Attentional Processes in Stereotype Formation: A Common Model for Category Accentuation and Illusory Correlation

Jeffrey W. Sherman, John K. Kruschke, Steven J. Sherman, Elise J. Percy, John V. Petrocelli, Frederica R. Conrey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Scopus citations


Stereotype formation may be based on the exaggeration of real group differences (category accentuation) or the misperception of group differences that do not exist (illusory correlation). This research sought to account for both phenomena with J. K. Kruschke's (1996, 2001, 2003) attention theory of category learning. According to the model, the features of majority groups are learned earlier than the features of minority groups. In turn, the features that become associated with a minority are those that most distinguish it from the majority. This second process is driven by an attention-shifting mechanism that directs attention toward group-attribute pairings that facilitate differentiation of the two groups and may lead to the formation of stronger minority stereotypes. Five experiments supported this model as a common account for category accentuation and distinctiveness-based illusory correlation. Implications for the natures of stereotype formation, illusory correlation, and impression formation are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)305-323
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Personality and Social Psychology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2009


  • categorization and attention
  • category accentuation
  • illusory correlation
  • social categorization
  • stereotype formation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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