Lay theories and intergroup relations: A social-developmental perspective

Sheri R. Levy, Tara L. West, Luisa Ramirez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


: Abundant research suggests that the study of lay theories helps to explain intergroup relations. Building on this work as well as “interactionist” theories for understanding social behaviour from developmental and social psychology, we propose an integrative social-developmental perspective examining how lay perceivers' characteristics (e.g., age, race, psychological motivations) interact with the environments in which they are nested to impact lay theory use over time and during life transitions. Using this perspective to guide our investigation of the Protestant work ethic (PWE) and colourblind theory, we show that a single lay theory can have a socially tolerant or intolerant meaning. We review work with US children and adults (Asians, Blacks, Latinos, Whites) as well as research with Colombian children and adults (Mestizos), showing similarities and differences in perceivers' uses of PWE and the colourblind theory. Even when both meanings are prevalent in a given culture, they are not necessarily equally emphasised in all environments or for all people living in those environments, nor are they responded to in the same way by all people. We discuss the implications of these results for theorising on lay theories and offer directions for future work in this area.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)189-220
Number of pages32
JournalEuropean Review of Social Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2005
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology


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