Tag Archives: stereotypes

Reshaping reality by reshaping social perceptions: the power of talk in promoting equality

By: Christopher C. Duke, Ph.D.

If you have taken an introductory social psychology class, you have probably heard of stereotype threat. This is a phenomenon where making people aware of a stereotype that could refer to the self increases the chance that the stereotype will come true. For example, on math tests where the students’ gender is made salient, women tend to perform worse than men. When the researchers emphasized to participants that gender scores on the test tended to be equal, their scores became equal. The same difference has been found on tests between black and white students; when the students’ race was emphasized, black students’ scores were lower than white students, but when equality was emphasized, the scores were the same.

While there are still competing explanations for why stereotype threat occurs, it is a very well documented phenomenon that can help to explain demographic achievement gaps. Fortunately, there are ways to counter the negative effects of stereotype threat and reduce demographic inequalities. One of the earliest ways discovered is to emphasize the expected positive outcomes on a task for under-achieving groups. While this does work, it is not always practical in real-world situations. An ideal solution would be a brief intervention with long-lasting effects that could work across many different situations. Smith and Postmes (2011) found that allowing small groups to discuss and challenge the validity of the stereotype can also reduce stereotype threat, though the duration of this promising positive effect was not fully known. This suggests groups can use discussion to reinterpret negative group stereotypes in a way that can empower the group and overcome negative effects.

A new study in Science advances our knowledge of the positive potential stereotype threat interventions (Walton & Cohen, 2011). The researchers theorized that stereotype threat occurs in part when people construe feelings of social adversity as an indictment of their social belonging. If social adversity can be portrayed by students themselves as universal to all students but temporary, then the negative effects of stereotype threat might be reduced. In the experiment, black and white first-year college students were subtly encouraged to generate such messages in the hopes that it would have long-lasting positive effects throughout their university career. This is indeed what happened, and the effects were powerful and long-lasting: compared to a control group, black students who received the intervention as freshmen achieved higher grades. Not only were their academic scores better, but they reported better health and they visited the doctor less, too. These effects were mediated by the students’ subjective construal of adversity; this means that feelings of social belonging are likely to be a key part of the process in reducing stereotype threat. Interestingly, students did not attribute these positive effects to the brief intervention they experienced three years earlier. Considering the brevity of the intervention, and the durability of its effects, this appears to be a very powerful tool in reducing demographic achievement gaps. More research is needed to better understand the processes behind and effects of the intervention, but it speaks to the power of social expectations to cripple our accomplishments, and yet also of our power to take steps to consciously reshape the social landscape in a way that leads to real and lasting change for the better. People often lament that we talk too much about problems instead of taking action; in some cases, talking may be one of the best actions we can take.

Smith, L. G. E., & Postmes, T. (2011). Shaping stereotypical behaviour through the discussion of social stereotypes. British Journal of Social Psychology, 50, 50-74.

Walton, G. M., & Cogen, G. L. (2011). A brief social-belonging intervention improves academic and health outcomes of minority students. Science, 331, 1447-1451.

The Situation with The Jersey Shore

The Jersey Shore, a reality show on MTV that experienced high ratings and a great deal of media attention, wrapped up its first season last week and the cast is already negotiating salaries for a second season. The show involved 8 roommates who worked, lived, and partied at Seaside Heights in New Jersey. And while the series was met with disapproval from advertisers and the media for a number of reasons, including excessive drinking and violence by and against cast members, one of the strongest criticisms has been the perpetuation of the Guido stereotype.

Throughout the series, the cast members frequently referred to themselves as guidos and guidettes, a term considered derogatory by many Italian-Americans. Moreover, the roommates frequently reinforced and placed a great deal of value on what are considered negative and stereotypical qualities (for instance, Snooki – who is pictured above – describes her perfect man as “Italian, dark, muscles, juice-head, guido”). While endorsement of negative in-group stereotypes may seem problematic to some, the social psychological literature can help us to understand why people might engage in this process.

Much research has shown that negative stereotypes can have detrimental effects on stigmatized individuals, including losses of self-esteem and poor test performance. However, more recent work has shown that stigmatized individuals may endorse negative in-group stereotypes in order to buffer their self-image. Specifically, rather than letting stereotypes affect the self in a negative way, stigmatized individuals may combat the damaging effects of stereotyping by justifying the existence of these labels or reframing them as something positive. This strategic behavior, while not always conscious to the individual, is thought to be a way to manage threats to self-esteem and performance.

The controversy surrounding The Jersey Shore may be somewhat deserved but as a psychologist, I can’t help but hope the series returns next year. Each episode is rich with behaviors that can be understood using personality and social psychological theory. So until next year, don’t forget The Situation and Pauly D’s advice: GTL – Gym, Tan, Laundry.

Companies Pull Ads from Jersey Shore

Italian-American Group Angered over Jersey Shore

Jost, J. T., Ledgerwood, A., & Hardin, C. D. (2008). Shared reality, system justification, and the relational basis of ideological beliefs. Social and Personality Psychology Compass

Gender Stereotypes and Success in the Military

Womenincombat

Yesterday Command Sgt. Maj. Teresa L. King was made commandant of the drill sergeant school at Fort Jackson in South Carolina and is the first woman to fill such a position in any of the Army’s schools across the country. According to a recent article by James Dao of the NY Times women constitute a very small percentage of Army personnel in general (13%) and an even smaller percentage of the Army’s highest-ranking enlisted soldiers in active-duty (8%). The lack of female personnel and those in high-ranking positions has been attributed to “pregnancy, long hours and the prohibition against women serving in frontline combat positions” by the Army. Experimental research, particularly in the areas of gender and stereotyping, indicates that women are evaluated differently than men in military training which may also explain the lack of women in higher-ranking positions.

Boldry, Wood, and Kashy (2001) found that although there were no actual performance differences between male and female cadets men were perceived as having the motivation and leadership to succeed in the military while women were thought to have more feminine attributes that would impair performance. Other research has shown that the proportion of women in a given unit is related to performance evaluation such that when women represent a smaller/token portion of the unit their performance is rated lower than men, but when there was a higher proportion of women performance was rated higher than men (Pazy & Oron, 2001). It seems that perception, not performance, contributes to the maintenance of gender barriers in the military among other domains for both men and women. Hopefully, one day more of us can see the world and ourselves as Sergeant Major King does: “When I look in the mirror, I don’t see a female, I see a soldier.”

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First Woman Ascends to Top Drill Sergeant Spot

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Gender Stereotypes and the Evaluation of Men and Women in Military Training

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Sex proportion and performance evaluation among high-ranking military officers

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What’s in a name?

hello-my-name-is-stickerBy Erica Zaiser

According to the BBC, a recent survey carried out by parenting advice website Bounty.com found that nearly 50% of teachers in the UK thought they could predict the personalities of students before meeting them, just by looking at their names. Results from the poll suggest that teachers believe students with names like Alexander and Elizabeth are more likely to be smart, while students with names like Chelsea or Callum top the list for students predicted to behave poorly.

The idea that people associate names with certain personality traits is nothing new; across cultures many people give their children names that represent desirable qualities like strength, patience, or grace. In general, people with common and more desirable names are seen as more intelligent, healthy, and popular (Young, et al., 1993). Furthermore, name stereotypes are not limited to the classroom and are even found to impact voters’ preference for political candidates, although (thankfully) the relationship between a candidate’s name and receiving votes is no longer significant when would-be voters are presented with more information about the candidate (O’Sullivan et al., 2006).

One obvious reason for the link between personality and name is that perceptions of names act as a self-fulfilling prophecy. For example, when a teacher assumes a student will perform well/poorly, that belief might influence the quality of teaching the student receives. However, the link between personality and names may be more complex than it appears. According to the name letter effect (NLE), just the first letter of your name can influence your preference for places, activities, and people. Furthermore, one study found that students with names starting with letters associated with poor performance (for example the lower mark of C’s and D’s in the American school system), actually performed worse than students with names starting with A or B (higher marks) (Nelson & Simmons, 2007). This, according to the researchers, is because students with C and D names have less aversion to the letters themselves. The theory is that we all have a subconscious preference for anything starting with the same first letter as our name. So, poor Callum may have it extra hard, having to overcome both his teacher’s negative first-impression and his subconscious love for a low-achieving grade.

square-eye Read more:  BBC article-  “Teachers Spot Trouble in a Name”


square-eyeNelson, L., Simons, J. P. (2007). Moniker Maladies: When Names Sabotage Success  Leif D. Nelson. Psychological Science, 18, 12. <br>

square-eyeO’Sullivan, C.S., Chen, A., Mohapatra, S., Sigelman, L., Lewis, L. (1988). Voting in Ignorance: The Politics of Smooth-Sounding Names. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 18, 13.

 

square-eyeYoung, R. K., Kennedy, A. H., Newhouse, A., Browne, P., Theissen, D. (1993).  The Effects of Names on Perception of Intelligence, Popularity, and Competence. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 23, 21.

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Gender, spiders, and media

090908_spiderOf the literally thousands of scientific journal articles published every month, only a select few receive media attention. From among the new research, the BBC recently chose to report on an infant study claiming a disproportionate fear of spiders among women.

The study reportedly showed 20 babies—10 boy and 10 girl—pictures of spiders paired with happy versus fearful human faces. The girls “looked longer” at the picture of the spider/happy face, evidently showing “that the young girls were confused as to why someone would be happy” when paired with a spider.

The BBC follows the leap of the researcher to conclude that evolutionary biology determines that women (who were “natural child protectors”) are more likely to be afraid of animals.

Notwithstanding the alleged evolutionary implications (some research has linked phobias to nurture, rather than nature), research has shown links between gender stereotypes and media content. A study in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology even revealed measurable effects on cognition from exposure to stereotyped commercials.

It’s frightening, to say the least, that behavior might be related to gender stereotypes. While doubtful that pre-arachniphobe females will read the BBC article, existing gender stereotypes are still reinforced, while all of those other scientific articles remain unnoticed.

Gender bias in track and chess

090825Caster_SemenyaLast week an emerging track star became the focus of an international scandal. After 18-year-old Caster Semenya won the 800 meter world championships final by more than two seconds, the International Association of Athletics Federations announced the South African athlete was being required to undergo a gender determination test.

Apparently the South African improved her personal best time by seven seconds this year. After being cleared of doping, gender testing was the next “sensible” step, said I.A.A.F. spokesman Nick Davies. 

Two finalists shared the suspicion. The New York Times reported the Italian Elisa Cusma as saying, “These kind of people should not run with us.” Mariya Savinova, the fifth place finisher from Russia, agreed: “Just look at her.”

A recent study on gender reported an odd, but related, stereotype among women chess players. In on-line games, women who are aware their opponents are male play worse than if they believe their opponents are female, notwithstanding ability levels. 

Of course, gender tests are highly problematic: “Humans like categories neat,” said Alice Dreger to the New York Times, “but nature is a slob.” This didn’t stop Cusma from saying, as if to illegitimatize the track win, “For me, she’s not a woman. She’s a man.”

Perhaps Cusma would have finished higher than sixth if she had not suspected she was racing a man.