Being from analytics world, I enjoy keeping myself abreast with the problems that can be solved with data. Psychology is one such field that finds its roots in mathematical techniques employed to make predictions and test the foundations of assertions propounded by the society or the hypotheses of social experiments. Designing the experiments is of utmost importance and should be done meticulously as the outcome of the experiments makes the prediction for the entire population based on the sample selected.
Last week I skimmed through a book called Experiments with people by Abelson, Frey, and Gregg and I enjoyed reading the premise and the conclusion of various social studies conducted in the 20th century. One of the study was by Matthew Ansfield and the conclusion was if you want to sleep and someone is playing loud music then the rational thing to fall asleep early is try to keep yourself awake. I will definitely try this one when my juvenile delinquent neighbor will have a late night party. Another experiment conducted by Solomon Asch in 1955 dealt with the idea that how people change their behavior to conform to the groups. A group that knows the right thing to do ends up making more mistakes if there are agents present in the group who want to take the wrong steps. The desire to be liked is a dangerous one and as French sociologist Gabriel de Tarde said “Social man is a somnambulist”.
There was one very interesting experiment conducted in 1990 that caught my attention. It was called “Ackmians Are From Mars, Orinthians Are From Venus: Gender Stereotypes as Role Rationalizations”. Curt Hoffman and Nancy Hurst tried to show that gender stereotypes can arise as a direct result of two groups taking on different social roles ( jobs, household care etc), even when the members of those groups share similar traits. The chapter started with an image of a man and a woman both with stethoscope around the neck and a question in subscript, doctor and nurse or nurse and a doctor? Very keen and interesting question it was. Alice Eagly had studied in 1987 that the underlying differences between a woman and a man are typically small. They become magnified, however, because men and women tend to take on or be assigned to different social roles. The researchers claimed that the differences between men and women are too small for people to detect them. In the society, agentic roles that require assertiveness and independence are attributed to men while communal roles of nurturing, social care are attributed to women. This role assumption has given rise to gender stereotype despite there being a trivial difference between a man and a woman. When it comes to assuming an agentic or a communal role, each gender can perform it with utmost perfection given a chance.
Why do such stereotypes exist? In short – they are explanatory conveniences that allow people to justify the social status quo. Researchers exposed the participants to fictitious species from a planet and they named the two members of the species – Ackmians and Orinthian. They were told that the members of the two groups were either child raisers or workers involved in high tech business etc. The result from the experiment – Ackmians or Orinthians were considered agentic if most of them had a job such as business, high tech etc, or relatively communal if most of them were child raisers, even though no group personality differences existed to corroborate such biased impressions. Not only gender but racial stereotypes also have no roots but they are there and segregating and hollowing the society for ages. There were many extensions of this research and it turns out that gender stereotypes were unaffected by ethnicity. In a study by Niemann and others in 1994, women irrespective of African, American, Asian, Latin American descent were found to be gentle, pleasant, and friendly by the participants while men were taken as tough, alpha creatures.
The book “Men are from mars and women from venus – by John Gray (1992)” amplifies these differences to preposterous proportions. It obsesses with gender differences. Had Phyllis Schalfly read it, she must have been overjoyed for she found another follower of her conservative thought process. Let’s take height as an example, on an average men are taller than women but there are many women who are taller than men. Do we go on and make the unwarranted conclusion that all women are short while all men are tall? No, we don’t. Then why is there a black and white stance when it comes to jobs in the market? The recent incidents at Uber show how sexist the workplace can be. Susan J Fowler’s blog will tell you how a typical male chauvinist, sexist work culture might operate. The number of CEOs in the job industry is highly skewed towards males; people say that CEO is a high risk job that requires certain skills females don’t possess while the truth might lie in the fact that women have been assuming the communal roles for too long and that’s why they are not taken as assertive and strong.
This is a classic case of the logical fallacy – post hoc ergo propter hoc ( after this therefore because of this) and it is high time that we abolish such hypocritical stance and build an unbiased society.