The Spontaneous Formation of Stereotypes via Cumulative Cultural Evolution

Douglas Martin, Jacqui Hutchison, Gillian Slessor, James Urquhart, Sheila J. Cunningham, Kenny Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Citations (Scopus)
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All people share knowledge of cultural stereotypes of social groups—but what are the origins of these stereotypes? We examined whether stereotypes form spontaneously as information is repeatedly passed from person to person. As information about novel social targets was passed down a chain of individuals, what initially began as a set of random associations evolved into a system that was simplified and categorically structured. Over time, novel stereotypes emerged that not only were increasingly learnable but also allowed generalizations to be made about previously unseen social targets. By illuminating how cognitive and social factors influence how stereotypes form and change, these findings show how stereotypes might naturally evolve or be manipulated.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1777-1786
Number of pages10
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number9
Early online date22 Jul 2014
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2014

Bibliographical note

We thank Stephan Lewandowsky and an anonymous reviewer for their helpful comments.

Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The authors declared that they had no conflicts of interest with respect to their authorship or the publication of this article.

The research was supported by an award from the Economic and Social Research Council (RES-061-25-0522) to D. Martin.

Supplemental Material
Additional supporting information may be found at


  • stereotypes
  • stereotype information
  • cultural evolution
  • social cognition
  • person perception


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