My four previous posts have been discussing discrimination and stereotypes that impact our everyday lives. So, instead of reviewing an entirely new article today, I wanted to bring all four of those studies together.
In the social sciences, we want to describe how a process can occur from many different angles. When we look at just these four studies, we are able to determine how discrimination can occur (as a subliminal response), why it can occur (as a reaction to avoiding bias), and what happens when it occurs (altering career trajectories and viewing others as sub-par). Let’s break this down into what each study showed us. For those of you who read the past four posts, this will be a mini-review. However, thinking about all of these studies in concert is the goal to allow us to better understand these processes.
Also, you may want to refresh the idea of cognitive dissonance which I described a while back in this post.
Across the Thin Blue Line (Correl, Park, Judd, Wittenbrink, Sadler & Keessee 2007)- This article was able to show us that when an image is presented (a person with a gun) our preferred response to that target is dependent on the skin color of the target. The authors showed that officers from any race had an easier time deciding to “shoot” a Black man with a gun object, compared to choosing “don’t shoot” when the man held a non-gun object. What is the mechanism behind this effect? Cognitive dissonance, of course. We see a faster response rate for images that cause less dissonance (aka mental stress). Therefore, we can assume that a Black male holding a gun is more acceptable to the officers’ construct of a Black man, and a Black male holding a small non-gun object is more dissonant to that construct. Thus it takes the officers a lot longer to choose the “don’t shoot” option.
Does racial sensitivity have a price? (Effron, Cameron, & Monin 2009)– This article was looking at the “rebounding” effect that occurs when we show support for a person who is of a minority. Lets be clear here, though. Minority does not always mean “fewer people.” It actually refers to the power of that group as a whole. So one can say that females are a minority in many countries (including the U.S.) because as a group they do not have the same power as males. Some people may debate this idea, but this is how it was taught to me in sociology!
As I stated in my review, if a person indicated they would vote for Obama, they would later select a White candidate for a fictional police chief position more often than a Black candidate for this position. The participants would not only select the White male for the job, but they felt a White male was a better fit for the fictional position. The authors suggest this is because the people making these judgement feel as if they gained credit, and in order to keep a supposed balance, they will then choose to hire the white individual. What mechanism is behind this? Some of you may have guessed it – dissonance. How does dissonance fit into this equation? Let’s take a look at a random man’s contingencies of self-worth. This man believe he is a just individual who seeks to judge people solely on their abilities and nothing else. However, when he chooses a Black man for one position, he feels that if he selects another Black man for a different position, he will just be acting in a racist manner (thus causing himself dissonance). So, in order to reduce dissonance, the man hires the white individual. This allows the man in question to protect his self-worth, but at what cost? In the end, you can see how avoiding dissonance begins to explain so much of our social behavior.
Can an angry woman get ahead? (- This study is a personal favorite, as it shows what happens to us when we fail to follow our gender’s stereotype. In summation, when a woman acts angry, or a man acts sad for that matter, they are seen as less competent, less employable, and deserving of a smaller salary than an angry male. The question once again is, what is causing this? Dissonance!!!! (see the pattern yet?)
Cognitive dissonance in this case is related to the hiring manager’s construct of what a woman should be. The more dissonant the target is with that concept of “what a woman should be” the more negatively the candidate is viewed. This is an extremely discouraging effect that occurs, and I wish it did not occur at all. However, the study was still quite amazing for what it was able to show.
The glass slipper effect (Rudman & Heppen 2003) – This is the final study of my recent posts on stereotypes and discrimination. Here we looked at how a female gender stereotype develops, and how romantic fantasy (aka how I view my partner, how they view me) can negatively impact ones career. Essentially, the more “traditional” a person is with their partner, the lower they will aim. That is, a female with excessively traditional views will aim for a career that pays less, has less prestige, and requires less education than a female with non-traditional views of their partner.
Wrapping it up – So we can see that cognitive dissonance is a major player in enforcing our stereotypes. The glass slipper effect helps us learn that these effects are taught to us at a very young age (through story-telling and media). Once a construct of the “female stereotype” becomes solid, our brains work to keep it in tact. Why do we work so hard to keep this information intact? A lot of people say it’s easier to call someone else wrong than to change your own mind. It’s actually very true. We are all cognitive misers, according to social psychologist Elliot Aronson. What Dr. Aronson is referring to is that changing our constructs is a very effortful task. It is actually easier for our brains to dismiss information than allow conflicting ideas to be resolved. Having to create new constructs and alter old ones can be pretty hard for some people. Older populations, or those of us who are not very open to new experiences, have a very hard time changing our minds about things once we’ve made an initial decision.
So what can we do with this information? I think the first and foremost thing to keep in mind is our children, of course. As you can see, the first constructs they learn will be held on to for a very long time. Do your absolute best to ensure your child is exposed to a solid foundation that does not force them to believing things based solely tradition.
Next, we need to be mindful of when we are resistant to change. This is extremely hard for us as adults, as taking a step back during our own thinking process is a difficult task. Simply ask yourself, “am I making this choice because I believe it is the best one I could make, or am I making this choice because it is the easiest one for me to accept.” Something that is easy to accept causes less dissonance, but dissonance occurs because you have something conflicting with your constructs. When you get that feeling of dissoance, try to find out why, and please… do not be afraid to admit your faults.
Remember, as we’ve been told by Tony award winning musical, Avenue Q, “Everyone’s a little bit racist, sometimes. It doesn’t mean we go around committing hate crimes!”
We all make mistakes so please allow yourself to be mortal and flawed like me! Once you allow yourself to acknowledge your errors, you can begin fixing those cranky old constructs.