Monday, May 16, 2016

Beyond the Mere Exposure Effect: Pointing Out Stereotypical Comments

Scene: A noisy bar, out with some boisterous people. I've been told that I have a softer voice and people sometimes have difficulty hearing me. I'm aware of this, but since I don't like feeling as though I'm shouting, in those situations, I prefer to just listen. I can feel a little left out in those situations, but I guess I prefer that over shouting. When someone pointed out that I hadn't said much that evening, I tried responding, doing the only thing I could do to be heard - raising my voice. And that's when I received a response that bordered on sexist.

At that point, I checked out.

Research shows that most people are aware of stereotypes about certain groups. Whether they believe them or not, they still linger below the surface. And those stereotypes can come bubbling up, even among people who would deny any stereotypical attitudes. Mere exposure effect can only get your so far in correcting stereotypical attitudes. Sometimes, you need a more active intervention.

I think what bothered me most about the situation was my own response. I disengaged, rather than saying something. But I was reminded today of research a friend from grad school performed for her masters thesis. This research was published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. What they found was, pointing out sexism actually increased positive evaluations of the speaker and reduced use of sexist language in future encounters. And pointing out sexism was as simple as, "Don't you think that's kind of sexist?" It doesn't have to be drawn out or judgmental. Just a simple comment in an interpersonal interaction could be enough.

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