Attention and Stereotyping: Cognitive Constraints on the Construction of Meaningful Social Impressions

Jeffrey W. Sherman*, C. Neil Macrae, Galen V Bodenhausen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Scopus citations


This paper examines the role of attentional capacity in stereotyping processes. We begin with an overview of different theoretical perspectives on this issue. Then we document how recent research has extended our understanding of the relationship between attention and stereotyping. First, we consider how variations in attentional resources influence social categorization, stereotype activation, stereotype application, and stereotype inhibition. Evidence from each of these domains supports the conclusion that stereotype-based impression formation is less resource-consuming than individuation. Second, we examine the role of attentional capacity in the encoding, retrieval, and meta-cognitive processing of stereotypical and counter-stereotypical information. Recent research extends our understanding of exactly how and why stereotype use is relatively efficient. Finally, we discuss the need to better specify the conditions under which attention is and is not likely to be impaired. New evidence suggests that such considerations have important implications for understanding stereotyping. We conclude that there is now an abundant variety of evidence underscoring the importance of attentional resources in stereotyping. Such a general characteristic of human functioning as limited attentional capacity should have an important role to play in thought and action (Mandler, 1985, p. 66). … human attempts to understand the physical or biological environment… work(s) within the limits imposed by the capacities of individual human minds … A “satisfactory” explanation will manage to preserve personal integrity while at the same time-for reasons of cognitive economy-it will tend towards as much simplification as the situation allows for (Tajfel, 1969, pp. 79,92).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)145-175
Number of pages31
JournalEuropean Review of Social Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2000

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology


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