Exploring The Effects Of Positive Stereotypes: Are They Actually Bad?

Medically reviewed by Karen Foster, LPC
Updated June 15, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Positive stereotypes can be seen as harmless by many—however, they can have a powerful impact on how people interact with one another. Whether they occur in the workplace, school or our social lives, positive stereotypes can shape our views of others and influence our behavior towards them. These stereotypes can also affect how people perceive their own abilities and capabilities. 

For example: Being "the smart one" or "the funny one" can be seen as positive, but it also can come with the added pressure of living up to that stereotype. This pressure can lead to self-doubt and decreased motivation if one feels like they aren’t meeting those expectations.

Three teenagers are sitting in chairs across from a therapist; they are discussing stereotypes and have pleasant expressions.
Are You Experiencing Stereotypes?

It can be important to not to let preconceived notions get in the way of seeing people for who they are—remembering instead that stereotypes don’t have to influence someone’s story or limit one’s potential. That’s why understanding what positive stereotypes are, their impact and counteractive supporting strategies can be so important, possibly helping to validate the experiences of others. Additionally, it can promote a more harmonious societal experience for all. 

Read on to learn more about what you need to know about positive stereotypes, as well as the steps you can take to support those who may be affected. 

What Are Positive Stereotypes?

Positive stereotypes are generally defined as generalizations about a group of people that might portray them in a positive light. These stereotypes can be based on nationality, gender, personality, ethnicity, age or even job roles.Positive stereotypes can be influenced by media portrayals, societal beliefs and individual experiences. 

Media outlets such as books, movies, television shows and other forms of entertainment can have a powerful influence on how people view certain groups. By portraying certain groups in a more positive light than others, these media sources can affect how people perceive and treat these groups in real life, which is where the possible risk of using positive stereotypes can come into play. While these stereotypes can seem harmless at first, they can be damaging in the long run if they lead to assumptions about an individual's ability or worth.

Positive stereotypes can also be created through a process known as essentializing. Essentialism is defined by many as the method of simplifying complex social or cultural phenomena into an essentialized version that is easier to understand and explain. Unfortunately, this type of stereotyping can lead to the oversimplification of differences, possibly leading to false assumptions about entire groups of people.

Social comparison and similarity can also play a role in forming positive stereotypes. For example, we may be more likely to develop positive opinions of people who share similarities with us, such as similar backgrounds or interests. Additionally, human nature may lead us to feel a sense of comfort and approval when we are around those who are more like ourselves—possibly encouraging cliques or biases across societal contexts. This can be harmful if left unaddressed. Understanding the widespread impact of these stereotypes and supportive strategies to resolve concerns caused by them can be a strong first step to collective societal betterment. 

The Impact Of Positive Stereotypes

Positive stereotypes can have a significant impact on how individuals and groups interact with one another. These stereotypes can create a sense of superiority for those who are seen as "better" or "more capable" than other groups, possibly leading to discrimination and prejudice against them.

At the same time, those who are stereotyped as "less capable" or "inferior" may feel a sense of inferiority and inadequacy. These feelings might lead to lower self-esteem and performance in academic and professional situations. It can also lead to negative attitudes toward one's own group, resulting in internalized oppression in some.

Certain stereotypes may also lead to a phenomenon called "stereotype threat," which generally occurs when people fear confirming stereotypes about their group by engaging in certain activities that may lead to adverse outcomes—a method that works similarly to self-sabotage. By undermining their ability to perform, stereotype threat can negatively impact individuals and their communities.Despite the potential for harm, positive stereotypes can be beneficial in specific contexts. For instance, they can be used to bring attention to issues of inequality, possibly helping to create an equal playing field for all societal members and groups. However, it can be helpful to remember that positive and negative stereotypes should be evaluated critically and used with caution.

As we encounter positive stereotypes, it can be helpful to challenge assumptions, question our own beliefs and create a space where everyone can feel valued and respected—regardless of their background. By taking the time to understand the potential effects of positive stereotypes, we can create a more equitable society where people feel seen and can own their individuality.

Getty/Vadym Pastukh

How Can We Counter the Negative Effects of Positive Stereotypes?

Recognizing and challenging the impact of positive stereotypes can be the first step to creating an environment of acceptance and inclusion. We can do this by:

  • Encouraging individuals to question and challenge stereotypes: By encouraging people to examine the assumptions and generalizations they hold about different groups; they may begin to see the limitations of stereotypes.
  • Promoting diversity and inclusion in our workplaces and communities: Diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) initiatives can help foster environments where all individuals are accepted and respected, regardless of their backgrounds.
  • Encouraging self-reflection: It can be helpful to encourage others to examine and challenge their own biases and privileges and the ways they may be perpetuating stereotypes.
  • Educating ourselves on the potential consequences of positive stereotypes: By understanding the impact of these generalizations, we can collectively work to create solutions that counter their effects.
  • Supporting organizations and initiatives that foster equal treatment and opportunities: By investing in these organizations, we can help create a more equitable playing field for all individuals.
  • Creating safe spaces to discuss and challenge stereotypes: Providing forums where people can speak openly about their experiences can help to foster understanding and acceptance between different groups.
  • Enhancing representation in various aspects of society: Representation can help break stereotypes and shift the narrative, so it can be helpful to ensure that all voices are considered.
  • Encouraging intergroup contact: By encouraging interactions between people from different groups and providing opportunities for mentorship and collaboration, we can help bridge divides and create a society where everyone is accepted and respected.

Taking steps to counter the harmful effects of positive stereotypes can be important to create a more equitable society. With increased awareness and understanding of the potential consequences of these generalizations, we can work together to create an environment where everyone feels valued and respected.

Discussing Positive Stereotypes With Others

If you've identified a positive stereotype in your thinking or in the words of others, you may wish to take action as soon as possible. Open and respectful dialogue can help foster understanding, so inviting people of all backgrounds to share their opinions and experiences can effectively educate and challenge stereotypes.

When discussing positive stereotypes, it can be helpful to remember that it is important to remain open-minded regarding the views and experiences of others. It can also be helpful to remember that it's okay not to have all the answers. Simply listening and learning from each other can go a long way toward establishing an environment of acceptance and inclusion.

Are You Experiencing Stereotypes?

How Can Online Therapy Help People To Challenge Positive Stereotypes? 

If you feel uncomfortable or feel unsure how to approach these conversations, you might consider seeking additional help. Online therapy can provide a safe space in the comfort of your own home or secondary location to explore these issues in more depth and might also help you to develop the tools needed to address positive stereotypes more effectively. A licensed therapist can provide guidance and support to assist you in managing difficult conversations, supporting you in developing the skills necessary to create the boundaries and respect that are generally needed for meaningful dialogue.

Is Online Therapy Effective In Dealing With Instances Of Prejudice Or Positive Stereotypes? 

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), a modality that’s generally used often in online therapy, can be an effective tool in fostering these conversations. As anxiety is a root cause of prejudice, virtual CBT can help impact the negative responses associated with it and provide a sense of control over one's feelings. A recent study suggested that CBT is effective in reducing the negative impact of stereotypes and prejudice. Additional analysis from the National Council on Aging suggests that online therapy shows comparable effects to in-person therapy, allowing patients to get similar benefits and experiences across both forms of intervention. 


Positive stereotypes can have a detrimental effect on our society when left unchecked. By understanding their potential consequences and taking proactive steps to counter them, we can work towards a more equitable and accepting world.

Encouraging open dialogue, supporting initiatives that foster equal treatment and seeking help through online therapy may help you effectively challenge these stereotypes. BetterHelp can connect you with an online therapist in your area of need.

Does it seem like stereotypes hold you back?

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