In the 3-minute video below, sociologist Jennifer Lee explains her research on “stereotype promise,” the idea that being viewed through the lens of a positive stereotype can act as a performance booster and enhance outcome. You can imagine how it might be applied to African Americans and certain sports like track or basketball, or how it might facilitate men’s acquisition of math ability.
Lee’s research is on Asian Americans and academic performance. Asians, she explains, are stereotyped as “smart, high achieving, and disciplined” and this might help explain why they are so academically successful.
It can also, however, have harmful effects. She discusses the way that some young Asian Americans will say that an A- counts as an “Asian fail,” an example of how much pressure stereotype promise can bring. She also notes that Asian Americans are often disadvantaged in college admissions because of an assumption that a school can have “too many” Asians and, accordingly, accept only students with the most extraordinary academic credentials.
One of the few genuinely large observed differences between men and women involves throwing ability. Men, on average, are much stronger throwers than women. Hence the phrase “throws like a girl.”
That we observe a difference, however, tells us nothing about where that difference comes from. Figuring that out is much more difficult than simply measuring difference and sameness. We know that the difference emerges at puberty, suggesting that sheer size might have something to do with it. But the fact that boys and men, on average, get much more practice throwing than women might also play a role. How to test this?
Well, here’s one way: compare men and women throwing with their non-dominant hand. Muscle memory doesn’t transfer from one side of the body to the other. Accordingly, since most people have a lot of practice throwing only with one hand, comparing the throws of men and women using their non-dominant hand might tell us something interesting.
I don’t know that that study has been done, but an enterprising videographer has captured video of a set of men throwing with the “wrong” hand. What I like most about the video is the men’s facial expressions. You can see them laughing at themselves, suddenly reduced to a beginner thrower. Though we still don’t know how much of it is biological and how much social — though, this is the wrong question anyway — it reveals that, no matter what the answer, men’s throwing ability is strongly related to practice:
A big thanks to Reynaldo C. for sending in the video!
Earlier this week I wrote a post asking Is the Sky Blue?, discussing the way that culture influences our perception of color. In the comments thread Will Robertson linked to a fascinating 8-minute BBC Horizon clip. The video features an expert explaining how language changes how children process color in the brain.
We also travel to Namibia to visit with the Himba tribe. They have different color categories than we do in the West, making them “color blind” to certain distinctions we easily parse out, but revealing ways in which we, too, can be color blind.
Thanks to Stephanie V., now we’ve got another example. This 4-year-old has not only figured out how to rap using different cadences and tones, he accompanies himself on a keyboard and drum machine, and has a pretty excellent grasp of song construction. Enjoy!
For the last week of December, we’re re-posting some of our favorite posts from 2011.
In this hilarious two minute video, twin toddlers practice having a conversation. They don’t really know words, but they know HOW to do it. They’ve figured out how to sound sure of themselves, how to sound inquisitive, how to gesticulate, how to aim their efforts at a second person, and how to take turns. They’ve learned, in other words, the rules of talking to another person, even before they’ve learned how to talk. A fun example of socialization.
Late Night TV host Jimmy Kimmel encouraged his viewers to film their children getting early Christmas presents that they would surely hate. The result is a collection of children acting badly: bursting into tears, saying they hate their parents, lecturing them on proper gift giving protocol, etc. It’s funny and also a great illustration of the gift-giving rules that Theodore Caplow meticulously lists in his article, Rule Enforcement Without Visible Means: Christmas Gift Giving in Middletown (pdf) (btw: this is the very first article I assign in Soc101).
In a number of cases, the gift is considered bad because the recipient is a boy and the gift is for a girl. One boy, for example, gets a Hello Kitty gift, another gets a pop star-themed coloring book. The boys’ reaction at being presented with a girls’ gift reveals their internalization of androcentrism, the idea that masculinity is superior to femininity. They express both disgust and, in some cases I think, fear at being poisoned by contact — especially such personal contact as “I got this for you” — with girlness.
In The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil, Philip Zimbardo tries to explain how seemingly ordinary, average people can become involved in, or passively fail to oppose, evil acts. Zimbardo is the researcher who designed the (in)famous 1971 Stanford prison experiment, in which students were randomly assigned as “prisoners” or “guards” for an experiment on how prison affects human behavior. The experiment, meant to last two weeks, had to be called off after 6 days because of the extreme negative effects on, and brutality emerging among, the participants. Zimbardo’s study, as well as others such as Milgram’s obedience experiment, highlighted the role of conformity to social norms and obedience to apparent authority figures in leading people to engage in actions that would seem to be so ethically unacceptable that any decent person would refuse.
Dolores R. sent in a Candid Camera clip from 1962 that illustrates the power of conformity:
We laugh that these people are manipulated like puppets on invisible strings, but this scenario makes us aware of the number of situations in which we mindlessly follow the dictates of group norms and situational forces.