, corresponding to the target words of Experiment 1. Participants were asked to identify whether the target word as a real word or pseudoword. Forty eight undergraduates (32 female, 19~25 years old, M = 20.64, SD = 1.93) participated in Experiment 2.
Four (Social groups: HW-HC, HW-LC, LW-HC, LW-LC) × 2 (Consistency: consistent vs. inconsistent) repeated measure ANOVA were examined for response time and accuracy in both experiments. The results of Experiment 1 revealed classical stereotype activation patterns for HW-HC, HW-LC, LW-HC social groups while showing a reverse pattern for LW-LC social groups. Specifically, the participants responded more quickly and more accurately on consistent condition than on inconsistent condition for the former three clusters. However, when the prime stimuli were LW-LC social groups, the reverse was true; faster and more accurate response was shown for inconsistent condition rather than consistent condition. In Experiment 2, only real word trails were analyzed. The results of Experiment 2 replicated the findings of Experiment 1. Therefore, classical stereotype activation patterns for HW-HC, HW-LC, LW-HC social groups and the reverse pattern of stereotype activation for LW-LC were relatively robust, both explicitly and implicitly, demonstrating the great differences among the stereotype activation patterns among these four clusters.
The results of these two experiments partially support our hypothesis, while revealing an unforeseen reverse pattern of stereotype activation for LW-LC social groups. We hypothesize that this may be due to disgust elicited by LW-LC social groups. The present study expanded the research framework of stereotype activation and provided new behavioral evidence for the specificity of LW-LC. The mechanism underlying the reverse pattern of stereotype activation for LW-LC should be examined in the future.