Category Archives: Stereotypes and Prejudice

Sure, women cannot get pregnant from rape. Also, all mean people are ugly and puppies are immortal.

[Potential trigger warning: Discussion of rape and sexual assault in this post.]

Let’s make one thing perfectly clear:

If you have vaginal sex without protection, you can get pregnant.

For some reason, this concept can be remarkably difficult for people to grasp. It toes the line between “sad” and “kind of funny” when this ignorance simply leads people to wonder if they can successfully avoid pregnancy by having sex while standing up, in a hot tub, or without climaxing.

But when a Senate nominee like Representative Todd Akin tries to claim that a woman’s body can somehow “know” when she is being raped and avoid pregnancy as a result? That’s an entirely new, scary level of ignorance.

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Trayvon Martin’s psychological killer: Why we see guns that aren’t there [at Scientific American]

Today, I’m honored to have a post on the Scientific American guest blog about the Trayvon Martin case, discussing Joshua Correll’s 2002 research on the disturbing ways in which cultural stereotypes — even those that we do not endorse — might impact our split-second decisions to shoot (or not shoot) potentially armed targets of different races.

An excerpt:

Over a series of four studies, participants were faster to (correctly) shoot an armed target when he was Black, and faster to (correctly) decide not to shoot an unarmed target when he was White. But the truly interesting and tragic finding lies in what happened when people decided to shoot the target when he was actually holding nothing more than a wallet or a cell phone, much like what happened in the real-life case of Trayvon Martin. As it turns out, the participants were consistently more likely to accidentally shoot unarmed targets when they were Black.

Surely this must be influenced by racism, thought the researchers. After all, it would certainly make sense that racist people would be more likely to jump to the conclusion that Black people are armed. Wouldn’t non-racist people be more likely to disregard the color of the target’s skin when making judgments? Wouldn’t non-racist people – especially those who are well aware of the negative stereotypes towards Black people in American culture, and those who consciously try to fight against prejudice in their everyday lives – be more forgiving on the trigger?

Unfortunately, that hypothesis could not be further from the truth. First of all, no matter how racist the participants were (or were not), they were equally likely to shoot unarmed Black targets; outright levels of racism did not predict the results at all. However, one thing did predict performance on the task – the participants’ level of awareness that there is prejudice towards Black people in American society, even if the participant adamantly did not support those stereotypes. Simply being highly aware of prejudice in the world, even if you don’t agree with, support, or like that prejudice, makes it more likely that you might make the fateful mistake of shooting an unarmed target when making split-second decisions in uncertain conditions. The more aware you are of cultural stereotypes, the more likely you are to make a biased mistake.

Click here to read the entire post over at Scientific American!

If I were a well-off White man… I might not understand other people very well.

“I thought this was The Onion at first, too. Nope.”

“This is a joke, right?”

“Speaking of ignorance…”

This is just a sampling of comments that I saw on Facebook as people linked to an article that appeared in Forbes on Monday, titled (in a rather inflammatory manner, if I do say so myself), “If I Were A Poor Black Kid.

My immediate reaction was to hate the article. I found it insulting, ignorant, and just plain short-sighted. As I commented in my own link on Facebook, “[To summarize], ‘This is what I would do if I were born into a completely different set of circumstances, a completely different family, a completely different social support system, a completely different school district, a completely different body with a completely different skin tone and a completely different way that people in public respond to me, yet I somehow still retained all of the benefits, knowledge, and access to resources as a middle-aged, middle-class white man.'”

However, upon re-reading the article and giving it a little more thought, I’ve come to realize that the real issue with the article isn’t that the author, Gene Marks, is necessarily racist, or even really ignorant. After all, he acknowledges right off the bat that the system is unfair, and that children from other areas of town have it much harder than his own, privileged children do. Marks clearly has some knowledge of the unfairness of “the system.” So the real question is, how could he then go on to write such a short-sighted article, completely missing any sort of perspective on what it means to actually be a member of the community to which he is proselytizing?1

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OK, I’ll trust you…if you think God is watching.

When this year’s Miss USA contestants responded to a question about the value of teaching evolution in public schools, one thing was clear: There is a raging debate between Religion and Evolution, and these women had firmly planted themselves on the Bible’s side.

However, the snag in this debate that the contestants didn’t quite seem to realize is that religion itself may actually owe quite a bit to evolution.

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Ingroups, Identities, and In-Memoriams: Why We Must Remember Never To Forget

In honor of the 10th anniversary of September 11th, I am re-publishing an edited/slightly altered version of a post from the archives on the importance of commemoration and collective memory for tragedies. The original post was published at IonPsych on May 2nd, the day after Osama Bin Laden’s death. It can be found here.

It has been ten years since September 11th, 2001. When we remember the events of that day, we often tend to focus on how well we remember all of the seemingly-minor details (despite evidence that these memories may not be quite so accurate). What we were wearing. What we ate for breakfast. Where we were sitting while we watched the news coverage.

Our practically-obsessive focus on these memories actually indicates much more than we realize. Despite mankind’s ever-present focus on the wide variety of intercultural differences, it turns out there’s at least one way in which we’re all not so different after all. We all place a tremendous importance on our memories. More specifically, we place a tremendous importance on commemoration.

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Envying evolution: What can the X-Men teach us about stereotypes?

This weekend marked the opening of X-Men: First Class, prequel to (and assumed reboot of) the wildly successful X-Men movie franchise.

For those who are unfamiliar with the X-Men series, the stories revolve around groups of ‘mutants,’ super-powered beings who supposedly represent the next stage in human evolution and whose powers run the gamut from telepathy to cellular regeneration. Apart from stunning visual effects and fun action sequences, one of the most compelling aspects of the X-Men movies is how easy it is to understand and relate to the prejudice faced by the X-Men and other mutants at the hands of the frightened, non-mutated humans. In fact, there’s quite a lot that the X-Men movies can help us understand about the nature of stereotypes, how we form them, and what makes us activate them in our everyday lives.
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