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Some referential and causal attributions underlying stereotype content McTiernan, Timothy John


This study is based on the theoretical assumption that a detailed understanding of the nature of stereotypes entails more than an analysis of the content of stereotype descriptions. It must also include a study of the range of target group members, situations, and behaviours to which people generalize their stereotypes (referential attributions), and an examination of judgements regarding the causes of stereotype traits (causal attributions). A check list stereotyping task was combined with a multivariate judgement task in order to examine the causal and referential attributions underlying individuals' stereotype descriptions. Two hundred and forty respondents, forming four distinct subgroups, described either an outgroup or a target group to which they belonged. They then made a number of attributions about their descriptions. The target groups, defined broadly in environmental terms, were: Big City People, Small Town People, Conservation-rninded People, and Development-minded People. The results indicated that the referential attributions provided by the respondents did not vary with the changes in content between the different stereotypes. They were unrelated to the causal attributions, and they were unaffected by the respondents' membership status vis-a-vis the target groups. Rather, the referential attributions reflected the use of a representativeness rule and a distinctiveness criterion in the selection of trait descriptors. The respondents attributed their stereotype traits to a large proportion of target members, to many of their behaviours, and to many situations involving target members. The individuals judged these stereotype traits to be characteristics that distinguished the targets from people in general. Learning was rated as having a greater effect than inheritance as a causal agent in trait development. There were reliable sub-sample differences in the magnitude of this outcome. The study contained a replication condition. Two different types of target groups were employed and the data related to each type were analyzed independently. While the findings regarding the referential and causal attributions generalized across these two sets of analyses for the most part, the traditionally measured content-related results did not replicate. A review of this disparity indicated that caution should be exercised in the selection of targets for stereotype research and appropriate efforts should be made to ensure that the measuring instruments employed best suit the theoretical issue being addressed.

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