Sunday, November 16, 2008

Some Social Science For Ya..

A discussion over at The Domestic & Lab Goddess' blog has got me a bit fired up. Comments by Renee (no page to speak of) on a posting about women in academia, in particular, have got me thinking. I'm going to ignore some of the really out-there things that she's posted, such as a comment implying that high-heels are for prostitutes, but she does mention some other things that I would like to address, social-science style. As it happens, some of the things she has said speak directly to issues that fall into my research interests. 

In Renee's first comment she writes:

But here's the thing; I don't actually hate women - I hate female culture. And I think this is what most people mean when they say that they hate this or that group. 

There are male and female cultures. There are black cultures. There are Hispanic cultures. I don't like most black people not because of their skin color, but because I don't like hip-hop and dancing. I don't like most women because I don't like shopping and romantic comedies. I do have female and black friends, however, because they don't belong to those cultures; they belong to my culture, which involves sci-fi, anime, and board games. 

In her most recent comment she writes:

Obviously there is not a 1-on-1 correlation with race/gender/ethnicity/sexual orientation/etc. with culture. But there is a strong association. If you notice, many of these groups self-segregate. I noticed that when I was in college, a lot of the black people stuck with black people, and white people stuck with white people, and Asian people stuck with Asian people.

She goes on to mention her history of interracial relationships as evidence that she is not, in fact, a racist. 

Now I am not going to comment directly on Renee's posting, because I would like to give her the benefit of the doubt and assume that she just really sucks at getting her point across in a manner that doesn't offend people. Sometimes I have the same problem, so I'm going to leave it at that. But I did want to take this opportunity to spread some hot science that is relevant to the things that she has said. 

I'm not going to talk about stereotypes and prejudice, per se, because everyone knows what they are and how they work. But there are some other concepts that we should all know about when we are talking about race, gender, sexual orientation, or any other topic that is focused on difference. Namely, these concepts are social categorization, in-group bias, and out-group homogeneity. 

We all use mental shortcuts in everyday life in order to make sense of the world around us and the people in it as quickly and efficiently as possible. If you ask the evolutionary psychologists, they'll tell you this ability evolved because of its survival value. I personally don't give a shit where it came from as much as I give a shit about the problems it sometimes causes us. We tend to assign people to categories based on superficial information. Renee categorizes women as liking romance and shopping. It is probably fair to assume that if she bumps into a woman at the bookstore perusing the latest Nicholas Sparks novel, that she will immediately place that woman in her mental category of "People I have nothing in common with and therefore will never be friends with." This is a more lighthearted example of social categorization. The problem is, what if that woman was looking for a gift for someone, or was looking into a suggestion made by one of her more "girly" friends? Is it fair to judge this woman with so little information about her?

To see an example of social categorization in action, check out the following videos (they go together):









The second concept brought up by both Jane Elliot's experiment and Renee's comments is In-Group Bias. In-Group Bias occurs when we experience positive feelings toward people who are like us, in even the most superficial ways. Perhaps Renee would experience a sense of comraderie if she goes to the sci-fi section of the same bookstore and sees a female sitting on the floor with a stack of books next to her on the floor. She assumes that this woman is like her, and might even strike up a conversation with her. Especially if that woman is wearing sneakers and jeans, as opposed to high heels and a fitted top. We do this all the time - even on the internet. We read blogs by people we perceive as being similar to us in some way, on websites like facebook or myspace we might become "friends" with total strangers because of the books or movies they list as favorites, or even their political views. We seek out people we perceive as being like "us" - and there's nothing wrong with that, except that it sometimes leads to an "us versus them" mentality that doesn't serve anyone well. 

Which leads to the third concept: Out-Group Homogeneity. This is demonstrated by Renee's statement that she "doesn't like most black people" because of their "culture." Out-Group Homogeneity refers to the human tendency to believe that people who are NOT like us are pretty much all the same. We are biased to believe that our own "group" is more diverse than others. When we decide that we "don't like black people" because we don't like hip-hop music, that idea is based on the assumption that most or all of them like hip-hop. When we feel confident in saying that we "don't like most women" because we don't like "girly" things, that is Out-Group Homogeneity, and that is the foundation of stereotyping and prejudice. 

As a social scientist in-the-making, I am incredibly idealistic and perhaps even naive. I believe that we can fix these things once we know how to change the mechanism underlying the processes. 

One of the reasons I am so attracted to the blogosphere, or "blogopolis" as Improp likes to call it, is because the anonymous nature of most of the blogs forces us to decide whether or not we are "like" someone else based on what they have to say, not necessarily their likes, dislikes, clothing, or appearance. I love Dr. Isis not because she shares my love of shoes and clothes, but because she calls people "Ass Monkeys" and talks about science, family, and pop culture sometimes even in the same blog. I never assumed that I knew anything about her race until I had seen pictures of her hands and legs in various postings. Even then, though she has lighter skin, I don't assume that she is "white." And quite frankly, it doesn't matter. 

I love Comrade PhysioProf because he is a potty mouth and says what he thinks at all times. His race is a completely irrelevant mystery that I have no desire to even try to discover. Shit, CPP could be a chick and it wouldn't matter to me. I like reading what he has to SAY. 

We all like knowing that people agree with us, think like us, share our priorities. But what I love about the blogosphere is that I don't care if I agree with you or not - if you convey your thoughts and feelings in an interesting, readable way, I want to know what you have to say. I love people - all kinds of people. You could even call me an In-Group Whore if you want to, because I want to have all sorts of people reading and commenting on my blog, while I do the same for theirs. I love diversity. In fact, I thrive on it. 

Now I am not necessarily a "girly-girl." I love shoes, but most often you'll find me wearing sneakers though I'm very adept at walking in high heels. I love nice clothes and dresses, but I would almost always rather be wearing a comfy pair of sweats. I love Nicholas Sparks, Emily Giffin, Jennifer Weiner, and the Brontes, but I also read Proust, Dickens, Tolstoy, true-crime, horror, and lots and lots of nonfiction including politics, science, and any other topic I find interesting. I love The Notebook, but The Godfather is my favorite movie of all time, followed by Citizen Kane. I love 90's grunge rock (Alice In Chains is my favorite band EVER), but I also love Frank Sinatra, Nine Inch Nails, Tupac, Beethoven, etc. 

I am not so easy to categorize, so I rarely categorize others. I could find something in common with EVERY SINGLE ONE OF YOU if I wanted to look for similarities. That's what makes me an In-Group Whore - I want my in-group to include as many different people as possible, emphasis on different

Hopefully someday my science will lead me to a way to get everyone to see people for who they are instead of the categories they may or may not fit into. Idealistic? Definitely. Naive? Probably. Worth pursuing? 

Abso-fuckin-lutely.

6 comments:

Comrade PhysioProf said...

Comrade PhysioProf loves you too, darling!

JLK said...

Awww, shucks, CPP. You've done gone and made me blush. :)

Silver Fox said...

A very nice post, making good points for not assuming that we don't have things in common with others - almost everyone has something in common - and besides, a lack of diversity in one's life would be Borriiinngg. Gee, I hope I spelled that right! ;)

The Improp said...

Well played.

And for the record, I don't like people who like sci-fi, anime and/or board games. But I do have friends who like Star Trek, Dragonball Z, and/or play Trivial Pursuit.

Does that mean I don't like my friends?

PhizzleDizzle said...

I have always loved those clips, I've seen them before replayed on TV, and it's soooooo fascinating. Especially with children, where so much is unmasked. Thanks for posting. It merits being seen again and again.

Lab Rat said...

It is a bit idealistic and naive, but it is kind of happening. very...slowly... Racism, sexism, homophobia are all starting to fade, maybe not wonderfully obviously in some places, but still fading slowly.

:)

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