Although it has been studied and defined by numerous scholars, stereotypes is still a subject of controversy, having no commonly accepted definition ( Lielle Brink; Jan Alewyn Nel 2015). This is due to the various sources that paved the way for it to exist as a whole separate field of study. The provenance of these sources covers the social environment including the parents and family members, peer groups, scholars, and media ( Bar- Tal, 1996). In his work Public Opinion (1922), Lippmann considered stereotypes as ‘ pictures’ in people’s ‘heads’ which are usually used to better understand members who belong to different groups ( Seiter 1986). However, stereotypes can be ‘over-generalisations’ ( Lippmann 1922) that do not take into account the individuality of individuals within the social group or community they belong to (cited by Seiter 1986).
Stereotypes can be advantageous according to many researchers. This is because they sometimes carry some truthful facts (Whitley and kite, 2006). In other words, some authors in the field of social psychology argued that these generalisations are useful. This usefulness is clearly manifested in situations where someone interacts with another one from a different social group, when the background pictures the person has in mind play a paramount role in the facilitation of the interaction happening between the communicators (Seiter 1986). Additionally, it is important to know that some stereotypes give positive expectations about the others, as it is the case with Asians who are believed to be good students and employees, while other ones are of neutral nature like the general notion about Australians being lovers of cricket (Mullins, 2010; whitley & Kite, 2006).
On the other front, there exist numerous stereotypes which are of an incorrect nature. A wide range of scholars took care of this kind of generalisations, including Gordon Allport (writer of The Nature of Prejudice and a well known psychologist in his time) who defined the stereotype as ‘an exaggerated belief associated with a category. Its function is to justify (rationalise) our conduct in relation to that category’ ( Allport, 1954, p.191). according to the same author, the harmfulness of ‘these habits of thoughts’ ( cited by Seiter) lies behind their promotion and uniformity of specific traits, coining them to all the ones who belong to the stereotyped group ( Pickering, 2001). This is because stereotypes do not take into account the individual variations (cited by Ellen Stein), leading to erroneous perceptions, improper demeanour towards people (Bergh & Theron, 2009), as well as unfaithful representations that keep these general conclusions alive.
To sum up, stereotypes are divided into three sections: positive, neutral and negative. However, regardless of their nature, they are believed to be ‘inevitable’ and ‘universal’ (cited by Seiter). Furthermore, researches in the field concluded that gender and racial stereotypes are the most common stereotypes all over the world. This is because women and people of colour are considered as socially oppressed groups, the thing that make them victims of socially dominant ethnicities’ overgeneralization’ ( Stroman, Merritt, & Matabane, 1989-1990).