Divisive Dichotomies

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This Situationist post describes a talk by Susan T. Fiske entitled”Venus and Mars, or Down to Earth?”Here is an excerpt:

In her undergraduate courses in psychology, she couldn’t help noticing that”all the individual differences had a good end and a bad. And you could almost always tell which end described the person who made up the scale.”

Since, at that point in time, most of the people making the scales were men, it isn’t surprising that the”good”ends of the scales were often named with traits that seemed to connote stereotypically masculine values:”Perceptually thorough, math self-confident, linguistically specialized, physically directly assertive, tough minded, justly moral.“

Fiske, who is a Past President of APS, described her”eureka moment”as being when she came across the term field independence.“Field dependence was this disease women had,”she said.

She showed the shift of perspective that occurs when you change the phrasing of these personality categories:”What about being field sensitive instead of being field dependent? What about being perceptually fast? Oh, does that mean men are perceptually slow? What about being cautious about math, instead of being un-self-confident? What about women being generally linguistically skilled? What about women being subtly socially assertive?”

“We all love dichotomies,”Fiske said.”Even scientists tend to think in dichotomies : either/or : but the similarities are often greater than the differences between the groups that we’re studying.”People tend to maximize the differences between categories and minimize differences within them, she said, citing as an example the low effect sizes found in meta-analyses of gender differences.”It’s just not either/or.”

Despite ambivalent differences found in much gender research and the advances made by women in the field since Fiske’s undergraduate days, psychologists are still not immune to gender-biased thinking.”It’s quite clear that people’s values and identities matter when they do this kind of science.”

“I’m not saying that people are politically biased and that their science is suspect,”Fiske explained.”I’m saying that people pursue what they find interesting, and what people find interesting is informed by their values and their identities.”…

Read the whole thing here.

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