Friday, December 18, 2009

Catching Up: I Can't Post Pictures of Christmas Presents I Made, So Here's My Take on A Psychological Study

Wow, I guess I haven't been here in a long time. The creativity tide went out for a little bit, but I've been working on a lot of projects for gifts that have come out better than I expected. Unfortunately, this means I can't post pictures of them on the off chance that the recipients see them. At least one involves a clock hand. It's really cool! More on that later.

So, I'll take a moment to address this article at PsyBlog. The study at the center of the article is about how we respond to others' "unspoken expectations." Analysis of experimental results is subject to the biases and blind spots of the individual performing the analysis and I think this presents a problem here. 

I'll try to sum up the experiment. Half of the men in the study were given pictures of women rated 8/10 in attractiveness. The other half received pictures of women who scored 2/10 (the article said nothing about who rated the pictures). The men were told that they were conversing with the woman in the picture (over headphones and microphones). The women who spoke with the man who thought they were attractive spoke more animatedly and generally engaged in behaviors consistent with stereotypically attractive people.

The article states that the reason for this is that the women were responding to the unspoken expectation about their attractiveness, that the women picked up on the expectation that they were attractive or unattractive and were induced to behave accordingly. I don't see how the researchers made this leap. I didn't read anything in the article ruling out the possibility that the women were responding to the men actually treating them differently based on their attractiveness, which is different than women responding to a projection. Men and women both seem to treat attractive and unattractive people differently at times and perception of these behaviors could cause their response (eg., speaking more animatedly when one perceives interest on the part of the other person - interest that may be generated in part by the other party's response to attractiveness; there's a reason it's called a feedback "loop"). 

It also doesn't seem the researchers attached a value to how each male participant responded differently to attractive vs unattractive women, or even whether a man's perception of his own attractiveness impacts his response to women (I realize this could be another study in its own right, however, mentioning the possibility would be a good start).

This feels a little like splitting hairs, I know, and it could be two different ways of saying the same thing. However, I have difficulty letting assumptions about women slide. Research has a long history of misreading and misrepresenting the handful of women that have been included in psychological research. Women have been harmed physically and psychologically by these "oversights." One way to prevent these abuses is to raise awareness in the researchers and those who consume and/or interpret the research for mass consumption, where the biases and abuses are perpetuated. We have to stop the cycle somewhere, however briefly.

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