Social categorization is the human tendency to organize people into groups on the basis of socially derived distinctions (e.g., gender, race, age). Attention to social categories begins in infancy and persists across the life span, affecting preferences, beliefs, memory, and behavior. Social categories are often predetermined (e.g., individuals cannot select their skin color); however, others can be defined by an individual’s personality, preferences, abilities, or affiliations (e.g., democrat, cat lover, athlete). Although categorizing people into groups helps provide structure to complex social information, it also can lead to negative outcomes, including stereotyping and prejudice. This entry provides an overview of social categorization across development, proposed explanations for why people utilize social categories, individual differences in social categorization, and consequences of classifying people into social groups.

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