Tag Archives: Discrimination

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!

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If it looks like a compliment, and sounds like a compliment…is it really a compliment? [at Scientific American]

Today, I have a guest post at the Scientific American guest blog inspired by the Blogging Science While Female session at Science Online. The post is about benevolent sexism, those comments that may seem to be nice and flattering, but are actually insidious little gender equality ravagers.

Here’s an excerpt:

In 1996, Peter Glick and Susan Fiske wrote a paper on the concept of ambivalent sexism, noting that despite common beliefs, there are actually two different kinds of sexist attitudes and behavior. Hostile sexism is what most people think of when they picture “sexism” – angry, explicitly negative attitudes towards women. However, the authors note, there is also something called benevolent sexism:

We define benevolent sexism as a set of interrelated attitudes toward women that are sexist in terms of viewing women stereotypically and in restricted roles but that are subjectively positive in feeling tone (for the perceiver) and also tend to elicit behaviors typically categorized as prosocial (e.g., helping) or intimacy-seeking (e.g., self-disclosure) (Glick & Fiske, 1996, p. 491).

[Benevolent sexism is] a subjectively positive orientation of protection, idealization, and affection directed toward women that, like hostile sexism, serves to justify women’s subordinate status to men (Glick et al., 2000, p. 763).

Essentially, there’s now a formal name for all of those comments and stereotypes that can somehow feel both nice and wrong at the same time, such as the belief that women are “delicate flowers” that need to be protected by men, or the notion that women have the special gift of being “more kind and caring” than their male counterparts. And yes, it might sound complimentary, but it still counts as sexism.

To read the entire post, click here!

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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