The stereotype content model (SCM) is a theory in psychology that explains how people form opinions and make judgments about individuals or groups based on how warm and competent they appear to be.
The model contends that social perception comprises two core components, which serve as the foundation for various social evaluations, including prejudice and discrimination.
These two core components are:
- Warmth: Warmth in the SCM relates to how friendly, trustworthy, and well-intentioned someone seems
- Competence: Competence refers to how skilled, intelligent, and capable they appear.
This theory has been extensively researched and utilized across multiple disciplines, including social psychology, organizational behavior, and intergroup relations, to gain insights into how stereotypes are developed and influence social attitudes and actions.
Stereotype Content Model Definition
The stereotype content model (SCM) is a psychological theory that explains how people form impressions and judgments of individuals and groups based on their perceived warmth and competence (Fiske, 2018).
The SCM posits that social perception comprises two core components that provide the basis for various social evaluations, including prejudice and discrimination.
These components are warmth – how friendly, trustworthy, and kind someone appears to be – and competence – how skilled, intelligent, and capable they appear to be.
According to Fiske and colleagues (2002),
“…the stereotype content model posits qualitative differences in stereotypes and prejudices toward different groups, simultaneously providing a conceptual framework that explains why and when these differences occur” (p. 899).
For instance, groups perceived as having high warmth and competence (such as affluent professionals) are viewed more positively than those seen as warm but not competent (e.g., the elderly) or competent but not warm (e.g., criminals).
In simple terms, the stereotype content model can be defined as a theory that explains how people form impressions and judgments of individuals or groups based on their perceived warmth and competence.
Stereotype Content Model Examples
- Gender: Women are often seen as warm but not competent, while men are perceived as more competent but less warm. It is reflected in gender stereotypes that portray women as caring and nurturing but not highly skilled or intelligent.
- Race: People of color, especially African Americans, are often viewed as warm but not competent. On the other hand, white people are typically seen as both warm and competent.
- Sexual Orientation: Heterosexuals are often seen as warmer and more competent than those who identify as LGBTQ+. So, the latter group is often viewed as less suitable for specific roles and positions.
- Social Class: Generally, wealthy individuals are seen as more competent than those from lower social classes. Additionally, people from higher-income backgrounds are often viewed as warmer and more trustworthy than those from lower-income backgrounds.
- Religion: People belonging to certain religions, such as Christianity and Islam, are often seen as warm but not competent. On the other hand, those associated with “secular” beliefs (e.g., atheism) are typically seen as highly competent but not particularly warm.
- Age: Older individuals are often viewed as warmer but less competent than younger people, while young people are typically seen as highly competent but not particularly warm.
- Education: It is often perceived that those with advanced levels of education possess greater competence than their counterparts with a lower degree of educational attainment. However, unfortunately, this same group may also be thought to be less warm in comparison.
- Physical Appearance: Individuals with attractive physical features are often seen as both warm and competent. On the other hand, those with physical disabilities or unattractive features are sometimes viewed as less competent and less warm.
- Employment: Job status can primarily shape perceptions of one’s capabilities. Those with employment or higher-ranking positions tend to elicit more trust and confidence, making them preferred for roles requiring competence. Consequently, those in the workforce are often held above those not regarding specific opportunities or responsibilities.
- Immigration Status: Immigrants and those perceived to be immigrants are often viewed as less competent than native-born citizens or considered to be such. Conversely, immigrants and those perceived as such are often seen as warm and friendly.
Origins of the Stereotype Content Model
Back in the late 1990s, renowned psychologists Susan Fiske and Amy Cuddy crafted the stereotype content model (SCM), which researchers have since harnessed to study prejudice, discrimination, and cross-cultural relationships.
The origins of the SCM can be traced back to earlier work on social cognition and intergroup relations (Gelfand et al., 2016).
In the 1970s and 1980s, social psychologists began to study the cognitive processes that underlie the formation and maintenance of stereotypes, which are simplified and often inaccurate beliefs about social groups.
This study revealed significant discovery-many stereotypes are structured around two essential elements: warmth and competence (Fiske et al., 2002).
Warmth, also known as social perception, and competence, referred to as status perception, were the primary dimensions identified in this research.
Building on this earlier work, Fiske and Cuddy proposed the SCM as a way to integrate and extend previous theories of stereotype formation and maintenance (Fiske et al., 2002).
Over the years, the model has been widely used to study various social groups, including racial and ethnic groups, gender and sexual orientation groups, and religious groups.
Researchers have used the model to investigate how different types of stereotypes influence intergroup attitudes and behaviors and to develop interventions to reduce prejudice and discrimination.
The Two Dimensions of the Stereotype Content Model
The SCM proposes that social groups are perceived along two fundamental dimensions: warmth and competence (Fiske, 2018).
These two dimensions are the primary components of most stereotypes and influence how individuals perceive, evaluate, and respond to out-groups.
Warmth refers to the extent to which a group is regarded as kind, trustworthy, and welcoming. This dimension describes how positively individuals feel about a particular group and how much they value their relationships (Fiske, 2018).
A warm person is someone who radiates kindness, appreciation, and care. This type of attitude not only creates an atmosphere of trust but also builds meaningful connections between people.
On the contrary, a cold individual often struggles to gain sympathy from others and shows no interest in doing so either.
On the other hand, competence relates to the extent to which a group is perceived as competent and capable. This dimension describes how individuals perceive a group’s ability to succeed, achieve goals, and make sound decisions (Fiske, 2018).
Highly competent individuals are often seen as reliable and successful, which can lead to increased respect and trust in their capabilities.
Low competence, however, can lead to a lack of respect and even disdain when it comes to the ability of an individual or group.
These two dimensions provide a framework for understanding how individuals perceive and evaluate social groups and how those perceptions can impact how people interact with each other.
Stereotype Content Model Dimensions Combinations
While most stereotypes are composed of the two primary dimensions of warmth and competence, there are four main combinations in which these two components can be combined – admiration, contempt, envy, and pity.
A group that is high in both warmth and competence receives admiration. This type of combination is often seen when referring to individuals and groups that are successful, trustworthy, and respected (Hewstone et al., 2012).
When someone or some group radiates a lack of both warmth and competence, they are met with contempt. This combination is typically seen when describing people perceived as undesirable, unreliable, and unsuccessful (Hewstone et al., 2012).
Envy occurs when a group or individual is perceived to be highly competent but low in warmth. For example, this combination is often demonstrated when referring to people seen as successful but not kind or likable (Hewstone et al., 2012).
Lastly, pity is evoked when someone or a group of people are seen lacking warmth and competence. Unfortunately, this type of scenario often occurs with those needing assistance who appear helpless and vulnerable (Hewstone et al., 2012).
Importance of Stereotype Content Model
The SCM is important because it provides a framework for understanding how individuals perceive and evaluate social groups. It can explain why certain out-groups are more likely to experience prejudice and discrimination than others.
By comprehending how various stereotypes affect thoughts and behaviors, people can construct more effective interventions to reduce prejudice and build fairer societies.
Individuals can create more inviting atmospheres by recognizing their prejudices and addressing them head-on. The SCM is a valuable tool for creating a more equitable society, and its implications should not be taken lightly.
Harnessing stereotypes’ power can help reduce prejudiced behaviors and foster inclusion. Moreover, by acknowledging their pervasive influence, people can actively work towards creating a more equitable society for all.
So, the value of the SCM is in its ability to explain and address bias, discrimination, and prejudice in society.
The stereotype content model (SCM) is essential for understanding how individuals perceive and evaluate social groups. It demonstrates that stereotypes comprise two primary dimensions: warmth and competence.
Depending on how these dimensions are combined, admiration, contempt, envy, or pity can be evoked.
The SCM is important because it provides a framework for comprehending why certain out-groups are more likely to experience prejudice and discrimination than others.
Individuals can create more inclusive environments by recognizing their prejudices and actively working to reduce them.
Fiske, S. T. (2018). Stereotype content: Warmth and competence endure. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 27(2), 67–73. https://doi.org/10.1177/0963721417738825
Fiske, S. T., Cuddy, A. J. C., Glick, P., & Xu, J. (2002). A model of (often mixed) stereotype content: Competence and warmth respectively follow from perceived status and competition. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82(6), 878–902. https://doi.org/10.1037//0022-35126.96.36.1998
Gelfand, M. J., Chiu, C.-Y., & Hong, Y.-Y. (2016). Handbook of advances in culture and psychology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Hewstone, M., Stroebe, W., & Jonas, K. (2012). Introduction to social psychology: A european perspective. New York: Blackwell Publishing.