The term meta-stereotype refers to the beliefs of in-group members regarding the stereotypes that out-group members hold about them. Its valence can be positive or negative, and its effects can also be positive or negative. Previous researchers have held the view that the valence and effects of meta-stereotype conform to the “rewarding principle.” In other words, positive meta-stereotype activation would have a positive effect, and negative meta-stereotype activation would have a negative effect. However, recent studies, have found that this relationship was not consistent. Up to now, the nature of the relationship between the valence and effects of meta-stereotype is still a matter of debate.
For the negative meta-stereotype activation, its threat effect conforms to the rewarding principle, whereas the reactance effect does not. The threat effect of the negative meta-stereotype is that its activation could result in psychological conflict for individuals engaged in social situations. This may induce them to face a loss of cognitive balance and experience anxiety and stress, resulting in negative consequences. In contrast, it is possible for the activation of negative meta-stereotype to have a positive effect, that is, the reactance effect. When the negative meta-stereotype is activated, individuals perceive that they are being negatively evaluated by the out-group members. They may act to refute the negative evaluation. They would then display positive behaviors in a way to maintain a positive in-group image or prove their own abilities. It was found that the threat and reactance effects of negative meta-stereotype differ in the research scope, mechanism, and interventions that would eliminate the negative effects of meta-stereotype.
For the positive meta-stereotype activation, its boost effect conforms to the rewarding principle, whereas the choking effect does not. In general, the positive meta-stereotype reflects the positive evaluation by the out-group to the in-group members; that is, it contains a number of positive characteristics. Therefore, the activation of the positive meta-stereotype can lead to a boost effect. Specifically, when individuals feel that they are positively viewed by the out-group members, they not only feel better about themselves, but also are encouraged to give back to other out-group members in helpful, constructive way. In contrast, positive meta-stereotype activation may also have a negative effect; that is, the choking effect. If individuals perceive that the out-group members hold very high expectations of them, they may feel substantially more pressure. This can bring about undesirable outcomes. They might focus too intensely on themselves, or even feel worry and doubt their own abilities, and subsequently perform badly. After comparing previous studies of the boost and choking effects of positive meta-stereotype, it was found that the differences between them were in the research scope, mechanism, and the mode of activation.
Based on the analysis of the four effects mentioned above, it appears that the effects of meta-stereotype activation of different valences are influenced by a variety of factors at the individual and the group levels. Among them, the individual-level factors are the difficulty of retrieving the meta-stereotype, the internal resources, the degree of meta-stereotype personalization, and the impression management motivation; the group-level factors include group social status.
Although research on meta-stereotype has gradually expanded, it still mainly focuses on the threat effect of the negative meta-stereotype and the boost effect of the positive meta-stereotype respectively. Studies on the reactance effect of the negative meta-stereotype and the choking effect of the positive meta-stereotype are limited. Many issues remain to be addressed. Future research can further expand the fields and preconditions of the diverse effects activated by the negative and positive meta-stereotypes, explore the interventions to eliminate the negative effects of meta-stereotype, and investigate the role of meta-stereotype activation mode.