Date of Award

Spring 2008

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Edward J O'Brien


The effects of stereotypical knowledge on behaviors and beliefs have been widely examined in psychology. Early work examined the conscious, explicit expression of stereotypes. However, it has become increasingly difficult to use explicit tasks to measure stereotypical beliefs because participants often censor their beliefs so that their responses appear socially desirable. Implicit measures that indirectly measure stereotypical knowledge have recently been used as an alternative.

The goal of the experiments presented in this dissertation was to assess the presence of stereotypical knowledge through an implicit measure of reading comprehension that does not reflect social desirability. Across several experiments, participants read passages in which it was likely that stereotypical knowledge would become activated. The goal of Experiments 1 and 3 was to test for activation of stereotypical knowledge. Participants read passages about protagonists described in situations in which stereotypical knowledge was likely to become activated. Following the descriptions, target sentences were presented that were either consistent or inconsistent with stereotypical knowledge assumed to be activated earlier in text. Reading times were slower on target sentences that contained information inconsistent with stereotypes compared to reading times on target sentences that contained information consistent with stereotypes. This suggests that stereotypical knowledge was activated and affected comprehension of inconsistent target sentences.

In Experiments 2 and 4, a qualification sentence was added to the inconsistent elaboration section of the passages used in Experiments 1 and 3, respectively. This qualification served to explain why the protagonist would behave in a manner that was inconsistent with stereotypes. With the addition of the qualification sentence to the passages, the slowed reading times on target sentences found in Experiments 1 and 3 were eliminated. This result demonstrates that activation of stereotypical knowledge can be lessened over time and can generalize to explain how stereotypes change with experience. Results are discussed in terms of a cognitive perspective of knowledge activation in which stereotypical knowledge has no special status and becomes active under the same basic processes that govern any memory structure; that is, stereotypical information is activated due to low-level priming through a resonance process.