What Is The Stereotype Content Model? The Stereotype Content Model In A Nutshell

The stereotype content model was first proposed by social psychologist Susan Fiske together with colleagues Jun Xu, Peter Glick, and Amy Cuddy in 2002. The stereotype content model (SCM) describes the way an individual stereotypes members of a group they do not identify with.

Concept Overview– The Stereotype Content Model (SCM) is a psychological theory developed by Susan Fiske and her colleagues that seeks to understand and explain how people perceive and categorize individuals and groups based on two fundamental dimensions: warmth and competence. The model posits that these dimensions are central to the formation of stereotypes and judgments about others. Warmth refers to the intentions of a person or group, while competence pertains to their ability to enact those intentions. The SCM is a powerful tool for analyzing social perceptions and prejudices.
Key Dimensions– The SCM is based on two primary dimensions: 1. Warmth (W): This dimension assesses whether a person or group is perceived as friendly, well-intentioned, and cooperative, or as hostile, unfriendly, and competitive. 2. Competence (C): Competence evaluates whether an individual or group is seen as capable, skilled, and effective or as incapable, unskilled, and ineffective. These two dimensions create a matrix that defines four social perception categories: – High Warmth, High Competence: Groups or individuals in this category are often admired and respected. – High Warmth, Low Competence: These groups are often seen as well-intentioned but not very capable. – Low Warmth, High Competence: This category includes groups or individuals viewed as competent but not particularly friendly or trustworthy. – Low Warmth, Low Competence: Groups or individuals in this category are often subject to contempt and prejudice.
Applications– The Stereotype Content Model is applied in various fields: 1. Social Psychology: It is used to study the formation and dynamics of stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination. 2. Diversity and Inclusion: Organizations apply the model to understand biases and promote diversity and inclusion. 3. Conflict Resolution: The SCM helps analyze and mitigate intergroup conflicts. 4. Cross-Cultural Studies: It provides insights into how stereotypes vary across cultures. 5. Political Psychology: It is used to study perceptions of political leaders and groups.
Impact on Society– The SCM is globally significant as it sheds light on the factors that influence social perceptions and attitudes toward different groups. By understanding how stereotypes are formed and reinforced, society can work towards reducing prejudice, discrimination, and social inequalities. The model’s insights are relevant to addressing issues related to diversity, inclusion, and social harmony in a global context.
Challenges– The Stereotype Content Model faces challenges related to the complexity of human perception and biases. People’s judgments can be influenced by a range of factors, including cultural context, personal experiences, and media portrayal. While the SCM provides a valuable framework, it does not capture all nuances of social perception and can oversimplify complex interpersonal dynamics. Researchers and practitioners need to consider these challenges when applying the model.

Understanding the stereotype content model

The model is based on an evolutionary predisposition for people to stereotype strangers in a new group in two different ways:

  • The individual first assesses the perceived intent of the group to either help them or harm them. This is measured by the metric warmth.
  • Then, the individual judges the capacity of the group to act on either intention. This is measured by the metric competence.

Depending on how warmth and competence are categorized, the individual will feel a particular way about a group and act accordingly.

These actions are the basis of stereotyping, with subsequent research into the model finding it to be a reliable predictor of stereotypical content and its associated behavior.

Studies on warmth and competence in social psychology have also been utilized in fields such as advertising, international relations, persuasion, policy formation, and corporate management

The four quadrants of the stereotype content model

To further develop their model, Cuddy, Fiske, and Glick developed a table to show the different interactions between warmth and competence.

The table displays four quadrants, with each based on a causal model of stereotype development.

Primarily, the table was created to show that some stereotypes were positive or contained mixed attributes.

For example, some people stereotype the elderly as warm but not competent, while others may consider Asian people to be competent but not warm.

The table has two spectrums:

Active/passive spectrum

Active behaviors are intentionally directed at the group, while passive behaviors affect the group but do not require noticeable effort.

Harm/facilitation spectrum

The second spectrum is included to differentiate between the out-group an individual (or in-group) is in a position to either assist or harm.

In addition, each stereotype group quadrant is assigned two behavioral tendencies.

This means common cultural stereotypes determine whether a social group will be on the receiving end of cooperative or harmful behavior, with both received either actively or passively.

Let’s now take a look at each of the four quadrants:

High warmth/high competence

These groups are admired with active facilitation and constitute in-groups, or groups to which the observer personally belongs.

Middle class, white, and heterosexual groups fall under this quadrant.

High warmth/low competence

These groups are pitied with passive facilitation. In many Western societies, this treatment is usually directed toward the elderly and disabled.

While these groups are pitied from a moral standpoint, they are nonetheless isolated from society.

For example, elderly people receive passive harm when they are isolated in a care facility.

But they may also receive active facilitation through community service or elderly charities.

Low warmth/high competence

These groups are envied with passive harm because they are generally perceived to lack warmth and possess high competency.

In the United States, out-groups include Asian Americans, wealthy Americans, and the Jewish community.

Low warmth/low competence

These groups are treated with contempt through active harm, such as the homeless or unemployed.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, they are treated with the most hostility of any group.

Key takeaways

  • The stereotype content model describes the way an individual stereotypes members of a group they do not identify with. It was developed by social psychologist Susan Fiske and colleagues Jun Xu, Peter Glick, and Amy Cuddy in 2002.
  • The stereotype content model measures two dimensions that describe the way an individual will feel (and subsequently act) when encountering a stranger or group. The first dimension is warmth, or the extent to which the individual believes a group can harm them or help them. The second is competence, or the extent to which the group can carry out either intention.
  • The two dimensions of the stereotype content model were later displayed in a table with four quadrants. Each quadrant describes a different stereotype out-group, with each categorized according to whether they will be on the receiving end of harmful or cooperative behavior.

Key Highlights

  • Origin and Purpose: The Stereotype Content Model (SCM) was introduced by social psychologist Susan Fiske and her colleagues in 2002. It aims to explain how individuals stereotype members of groups they do not identify with.
  • Two Dimensions of Stereotyping: The SCM proposes that people stereotype strangers based on two main dimensions: warmth and competence.
    • Warmth: This dimension reflects the perceived intent of a group to either harm or help the observer. It measures whether the group is seen as friendly, trustworthy, and cooperative, or as cold, unfriendly, and competitive.
    • Competence: This dimension assesses the perceived capability of the group to carry out their intentions, whether they have the necessary skills and resources. It ranges from high competence (capable) to low competence (incompetent).
  • Four Quadrants of Stereotype Content Model:
    • High Warmth/High Competence: Groups in this quadrant are admired and receive active facilitation. They are often in-groups to which the observer belongs. Examples include middle-class individuals, white people, and heterosexuals.
    • High Warmth/Low Competence: These groups are pitied and receive passive facilitation. Examples are the elderly and disabled. While pitied, they might also experience isolation and passive harm.
    • Low Warmth/High Competence: These groups are envied but receive passive harm. They are seen as competent but lacking warmth. Examples include Asian Americans and wealthy individuals.
    • Low Warmth/Low Competence: Groups in this quadrant are treated with contempt and receive active harm. Homeless and unemployed individuals are often subjected to hostility.
  • Behavioral Tendencies: Each quadrant is associated with specific behavioral tendencies. The SCM suggests that common cultural stereotypes determine whether a social group will experience cooperative or harmful behavior, either actively or passively.
  • Applications: The SCM’s concepts of warmth and competence have been applied beyond social psychology to fields such as advertising, international relations, persuasion, policy formation, and corporate management. Understanding how people perceive different groups’ intentions and capabilities can help shape strategies in these areas.

Read Next: Heuristics, Biases.

Connected Thinking Frameworks

Convergent vs. Divergent Thinking

Convergent thinking occurs when the solution to a problem can be found by applying established rules and logical reasoning. Whereas divergent thinking is an unstructured problem-solving method where participants are encouraged to develop many innovative ideas or solutions to a given problem. Where convergent thinking might work for larger, mature organizations where divergent thinking is more suited for startups and innovative companies.

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking involves analyzing observations, facts, evidence, and arguments to form a judgment about what someone reads, hears, says, or writes.

Systems Thinking

Systems thinking is a holistic means of investigating the factors and interactions that could contribute to a potential outcome. It is about thinking non-linearly, and understanding the second-order consequences of actions and input into the system.

Vertical Thinking

Vertical thinking, on the other hand, is a problem-solving approach that favors a selective, analytical, structured, and sequential mindset. The focus of vertical thinking is to arrive at a reasoned, defined solution.

Maslow’s Hammer

Maslow’s Hammer, otherwise known as the law of the instrument or the Einstellung effect, is a cognitive bias causing an over-reliance on a familiar tool. This can be expressed as the tendency to overuse a known tool (perhaps a hammer) to solve issues that might require a different tool. This problem is persistent in the business world where perhaps known tools or frameworks might be used in the wrong context (like business plans used as planning tools instead of only investors’ pitches).

Peter Principle

The Peter Principle was first described by Canadian sociologist Lawrence J. Peter in his 1969 book The Peter Principle. The Peter Principle states that people are continually promoted within an organization until they reach their level of incompetence.

Straw Man Fallacy

The straw man fallacy describes an argument that misrepresents an opponent’s stance to make rebuttal more convenient. The straw man fallacy is a type of informal logical fallacy, defined as a flaw in the structure of an argument that renders it invalid.

Streisand Effect

The Streisand Effect is a paradoxical phenomenon where the act of suppressing information to reduce visibility causes it to become more visible. In 2003, Streisand attempted to suppress aerial photographs of her Californian home by suing photographer Kenneth Adelman for an invasion of privacy. Adelman, who Streisand assumed was paparazzi, was instead taking photographs to document and study coastal erosion. In her quest for more privacy, Streisand’s efforts had the opposite effect.


As highlighted by German psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer in the paper “Heuristic Decision Making,” the term heuristic is of Greek origin, meaning “serving to find out or discover.” More precisely, a heuristic is a fast and accurate way to make decisions in the real world, which is driven by uncertainty.

Recognition Heuristic

The recognition heuristic is a psychological model of judgment and decision making. It is part of a suite of simple and economical heuristics proposed by psychologists Daniel Goldstein and Gerd Gigerenzer. The recognition heuristic argues that inferences are made about an object based on whether it is recognized or not.

Representativeness Heuristic

The representativeness heuristic was first described by psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. The representativeness heuristic judges the probability of an event according to the degree to which that event resembles a broader class. When queried, most will choose the first option because the description of John matches the stereotype we may hold for an archaeologist.

Take-The-Best Heuristic

The take-the-best heuristic is a decision-making shortcut that helps an individual choose between several alternatives. The take-the-best (TTB) heuristic decides between two or more alternatives based on a single good attribute, otherwise known as a cue. In the process, less desirable attributes are ignored.


The concept of cognitive biases was introduced and popularized by the work of Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman in 1972. Biases are seen as systematic errors and flaws that make humans deviate from the standards of rationality, thus making us inept at making good decisions under uncertainty.

Bundling Bias

The bundling bias is a cognitive bias in e-commerce where a consumer tends not to use all of the products bought as a group, or bundle. Bundling occurs when individual products or services are sold together as a bundle. Common examples are tickets and experiences. The bundling bias dictates that consumers are less likely to use each item in the bundle. This means that the value of the bundle and indeed the value of each item in the bundle is decreased.

Barnum Effect

The Barnum Effect is a cognitive bias where individuals believe that generic information – which applies to most people – is specifically tailored for themselves.

First-Principles Thinking

First-principles thinking – sometimes called reasoning from first principles – is used to reverse-engineer complex problems and encourage creativity. It involves breaking down problems into basic elements and reassembling them from the ground up. Elon Musk is among the strongest proponents of this way of thinking.

Ladder Of Inference

The ladder of inference is a conscious or subconscious thinking process where an individual moves from a fact to a decision or action. The ladder of inference was created by academic Chris Argyris to illustrate how people form and then use mental models to make decisions.

Six Thinking Hats Model

The Six Thinking Hats model was created by psychologist Edward de Bono in 1986, who noted that personality type was a key driver of how people approached problem-solving. For example, optimists view situations differently from pessimists. Analytical individuals may generate ideas that a more emotional person would not, and vice versa.

Second-Order Thinking

Second-order thinking is a means of assessing the implications of our decisions by considering future consequences. Second-order thinking is a mental model that considers all future possibilities. It encourages individuals to think outside of the box so that they can prepare for every and eventuality. It also discourages the tendency for individuals to default to the most obvious choice.

Lateral Thinking

Lateral thinking is a business strategy that involves approaching a problem from a different direction. The strategy attempts to remove traditionally formulaic and routine approaches to problem-solving by advocating creative thinking, therefore finding unconventional ways to solve a known problem. This sort of non-linear approach to problem-solving, can at times, create a big impact.

Bounded Rationality

Bounded rationality is a concept attributed to Herbert Simon, an economist and political scientist interested in decision-making and how we make decisions in the real world. In fact, he believed that rather than optimizing (which was the mainstream view in the past decades) humans follow what he called satisficing.

Dunning-Kruger Effect

The Dunning-Kruger effect describes a cognitive bias where people with low ability in a task overestimate their ability to perform that task well. Consumers or businesses that do not possess the requisite knowledge make bad decisions. What’s more, knowledge gaps prevent the person or business from seeing their mistakes.

Occam’s Razor

Occam’s Razor states that one should not increase (beyond reason) the number of entities required to explain anything. All things being equal, the simplest solution is often the best one. The principle is attributed to 14th-century English theologian William of Ockham.

Mandela Effect

The Mandela effect is a phenomenon where a large group of people remembers an event differently from how it occurred. The Mandela effect was first described in relation to Fiona Broome, who believed that former South African President Nelson Mandela died in prison during the 1980s. While Mandela was released from prison in 1990 and died 23 years later, Broome remembered news coverage of his death in prison and even a speech from his widow. Of course, neither event occurred in reality. But Broome was later to discover that she was not the only one with the same recollection of events.

Crowding-Out Effect

The crowding-out effect occurs when public sector spending reduces spending in the private sector.

Bandwagon Effect

The bandwagon effect tells us that the more a belief or idea has been adopted by more people within a group, the more the individual adoption of that idea might increase within the same group. This is the psychological effect that leads to herd mentality. What in marketing can be associated with social proof.

Read Next: BiasesBounded RationalityMandela EffectDunning-Kruger EffectLindy EffectCrowding Out EffectBandwagon Effect.

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