Stereotypes: Confessions of a ‘Hippy Parent’

Holidays and stereotypes content: Confessions of a ‘Hippy Parent’.

stereotypeThis last week my family and I have been on holiday. I for one needed it – the end of the academic year is pretty busy and I usually come out of it pretty beat. For our holiday we went to a resort on the south coast. We rented a small apartment in a block of 4 in the resorts ‘holiday village’. We had a super time and have returned back to work and family life much refreshed. However, something happened which was a bit thought provoking. I was (in a fairly nice way – all things considered!) reduced to a stereotype.

Probably Hippy Parents

As we moved in my wife overheard the family also moving into the flat next door make a few comments about ‘hippy parents’. I am pretty sure this comment was aimed at us for a number of reasons:

  1. Child 1 was running around like a (pretty well behaved) maniac excited to be on holiday and after a two hour car drive.

  2. Six month old Child 2 was wrapped up in our much loved baby sling on her Dad’s front, without a pushchair in sight.

  3. Said Dad was wearing sandals (possibly with socks on as well, but I can’t recall!).

  4. Mum was wearing a flowy and flowery top.

I am not sure any of these are particularly uncommon (maybe not the socks!) or even very hippy-ish, but it seemed enough  in combination for our neighbours! In anycase, it got me thinking about how stereotypes work, and what the ‘Hippy Parent’ stereotype may contain.

The content of stereotypes

Stereotypes are mental representations we have of groups of people. When we use stereotypes, we assume an individual from a group has the majority or all of the attributes we assign to the group. We also perceive their behaviour in light of the stereotype, and respond to them similarly. The dominant model describing what stereotypes consist of is the ‘Stereotype Content Model [SCM]’ 1. The SCM assumes that we judge various groups on the basis of two dimensions, warmth and competence. A given group’s stereotype will consist of estimates of where they fall on each dimension (and we assume a person from that group will also have these characteristics).

Stereotypes can be positive – high warmth/ high status groups evoke positive evaluations and emotional responses, a desire to become friends and allies and behaviour which facilitates the groups pursuit of goals. They can also be wholly negative. Low competence / low warmth people are often despised and avoided. Homeless people are often stereotyped in this fashion.

The ambivalent zone.

Of course, groups can also be scored high on one dimension and low on another. These more ambivalent stereotypes are more complex. High competence / low warmth group as seen as high status, but are also the focus of negative evaluations, envy and attempts to actively obstruct their progress. Finally, groups can be seen as high in warmth, but low in competence. Research from my own students suggests stay at home dads fall into this group, other work shows stay at home mums and people with learning impairments can also fall into this category.

So, where did we, in all our sandal / baby wearing Hippy Glory fall? Probably into the (nice-but-useless) high warmth / low competence category. This isn’t the worst place to be I guess, but it’s not the best either. Most importantly, it meant this family would tend responded to us from that perspective.

The implications of stereotypes

In this instance, being stereotyped wasn’t a great problem. We didn’t have to have much to do with the other family beyond the odd polite hello. Of course, in other situations it can be more problematic. For instance, other research shows we are less likely to help people from groups we have low warmth/competence stereotypes against in emergency situations 2 and that we give those we hold high warmth / low competence stereotypes about less opportunity to shine in interviews, to the extent which the applicants themselves behave in a less impressive way3. They also mean you reduce a complex, unique individual to a set of shared (and often erroneous) characteristics.

To be clear, I am not getting on my high horse here. Stereotyping is something we do when we are running on autopilot. Indeed, I am sure I made a bunch of judgements about my fellow holiday makers which were much more unjustified  than our neighbours made of us (to be honest, our family probably are a tad Hippy and happy with that!). Hopefully though, being aware of these tendencies to stereotype makes us (at least a little) less likely to base our thoughts and behaviours on them to the same extent.

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  1. Fiske, S. T., Cuddy, A. J., 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 
  2. Piliavin, I. M., Rodin, J., & Piliavin, J. A. (1969). Good samaritanism: an underground phenomenon?. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,13(4), 289-299. 
  3. Von Baeyer, C. L., Sherk, D. L., & Zanna, M. P. (1981). Impression management in the job interview when the female applicant meets the male (chauvinist) interviewer. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 7(1), 45-51. 

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