Superior pattern detectors efficiently learn, activate, apply, and update social stereotypes

David J. Lick, Adam L. Alter, Jonathan B. Freeman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Superior cognitive abilities are generally associated with positive outcomes such as academic achievement and social mobility. Here, we explore the darker side of cognitive ability, highlighting robust links between pattern detection and stereotyping. Across 6 studies, we find that superior pattern detectors efficiently learn and use stereotypes about social groups. This pattern holds across explicit (Studies 1 and 2), implicit (Studies 2 and 4), and behavioral measures of stereotyping (Study 3). We also find that superior pattern detectors readily update their stereotypes when confronted with new information (Study 5), making them particularly susceptible to counterstereotype training (Study 6). Pattern detection skills therefore equip people to act as naïve empiricists who calibrate their stereotypes to match incoming information. These findings highlight novel effects of individual aptitudes on social- cognitive processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)209-227
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: General
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2018


  • Cognitive ability
  • Pattern detection
  • Social cognition
  • Stereotyping

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • General Psychology
  • Developmental Neuroscience


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