What Is the Definition of "stereotype" in Sociology?

A stereotype is an oversimplified, generally over-exaggerated belief that all members of a certain group act and think in the same fashion. Individuals use negative stereotypes as the basis to justify discrimination and racism. Individuals also use positive stereotypes to make claims that certain individuals in a society are "better" than other individuals.

Examples of common stereotypes include that all Jews are stingy, that all African-Americans are good at sports, that all models are anorexic or bulimic and that all Muslims or Arabs are terrorists. Additional examples of popular stereotypes include that all blond-haired woman are unintelligent, that all Asian people are better than people of all other races at math and that all Caucasian Americans are lazy, fat and stupid.

Stereotyping is dangerous because it often leads to school bullying attacks. This type of mind frame also makes certain individuals — such as gays or lesbians — afraid to publicly confess their sexual orientation out of fear of being ostracized from their work or social circles. On the other hand, individuals who subscribe to racial, gender or sexual orientation stereotyping are also sometimes fearful of expressing their views out of fear of being called racists, woman or man haters or homophobes.