The ABC of stereotypes – Rethinking fundamental stereotype content dimensions

What are the basic dimensions people employ to make sense of their social space? On what dimensions do we compare social groups and other entities? Although previously research has almost unequivocally insisted on a primal focus on information concerning social entities’ (benign or align) intentions and a secondary interest in the respective capacity and ability to put these intentions into action (i.e., warmth and competence, or relatedly: communion and agency), this has never been tested in an unbiased way.

Relying on representatively sampled social groups we asked participants to estimate the overall similarities and dissimilarities between these groups. Across different national context, sampling instructions, similarity definitions and rating scale for interpretations we consistently found a two-dimensional space spanned by low vs. high agency (i.e., status, power, dominance) as the primary and conservative vs. progressive beliefs as a secondary dimension, whereas communion or warmth emerged at the center of this space (Koch et al., 2016). These findings are in line with the general principle that warmth is a function of averageness and non-deviance (Imhoff & Koch, 2016).

In current follow-up projects we expand this reasoning to the perception of occupations, brands and individuals, explore the boundary conditions of the observed non-reliance on warmth information, empirically elucidate the relevance of the belief's dimension and aim at a more ecologically realistic test of our model in interpersonal encounters.

Funding: University of Cologne Advanced Postdoc Grant “Content and application of fundamental stereotype dimensions” (11/2014 – 10/2017)


Koch, A. S., Kervyn, N., Kervyn, M., & Imhoff, R. (in press). Studying the cognitive map of the U.S. states: Ideology and prosperity stereotypes predict interstate prejudice. Social Psychological and Personality Science.

Imhoff, R. & Koch, A. (2017). How orthogonal are the Big Two of social perception? On the curvilinear relation between agency and communion. Perspectives in Psychological Science, 12, 122-137.

Imhoff, R., Woelki, J., Hanke, S., & Dotsch, R. (2013). Warmth and competence in your face! Visual encoding of stereotype content. Frontiers in Psychology, 4:386.

Koch, A.*, Imhoff, R.*, Dotsch, R., Unkelbach, C., & Alves, H. (2016). The ABC of stereotypes about groups: Agency / socio-economic success, conservative-progressive Beliefs, and Communion. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 110, 675-709. *shared first authorship

Sinister plots hatched in secret – conspiracy mentality as a generalized political attitude

Conspiracy theories are alternative explanations for how significant events can refute the official version and instead attribute the root causes of these events (e.g., accidents, assassinations, catastrophes, lack of progress) to the malign intention of a few powerful agents operating behind the curtains. Although each of these theories is unique in its own sense (and at times bizarre), agreement with conspiracy beliefs is almost and intraindividual constant: If you believe one, you will likely believe most others as well.
We have therefore adopted and rejuvenated the term conspiracy mentality (originally coined by Moscovici, 1987) to describe a generalized political attitude that is intertemporally stable, non-redundant to other personality facets and a potent predictor of prejudice against groups perceived as powerful (Imhoff & Bruder, 2014). As more recent research attests such a style of Manichaean thinking is particularly pronounced at the political extremes (Imhoff, 2015) and also translated into distrust towards knowledge sources perceived as powerful (Imhoff, Lamberty, & Klein, in prep). As well as the allegedly almighty biomedical model in health services (Lamberty & Imhoff, under revision).


Imhoff, R. & Lamberty, P. (2017). Too special to be duped: Need for uniqueness motivates conspiracy beliefs. European Journal of Social Psychology, 47, 724-734.

Bruder, M., Haffke, P., Neave, N., Nouripanah, N., & Imhoff, R. (2013). Measuring individual differences in generic beliefs in conspiracy theories across cultures: conspiracy mentality questionnaire. Frontiers in Psychology, 4:225.

Imhoff, R. (2013). Fragebogen zur Erfassung von Verschwörungsmentalität – Kurzform. In C. J. Kemper, E. Brähler, & M. Zenger (Hrsg.), Psychologische und sozialwissenschaftliche Kurzskalen (pp. 334-336). Berlin: Medizinisch Wissenschaftliche Verlagsgesellschaft.

Imhoff, R. (2015). Beyond (right-wing) authoritarianism: Conspiracy mentality as an incremental predictor of prejudice. In. M. Bilewicz, A. Cichocka, & W. Soral (Eds.) The Psychology of Conspiracy (pp. 122-141).London: Routledge.

Imhoff, R., & Bruder, M. (2014). Speaking (Un-)Truth to Power: Conspiracy Mentality as a Generalized Political Attitude. European Journal of Personality, 28, 25-43.

Imhoff, R., & Decker, O. (2013). Verschwörungsmentalität als Weltbild. In: O. Decker, J. Kiess & E. Brähler (Hrsg.), Rechtsextremismus der Mitte (S. 130-145). Wiesbaden: Psychosozial Verlag.

Representations and lay explanations of history

In his classic book “1984” George Orwell wrote “He who controls the past controls the future“, a quip that describes the most ambitious formulation why history matters and the reason why studying historical representations matters.

People make sense of and try to explain history as an instrument to interpret and learn something about the present. They systematically differ in their lay explanation why certain events in history took place. These differences have marked consequences on their present relation to former victims and or perpetrator group members (Imhoff et al., 2016).

Particularly perpetrator groups’ negative actions in the past cast a sustained shadow on their group’s present image. This is maybe best exemplified by the Nazi past that is still shaping many contemporary German’s relation to nationhood and patriotism (Bilewicz, Witkowska, Stubig, Beneda, & Imhoff, 2016). While some might experience ingroup-critical emotions like guilt or regret (Imhoff, Bilewicz, Erb, 2012) under certain circumstances (Imhoff, Wohl, & Erb, 2013), this also entails the risk of defensive, negative reactions (Imhoff & Banse, 2009), ultimately resulting in prejudices like secondary antisemitism (Imhoff, 2010).

In our present research we explored how reminders of a negative past strip people off their psychological standing to criticize others and how lay explanations of the Holocaust can be best mapped in a bottom-up data-driven way.


DFG IM 147/1-1 “Sekundärer Antisemitismus – zugrundeliegende psychologische Prozesse” (11/2012-02/2015)

German-Israeli Foundation Grant “Seventy Years Later: Historical Representations of the Holocaust and their effects on German-Israeli Relations” (01/2014 – 12/2016)


Bilewicz, M., Witkowska, M., Stubig, S., Beneda, M., & Imhoff, R. (2017). How to educate about the Holocaust? Psychological obstacles in historical education in Poland and Germany. In C. Psaltis, M. Carretero & S. Cehajic-Clancy (Eds.) History teaching and conflict transformation: Social psychological theories, history teaching and reconciliation (pp. 169-197). London: Palgrave.

Imhoff, R. (2010). Zwei Formen des modernen Antisemitismus? Eine Skala zur Messung primären und sekundären Antisemitismus [Two forms of modern anti-Semitism? A scale for the measurement of primary and secondary ant-Semitism]. Conflict and Communication Online, 9.

Imhoff, R. (2010). The Dynamics of Collective Guilt Three Generations after the Holocaust: Young Germans' Emotional Experiences in Response to the Nazi Past. Hamburg: Kovac.

Imhoff, R., & Banse, R. (2009) Ongoing victim suffering increases prejudice: The case of secondary antisemitism. Psychological Science, 20, 1443-1447.

Imhoff, R., Bilewicz, M., & Erb, H.-P. (2012). Collective Guilt versus Collective Regret. Different emotional reactions to ingroup atrocities. European Journal for Social Psychology, 42, 729-742.

Imhoff, R., Bilewicz, M., Hanke, K., Kahn, D. T., Henkel-Guembel, N., Halabi, S., Shani-Sherman, T., & Hirschberger, G. (in 2016). Explaining the inexplicable: Differences in attributions to the Holocaust in Germany, Israel and Poland. Political Psychology.

Imhoff, R., Wohl, M., Erb, H.-P. (2013). When the past is far from dead: How ongoing consequences of genocides committed by the ingroup impact collective guilt. Journal of Social Issues, 69, 74-91.

Indirect measures of sexual interest and erotic cognition

Inspired by the forensically relevant need to validly assess individual’s sexual interest I have predominantly engaged in the backbone work to explore the underlying mechanism of several proposed procedures. Unlike the general idea that indirect measures magically extract information more or less automatically, our studies show that the highly reliable effect of longer response latencies for the evaluation of sexually preferred stimuli are predominantly a cognitive by-product of the task at hand (Imhoff et al., 2010, 2012).
More recent research has further solidified this idea in fMRI as well as EEG studies. In other work we elaborate the duration of sexual arousal (Imhoff & Schmidt, 2014), aggression cues (Imhoff et al., 2013), power (Lammers & Imhoff, 2016) and descriptive norms on sexual decision making.


Imhoff, R., Bergmann, X., Banse, R., & Schmidt, A. F. (2013). Exploring the Automatic Undercurrents of Sexual Narcissism: Individual Differences in the Sex-Aggression- Link. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 42, 1033-1041.

Imhoff, R., & Schmidt, A. F. (2014). Sexual disinhibition under sexual arousal: Evidence for domain specificity in men and women. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 43, 1123-1136.

Imhoff, R., Schmidt, A. F., Bernhardt, J., Dierksmeier, A., & Banse, R. (2011). An inkblot for sexual preference: A semantic variant of the Affect Misattribution Procedure. Cognition and Emotion, 25, 676-690.

Imhoff, R., Schmidt, A. F., Nordsiek, U., Luzar, C., Young, A. W. & Banse, R. (2010). Viewing Time revisited: Prolonged response latencies for sexually attractive targets under restricted conditions. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39, 1275-1288.

Imhoff, R., Schmidt, A. F., Weiß, S., Young, A. W., & Banse, R. (2012). Vicarious Viewing Time: Prolonged response latencies for sexually attractive targets as a function of task- or stimulus-specific processing. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 41, 1389-1401.

Lammers, J., & Imhoff, R. (2016). Power and sadomasochism: Understanding the antecedents of a knotty relationship. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 7, 142-148.

Larue, D., Schmidt, A. F., Imhoff, R., Eggers, K., Schönbrodt, F. D., & Banse, R. (2014). Validation of direct and indirect measures of preference for sexual violence. Psychological Assessment, 26, 1173-1183.

Schmidt, A. F., Banse, R., & Imhoff, R. (2015). Indirect measures in forensic contexts. In F. J. R. van de Vijver & T. Ortner (Eds.), Behavior Based Assessment in Personality, Social, and Applied Psychology (pp. 173-194). Göttingen: Hogrefe.

Other research topics (more information to follow):

  • Biased attention allocation to goal-relevant stimuli
  • Implicit Social and Romantic Cognition
  • Self-control
  • Automatic Categorization
  • Prejudice, stereotypes and stigma