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And the Winners Are...All the Same! Why Winning Groups Are Stereotyped

In some recent research, my colleagues and I investigated whether people stereotype winning groups more than losing groups. In other words, do people perceive the members of winning groups to be more similar to one another than the members of losing groups? Traditionally, social psychologists have assumed that it is low status groups, low power groups, and minority groups that bear the brunt of stereotyping with more positive, high status, high power, majority groups being considered as unique individuals. In our research, we challenged this prevailing view. We predicted that, in the context of a competition between groups, winning groups would be stereotyped more than losing groups because people have an implicit understanding that uniformity, group cohesiveness, and co-ordination are associated with better group performance.

To test our prediction, we asked 175 research participants to view the photographs of four women who were ostensibly part of a team of fashion designers. We told half of our participants that the team had won a fashion design competition and the other half that the team had lost the competition. We then asked participants to indicate how much they agreed or disagreed with a series of statements about how similar or different the fashion designers were to one another (e.g., “Generally, the fashion designers...are similar to each other”).

Our statistical analyses showed that participants who were told that the fashion design team had won the competition rated the four women as being significantly more similar to one another (i.e., more homogeneous) than participants who were told that the team had lost. To check that this finding generalized to other groups, we performed a second study that referred to architects who took part in a building design competition. We obtained similar results: Participants rated the members of the winning group as being more similar to one another than the members of the losing group. In addition, they perceived the winning group to be more cohesive, agreeing more strongly with statements such as  “I think that the...architects worked well together”.

These results suggest that it is not just low status groups, low power groups, and minority groups that face relatively high levels of stereotyping. In the context of an intergroup competition, winning groups also appear to be stereotyped. Our use of fashion designers and architects as target groups, make our results all the more interesting. People in these professions tend to do well if they generate distinctive and unique ideas. But even they need to put aside their individuality and pull together as a coherent team in order to win a competition – or at least that’s the way our research participants appeared to interpret things.

We’ve shown that people perceive winning groups to be more homogeneous than losing groups. But an interesting question for future research is whether people perceive homogeneous groups to be more like winners than heterogeneous groups. Military forces often put on public displays in which they demonstrate the uniformity, homogeneity, cohesiveness, and co-ordination of their soldiers. It’s possible that these displays are functional because people, including opposing military forces, perceive homogeneous groups to be potential winners of any military action.

For more information about this research, please see the following journal article:

Badea, C., Brauer, M., & Rubin, M. (2012). The effects of winning and losing on perceived group variability Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 49, 1094-1099. doi: 10.1016/j.jesp.2012.03.006

A self-archived version of this journal article is available here.