Stereotyping by omission: Eliminate the negative, accentuate the positive

Hilary B. Bergsieker, Lisa M. Leslie, Vanessa S. Constantine, Susan T. Fiske

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

132 Scopus citations


Communicators, motivated by strategic self-presentation, selectively underreport negative content in describing their impressions of individuals and stereotypes of groups, particularly for targets whom they view ambivalently with respect to warmth and competence. Communicators avoid overtly inaccurate descriptions, preferring to omit negative information and emphasize positive information about mixed individual targets (Study 1). With more public audiences, communicators increasingly prefer negativity omission to complete accuracy (Study 2), a process driven by self-presentation concerns (Study 3) and moderated by bidimensional ambivalence. Similarly, in an extension of the Princeton Trilogy studies, reported stereotypes of ethnic and national outgroups systematically omitted negative dimensions over 75 years-as anti-prejudice norms intensified-while neutral and positive stereotype dimensions remained constant (Study 4). Multiple assessment methods confirm this stereotyping-by-omission phenomenon (Study 5). Implications of negativity omission for innuendo and stereotype stagnation are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1214-1238
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of personality and social psychology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


  • Negativity omission
  • Racial and ethnic attitudes
  • Selfpresentation
  • Stereotypes
  • Warmth and competence


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