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Three studies investigated contingency learning and stereotype formation in a scenario about group membership and behavior with a confounding context factor. The studies tested predictions from theoretical accounts of biased group judgments in terms of simplistic reasoning, parallel distributed memory, and pseudocontingencies. Study 1 revealed a positive correlation between erroneous stereotype formation and learning of the true contingencies with the confounding factor. Study 2 showed that a focus manipulation during encoding moderated the correlation between stereotype formation and contingency learning but not the strength of the erroneous stereotype. Study 3 used a quasiexperimental comparison between participants with biased versus unbiased group judgments and extended the findings of a positive relation between stereotype formation and contingency learning. The results support an explanation of biased group judgments by pseudocontingencies; that is, unwarranted inferences from accurately perceived bivariate correlations in complex environments.

Original publication




Journal article


J Pers Soc Psychol

Publication Date





599 - 614


Adult, Analysis of Variance, Association Learning, Cognition, Humans, Judgment, Learning, Memory, Models, Psychological, Peer Group, Predictive Value of Tests, Prejudice, Social Behavior, Social Desirability, Social Perception, Stereotyping, Students