Social Stereotypes and Information-Processing Strategies: The Impact of Task Complexity

Galen V. Bodenhausen*, Meryl Lichtenstein

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

334 Scopus citations


Subjects read information about a defendant in a criminal trial with initial instructions to judge either his guilt (guilt judgment objective) or his aggressiveness (trait judgment objective). The defendant was either Hispanic or ethnically nondescript. After considering the evidence, subjects made both guilt and aggressiveness judgments (regardless of which type of judgment they were instructed to make at the time they read the information) and then recalled as much of the information they read as they could. Results favored the hypothesis that when subjects face a complex judgmental situation, they use stereotypes (when available and relevant) as a way of simplifying the judgment. Specifically, they use the stereotype as a central theme around which they organize presented evidence that is consistent with it, and they neglect inconsistent information. Subjects with a (complex) guilt judgment objective judged the defendant to be relatively more guilty and aggressive and recalled more negative information about him if he was Hispanic than if he was ethnically nondescript. In contrast, subjects with a (simple) trait judgment objective did not perceive either the guilt or aggressiveness of the two defendants to be appreciably different, and did not display any significant bias in their recall of the evidence. These and other results are discussed in terms of the information-processing strategies subjects are likely to use when they expect to make different types of judgments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)871-880
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of personality and social psychology
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1987

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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