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  • Stereotypes allow us to interpret reality by categorising groups of people who share certain characteristics. Thus, they are responsible for an important part of the processing of the information we perceive. If we did not use stereotypes, we would often not be able to attend to as much information, which would make it difficult to make decisions and interact with other people.
  • Since stereotypes influence perception, recognising them is necessary in order to deconstruct them when necessary.
  • Prejudices are attitudes that are based on stereotypes and that, although they can be positive, generally refer to negative evaluations of the stereotyped groups.
  • The presence of prejudice can, but does not always, lead to discrimination against people belonging to stereotypical groups on the basis of different factors such as perceived warmth and competence, or the existence of competitive and conflictive situations.
  • The existence of stigma and discrimination towards the LGBTQ+ community can cause the members of the collective to internalize the stigma towards them, generating feelings of self-rejection and guilt.


Human beings act according to their perception of reality. This perception can vary depending on many factors, meaning that people can react to the same situation in very different ways. At the individual level, there are a large number of cognitive biases that affect us every day. Some of the most common ones are, for example, the following three:

  1. Confirmation bias: it refers to the tendency to seek, favour, interpret or recall information in a way that will confirm something we have already decided, or that will favour long-held beliefs and assumptions.
  2. Selective observation bias: it occurs when we direct our attention to something based on our expectations and neglect the rest of the information.
  3. Availability heuristics: is the tendency to rely on the immediate examples that come to mind when making judgements.

At the group level, other factors are also known to have a significant influence on the perception of reality and decision-making, such as the effect that majorities have on minorities through processes of conformity or social pressure.

In this topic of the guide, we will focus on three key concepts that also influence us continuously when it comes to perceiving our environment and behaving in one way or another: stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination. We will first look at how they affect us in a general way. Throughout the guide we will describe how they apply to specific populations, which will help us to understand other essential concepts for 9–15-year-old children to establish healthy interpersonal relationships in their peer groups.


9.2.1. Stereotypes

From a cognitive point of view, the stereotype consists of a set of shared beliefs about the characteristics, personal attributes, and behaviours that members of a group possess (Hamilton & Sherman, 1994), and therefore the beliefs are structured and related to each other. Stereotypes include personality traits as well as behaviours, physical characteristics, roles, occupations, etc. and they are seen as categories that provide coherence to the social environment (Tajfel, 1969). Stereotype bias is seen as a result of limitations of the cognitive capacity to process information.

Stereotypes cannot be detached from the social and cultural context in which they exist. They are held in common by a large number of people. Moreover, they stem from, and are structured by, the relationships between large social groups or entities. Despite individual differences, stereotypes are widely shared within a culture. They can be conceived as socially shared categories that transcend the individual and are acquired mainly through socialisation.

Stereotypes have functions at the individual and social level. The individual functions (Tajfel, 1984) are:

  1. To systematise and simplify the complexity and variety of stimuli we receive from the outside (Huici, 1999; Morales & Moyá, 1996a). This process of categorisation would lead individuals to perceive members of other groups and members of their own group differently. This would mean that members of one’s own group (ingroup) would be perceived as similar, that is, they would perceive that they share a number of common characteristics, whereas members of another group (outgroup) would be perceived as having very different characteristics from those of the ingroup. The fact that we see ourselves as much more similar to the members of the ingroup than to the outgroup gives rise to what is called ingroup favouritism, i.e., the tendency to favour our group over the people in the outgroup.
  2. Protect and defend the individual’s value system. The fact that stereotypes are shared means that they are easily reinforced and, therefore, they would require a lot of information and evidence to disconfirm or deconstruct the stereotype but little information to confirm it. That is, there is resistance to change stereotypes, especially when the stereotype refers to a group or category that is highly valued by the individual (Campbell, 1967; Morales & Moyá, 1996b).

As can be seen in Figure 11, the social functions of stereotypes are (Tajfel, 1984):

Figure 11. Social functions of stereotypes
  1. They allow for the explanation of social reality and its causality, that is, they serve to explain and rationalise social facts. Stereotypes are socially constructed to attribute characteristics to members of the same group on the basis of characteristics that are at least superficially similar between them.
  2. Justifying behaviour towards members of other groups. If we think that certain social groups have negative characteristics (their stereotype is negative) we will start to behave towards them according to that stereotype, and therefore justify our behaviour by the stereotype itself. For example, if we think that continued contact with a homosexual person may make another person feel attracted to people of the same sex, we will hardly interact with them or provide them with help if they need it, which will make it difficult for them to integrate into society. This behaviour of refusing to offer help would be justified by the fear of “becoming” homosexual. In this way, we would be justifying our attitudes and behaviour towards the stereotypical group of homosexual people.
  3. Maintaining a positive identity of one’s own group, especially in situations in which the established social order, i.e., the status quo, is in danger (Campbell, 1967). Even in situations in which the egalitarian belief between groups predominates, positive social distinctiveness between groups can be acquired by favouring the ingroup in the most important dimensions and granting the outgroup positivity but in less relevant dimensions, in such a way that the superiority of the ingroup is maintained.

The perception of social groups according to the presence of different stereotypes can be explained using the so-called stereotype content model. According to this model, people evaluate their reality according to what the authors call warmth and competence. Warmth allows us to interpret other people’s intentions towards us, and is made up of traits such as trustworthiness, sincerity, kindness, affection, etc. Competence allows us to categorise in terms of others’ ability to achieve their intentions or goals, and comprises traits such as effectiveness, competence, self-confidence, intelligence, etc. Depending on the perceived warmth and competence of the members of a group, people will react differently emotionally to that group. In the section on prejudice, we elaborate further on possible combinations.

9.2.2. Prejudices

Prejudice is considered to be an attitude that has a primarily affective component and is based on stereotypes of people. In general, they usually involve a negative evaluation of the groups to which they refer (Akrami, Ekehammar, & Araya, 2006; Allport, 1954; Devine, 1989), although in some cases such evaluations can be positive, as is the case, for example, with modern (subtle, covert) forms of prejudice (Akrami, Ekehammar, & Araya, 2006; Allport, 1954; Devine, 1989), which are explained below.

Therefore, the modern values of tolerance and non-discrimination promoted by democratic systems have meant that today there is not only classical prejudice, characterised as hostile and overt, but also other less overt expressions. Along these lines, Pettigrew and Meertens (1995) differentiated between the concepts of subtle and blatant prejudice.

  1. Blatant prejudice: all forms of direct and hostile expressions of negative attitudes towards members of minority groups, which are expressed through feelings of threat and rejection, as well as through the refusal to establish personal contact with members of minority groups.
  2. Subtle prejudice: this is expressed through indirect, distant, and more socially adapted forms of prejudice, which are inferred from the defence of the group’s own traditional values, together with the idea that certain groups would not be respecting them. The exaggeration of cultural differences to justify the inferior position of members of disadvantaged social groups and the denial of positive emotions towards their members are two other central features of this type of prejudice. Sometimes subtle prejudice is expressed through stereotyping that at first glance appears positive for people from another group, but which places them in a minority or devalued status in terms of socially valued attributes. It has been shown that the same person can show both types of prejudice.

Returning to the stereotype content model (Fiske et al., 2002) the combination of perceived warmth and competence can lead to four prototypical emotional responses:

    1. Pity (high warmth, and low competence). Groups perceived as having low status, seen as incompetent, but at the same time seen as having a high level of warmth, give rise to paternalistic prejudice. Examples of groups that generate this emotional response include the elderly and the disabled. These groups tend to generate compassion and sympathy (Weiner, 1980).
    2. Envy (low warmth, and high competence). Social groups perceived as competent but cold often arouse envy and jealousy. The positive side of envy is that such groups are perceived as highly competent and therefore responsible for their own success. However, the negative side is that they are simultaneously perceived as lacking warmth, empathy and/or respect for others, thus considering their intentions to be hostile (Parrott & Smith, 1993). Envious prejudice is one of the possible products that can emerge from social comparison, fostering people’s resentment because they experience the feeling of being at a disadvantage compared to others who are valued as significantly more competent (Smith, 2000).
    3. Contempt (low warm and low competence). The third possible combination is that of perceiving groups as incompetent and cold, which will account for contemptuous prejudice. Such groups often provoke antipathy that evokes anger, contempt, disgust, hatred, and resentment. Such emotions emerge on the basis of holding such people responsible for their negative outcomes, as if it is claimed that they are to blame for the way things are going (Weiner, 1980). In addition, such people are often seen as a burden on the rest of society, both socially and economically.
    4. Admiration (high warm and high competence). Certain social groups are perceived as having high status but are nevertheless not seen as competition for the ingroup, either because they are highly dominant or because they are perceived as allies or close reference groups. Because they have high status, but are also considered as reference groups in society, they provoke admiration and pride.

To sum up, prejudices designate judgements made of negative feelings towards individuals or groups that have a different social belonging than one’s own, which usually cause rejection. A prejudice is an attitude, which implies an evaluative dimension about a particular social group. Stereotypes serve as a basis for prejudices and the latter tend to be externalised in negative behaviours designated under the term discrimination.

9.2.3. Discrimination

Discrimination is the behavioural component of prejudice, and therefore its external manifestation (Simpson & Yinger, 1965). It can be defined as the unequal unfavourable treatment of a subject or group as a result of prejudice. It is not only judgements or unfavourable feelings but acts of intolerance that consist of rejecting and/or excluding people against whom one is prejudiced.

Usually, discrimination arises from prejudice, but this relationship is not always automatic, i.e., we can find individuals with strong prejudices towards a group who control their behaviour in interactions with members of this group and, therefore, do not show discriminatory behaviour. In the same way, we can also find people who are not prejudiced towards a particular social group but who behave in a discriminatory way for some other external (laws, norms, etc.) or internal reasons.

The expression of discrimination is influenced by a large number of variables, so that discriminatory behaviour will manifest itself to a greater or lesser degree depending on these variables. Among the variables that can facilitate this expression of discrimination, it is necessary to highlight the existence of competitive and conflict situations, and especially those in which the groups involved have an unequal status. In this context, discrimination appears as the solution to the question of power. On the other hand, and fortunately, there are also factors that reduce discrimination, namely social pressure (Dovidio, & Gaertner, 1986) and internal motivation (Dunton & Fazio, 1997; Plant & Devine, 1998).

As effects of discrimination, negative emotional states such as stress, aggressiveness, depressive states have been found in those who are being discriminated against; but more broadly, discrimination constitutes an attack or offence to identity, to one’s self-image, and therefore those who are being discriminated tend to devalue themselves.

At the social level, discrimination tends to develop in those who are being discriminated an acceptance of their situation, to the extent that they accept and internalise the devaluing prejudices to which they have been subjected (e.g., learned hopelessness). Thus, they may think that what is happening to them is due to their lack of intelligence, their inexperience or simply their social status. In other words, they feel guilty for their situation and thus legitimise the discrimination they are subjected to (to the extent that a disadvantaged group accepts its fate, it is less able to defend itself against social injustice).

In fact, in the specific case of homosexuals, this perception can cause them to reject their own sexual orientation, gender identity and / or expression. This phenomenon is known as internalized transphobia/homophobia and refers not only to an individual’s discomfort and internalized conflict as a result of their own homosexual feelings, but it can also include behaviours such as rejecting or excluding other homosexual individuals while accepting their own feelings (Frost & Meyer, 2009). Different studies have shown that these individuals may experience feelings of shame, anger, exclusion, hopelessness, etc., and increased risk of mental health disorders as well as increased suicidal ideation. The social exclusion of homosexuals can make it difficult to cope with these emotions and increase these individuals’ risk of mental disorders (Lorenzi et al., 2015; Yalçınoğlu, 2014).


Imagine you are working in a religious school where traditional values are taught and transmitted, and sexual diversity is not so visible. In addition, students are required to wear uniforms, so the boys wear suits and the girls wear skirts, reinforcing the gender binary and heteronormative gender expression. Your student, David, who a few years ago was a brilliant student, who always offered to help and had a lot of friends, starts to change his behaviour. You notice that his academic performance is getting worse, he is becoming more and more withdrawn, and he even picks on some girls in class. He does not want to participate in any activities and is disturbing the rest of the class too.

You decide to deal with the situation and have a conversation with him to find out what is happening. You ask him what is going on, if he has any problems at home or if anything has happened to him at school. David denies everything, he just says that he is fed up with everything, that he does not like people, the school, that he feels like a freak. You ask him why he feels this way. After a while, he confesses that he does not like wearing a boy’s suit to school, or having to be with the boys all day, that he would like to wear a skirt and make friends with the girls he has been arguing with lately but, he says that it is impossible, that there is something wrong with him and that he does not know how to fix it.

First, you explain to them that there is nothing wrong with them. Start talking to them about sexual and gender diversity and that there are many more realities than the ones which they see at school or in their environment and, that you can show them (here you can resort to LGBTQ+ themed movies, look for famous references with whom they can feel identified). Also, explain to them that they can explore their identity. Ask them to find out how they feel better: with what expression they feel more comfortable, let them know they can dress the way they want, that there is nothing wrong with that and that they have total freedom and support.

In addition, look for people close to them who could act as references can also help. Or try to implement specific activities that make sexual diversity visible in cases such as this one, in which the lack of them can contribute to the fact that the people of the collective may find it difficult to recognize themselves: they may think that what happens to them is unique/rare and that leads them to internalize the stigmas that are unconsciously transmitted.

Also, a good way to do this would be to implement it in the school curriculum on a cross-cutting basis (making different sexual identities, genders, and orientations visible, showing how there have been LGBTQ+ people throughout history, how in other cultures there are other gender roles that are completely different from ours, etc.). Likewise, you could also develop specific activities on specific days (such as the day against homophobia, against transphobia, pride events, etc.).


  • Promoting a more differentiated way of thinking about members of the outgroup can be a useful strategy to combat prejudice and discrimination.
  • Promote joint and controlled experiences with people from the outgroup to try to change the stereotypes associated with the outgroup in order to perceive less differences from the ingroup.


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