Our evolutionary ancestors probably made all sorts of judgements about other people, but two kinds of judgement stood out as most important for their survival: judgements of warmth and judgements of competence.
Warmth can be boiled down to: how friendly is this person? Are they a friend or foe? Competence, on the other hand, is whether someone looks weak or strong. You can probably guess why these judgments are important. If someone is a strong foe, you wouldn’t mess with them to avoid getting hurt. If someone was a weak foe … why not steal their things? They can’t fight back! If someone was a strong ally, you’d want to partner with them for protection. If someone was a weak ally, you’d want to protect them to establish relationships.
These are judgements of individuals. The stereotype content model (SCM), is based on the idea that we judge groups in the same way, leading to predictable stereotypes.1 Specifically, the SCM states that our judgements of groups fall into four quadrants based on their perceived warmth (how friendly and willing to cooperate a group appears) and competence (their socioeconomic status and perceived intelligence). These dimensions are independent: how “warm” a group feels has no bearing on how “competent” they are; those high in competence aren’t necessarily low in warmth.
Groups that are high in warmth but low in competence face paternalistic stereotypes, making us pity and help them. Such groups include the elderly, people with disabilities, and ‘housewives’. Groups that are low in warmth and low in competence, such as poor people and welfare recipients, face contemptuous stereotypes—we tend to feel scorn towards them. Groups that are low in warmth but high in competence face envious stereotypes and often include Asian people, Jewish people, and rich people. Lastly, people high in warmth and high in competence tend to be heavily admired, and are typically members of our in-groups, such as those who belong to our race or gender categories.