Evidence for the social role theory of stereotype content: Observations of groups' roles shape stereotypes

Anne M. Koenig*, Alice H. Eagly

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

166 Scopus citations


In applying social role theory to account for the content of a wide range of stereotypes, this research tests the proposition that observations of groups' roles determine stereotype content (Eagly & Wood, 2012). In a novel test of how stereotypes can develop from observations, preliminary research collected participants' beliefs about the occupational roles (e.g., lawyer, teacher, fast food worker, chief executive officer, store clerk, manager) in which members of social groups (e.g., Black women, Hispanics, White men, the rich, senior citizens, high school dropouts) are overrepresented relative to their numbers in the general population. These beliefs about groups' typical occupational roles proved to be generally accurate when evaluated in relation to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Then, correlational studies predicted participants' stereotypes of social groups from the attributes ascribed to group members' typical occupational roles (Studies 1a, 1b, and 1c), the behaviors associated with those roles (Study 2), and the occupational interest profile of the roles (Study 3). As predicted by social role theory, beliefs about the attributes of groups' typical roles were strongly related to group stereotypes on both communion and agency/competence. In addition, an experimental study (Study 4) demonstrated that when social groups were described with changes to their typical social roles in the future, their projected stereotypes were more influenced by these future roles than by their current group stereotypes, thus supporting social role theory's predictions about stereotype change. Discussion considers the implications of these findings for stereotype change and the relation of social role theory to other theories of stereotype content.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)371-392
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of personality and social psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2014


  • Social roles
  • Stereotype accuracy
  • Stereotype change
  • Stereotypes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science

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