March 31, 2010

Learning Prejudice: Influence of Parents and Peers

One of the earlier sections in our prejudice and stereotypes course concerned how prejudices and stereotypes begin in children. This was a good set of readings, and I was particularly intrigued by Allport’s ideas on the different stages from which children learn prejudices (i.e., attaching emotions to labels, over-generalization of emotion to all people within a category, differentiation within the category, and then tailoring attitudes to fit self-image, status seeking, and values). His theories about these stages provided the framework for and were supported by research on the cognitive stages associated with category development years later. I think that this attests to how monumental Allport’s book on prejudice was, and why it’s still used as a main text today.

While going through the readings, I became more and more interested in the role of parents in the formation of childhood prejudices (perhaps because I want to become a parent myself one day). Allport (1954) argued for three social mechanisms of acquiring prejudice: learning, conformity, and contact. And he believed that parents were most influential within the realm of “learning." Not only does he argue that children adopt the prejudiced attitudes and ideas from their family environment, he also states that “rejective, neglectful, and inconsistent styles” of parental training lead to children developing prejudice.

Yet, that's a pretty remarkable statement to me. After reading Harris’ The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do, Revised and Updated (2009) a couple years ago, I was under the impression that parents had little lasting effect on the later personality and attitudes of children when they are grown. As I think Harris would argue, compared to parents, a child’s peer group is more influential on the later personality and attitudes that a child develops as he or she grows. Of course, to a point, parents do have the ability to control a child’s peer group . . . at least at a younger age. As Katz (2003) highlights, parents channel their children into their race beginning at 12 – 18 months. Many parents are likely not providing, nor approving of, access to peers from other ethnic backgrounds. Importantly, Katz explains that parents’ attitudes are indeed a significant predictor of racial bias. High bias children, more often than not, have parents with negative racial views and who don’t talk about other races. I think that this shows some support for Allport’s view. Of course, she also shows that the child’s best friend is a significant predictor of racial bias too. High bias children have more same-race friends.

I think the argument about whether parents or peers have the stronger influence relies too heavily on the explicit racial biases of each, and not on the power of implicit racial biases. Children appear to be very attuned to the non-verbal cues around them. As Castelli et al. (2008) show in their study, preschool children will express negative attitudes towards a Black model when a White model expresses some non-verbal (i.e., implicit) uneasiness over the Black model. This effect occurs regardless of whether the White model expresses any verbal friendliness with the Black model. More importantly, children appear to overgeneralize the negative views. They carry these views over to other Black models who have no relevance to the first situation. It's amazing how powerful implicit racial biases can be. Though, the White model in the experiments were not the children's parents, it is likely that children are picking up on the implicit biases of their parents from an early age.

References and further reading:

Allport, G. W. (1954/1979). The Nature of Prejudice. Perseus Books.

Dovidio, J. F., Glick, P., & Rudman, L. A. (Eds.) (2005). On the Nature of Prejudice: 50 Years After Allport. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

Bigler, R. S., & Liben, L. S. (2006). A developmental intergroup theory of social stereotypes and prejudice. Advances in Child Development and Behavior.

Cameron, J. A., Alvarez, J. A., Ruble, D., & Fuligni, A. (2001). Children's lay theories about ingroups and outgroups: Reconceptualizing research on prejudice. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 5, 118 - 128.

Castelli, L., De Dea, C., & Nesdale, D. (2008). Learning social attitudes: Children's sensitivity to the nonverbal behaviors of adult models during interracial interactions. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34, 1504 - 1513.

Harris, J. R. (1999). The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do. New York: The Free Press.

Katz, P. (2003). Racists or tolerant multiculturalists? How do they begin? American Psychologist, 58, 897 - 909.

February 28, 2010

Belongingness and Outgroup Derogation

Our first week of readings for our prejudice and stereotypes seminar gave a historical background and overview of research in prejudice and stereotypes. We read some of Gordon Allport’s classic work on prejudice, as well as pieces from more contemporary authors. Essentially, the readings dealt with the definition of prejudice, the cognitive aspect of stereotypes, and the group dynamics of in-groups and out-groups. Lots of good ideas were presented, but there were a few that really grabbed my attention.

First, Princeton psychologist, Susan Fiske, presented a “core social motives” approach to understanding prejudice, which I found particularly interesting. According to Fiske, as well as other theorists (e.g., Baumeister & Leary, 1995), we need other people to survive. As connecting with others is so important for our survival, we are embedded with various cognitive mechanisms and/or motivations that promote sociality. As we’re motivated to fit in with others, some of these motivations are likely to relate to group prejudices. The two social motives that I’m interested in most (as they relate to my own research) are the need to belong and the need for self-enhancement/self-esteem.

Belongingness is one of the most fundamental of human needs. It would therefore make sense that people will do whatever they can to connect with their group, encompassing what Allport (Chapter 2) refers to as “love-prejudice,” while avoiding being the target of ostracism or social rejection. This, of course, may come at the expense of out-group members (i.e. expressing in-group bias and out-group stereotypes). At the same time, people need to feel good about themselves and the groups to which they belong. Essentially, people are going to compare their group to others in ways that make them appear more favorable. For instance, when people experience temporary threats to their self-esteem, they make more stereotypical/prejudicial judgments of outgroup members.

This makes sense to me, especially in terms of Sociometer Theory (ST: Leary et al., 1995). According to ST, self-esteem and belongingness are intimately linked, in that self-esteem acts as a monitor of our inclusion status. When we are threatened with social exclusion, we experience a decrement in self-esteem which signals to us that we should adjust our behavior to avoid exclusion. In light of ST, the finding that people who experience threats to their self-esteem become more prejudiced makes very much sense to me. It’s possible that the decrement in self-esteem alerts the individual of an ostensible belongingness threat. And one way to seek out connections is to show more conformity to one’s in-group (i.e., expressing the in-group’s prejudiced opinions), as other members of one’s in-group are more likely to resemble candidates for future social acceptance than outgroup members.

Another interesting idea came from psychologists, Charles Stangor and Mark Schaller, who extend the idea of individual self-esteem to collective self-esteem. In their chapter, they bring up some evidence that when high status groups experience temporary evaluative threats, they also become more prejudiced. Perhaps Sociometer Theory has implications for collective self-esteem as well? Again, the findings would appear to coincide with ST. Yet, one question that I have is: under what conditions will an out-group member become a reasonable candidate for social connection? Essentially, when will people ignore their prejudices in order to seek connection with out-group members? Do people seek such a connection in moments of desperation, such as after being ostracized from their own in-groups?

Oh well, just some thoughts. More on prejudice and stereotypes next time!

References and further reading:

Allport, G. W. (1954/1979). The Nature of Prejudice. Perseus Books.

Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117, 497-529.

Dovidio, J. F., Glick, P., & Rudman, L. A. (Eds.) (2005). On the Nature of Prejudice: 50 Years After Allport. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

Leary, M. R., Tambor, E. S., Terdal, S. K., & Downs, D. L. (1995). Self-esteem as an
interpersonal monitor: The sociometer hypothesis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 68, 518-530.

Stangor, C., & Schaller, M. (2000). Stereotypes as individual and collective representations. Stereotypes and Prejudice: Essential Readings
(pp. 64 - 82). New York, NY US: Psychology Press.

February 22, 2010

a new post?

So, this is my first post of 2010. I know, I know. I'm not quite keeping up with my posting goals.

This has been a very busy semester for me, and my writing goals have been sucked up lately. Specifically, it was better for me to use my resources (i.e., free time) towards writing journal articles than towards writing blog posts. But things are slowing down a bit now, so I plan to get back to my goal of at least 2 - 4 blog posts a month.

So anyways, things are good here. I am running a lot of cool studies, teaching statistic labs, and taking two classes (i.e., one on aggression and one on prejudice and stereotypes). I've also been working on writing up a lot of papers for submission to journals . . . hopefully the hard work will pay off.

So, I'm trying to stay productive. Soon, I'll post about some of the readings that we've had in my classes so far. There are also a lot of links and videos that I have wanted to post on here, and just haven't had the time. One of which is below. This video is a talk by the neurobiologist, Robert Sapolsky, on the topic of the uniqueness of humans . . . or rather the non-uniqueness of humans. He explains that humans are not very different from animals in terms of aggression, empathy, pro-social behavior, and even theory of mind and culture. Well, enjoy the talk, and I hope everyone is doing well out there!

November 25, 2009

Steven Pinker on

So, I just saw an interesting interview on It's a recent one where Steven Pinker is being interviewed by science journalist, Robert Wright.

It's a longer interview (about an hour long), but it covers various milestones throughout his career. Of course, with it being Pinker, much of the conversation revolved around the human capacity for language. There's an interesting segment where he discusses his disagreements with the linguist, Noam Chomsky. And then there's some discussion of evolutionary psychology, the logic of science and our perception of reality, and even a little bit of quantum mechanics (well, not a serious discussion of quantum theory, but it's used as an example of how reality is really counterintuitive). The interview ends with a discussion of the new project he's working on. It's a book on violence, and how violence is actually decreasing world-wide, despite our intuitions. He's been working on this book for a while it seems. You may even remember a post of mine covering this topic from over two years ago!

Well, anyways, I'm posting the interview below, check it out:

November 24, 2009

Gladwell on Colbert . . .

Malcolm Gladwell was recently on the ColbertReport, discussing his new book: What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures. It is a book of essays that he wrote for the New Yorker. He's one of my favorite writers, so I'll definitely have to pick up the new book sometime.

The interview is pretty good, though it seems that perhaps Gladwell was a little nervous (he seemed a little tripped up when Colbert asked if he was a Christian). But I think Colbert took it easy on him. Check out the video below:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Malcolm Gladwell
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorU.S. Speedskating

Symphony of Science

Wow! Have you heard of the Symphony of Science?

This might be old news to some of you, but it's new to me (I found out through pharyngula, of course).

The Symphony of Science is a musical project "designed
to deliver scientific knowledge and philosophy in musical form." The project is the brainchild of electronic musician, John Boswell. He takes audio/video samples from various lectures and/or educational programs and mixes them against his original compositions. His songs feature clips from Carl Sagan, Richard Dawkins, Richard Feynman, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Stephen Hawking, and even Bill Nye the Science Guy. One track, "A Glorious Dawn," was recently released on vinyl through Third Man Records (indie record label founded by Jack White of the White Stripes) for the 75th anniversary of Carl Sagan's birth. This is actually my favorite track, and am posting the video below (all videos, lyrics, and mp3 downloads can be found at the home site . . . check it out!):

November 18, 2009

Free Copy of The Origin . . . . from Ray Comfort?

So, for those of you not "in the know," Ray Comfort (yes, the creationist with the banana routine) has printed 100,000 copies of his own edition of The Origin of Species, with a "special" introduction of course. Well, today Comfort and his followers gave out their propaganda at various universities and colleges across the country. And guess what? Yep. I got my own copy too!

Yep, there were people passing them out today at the University of Kentucky. One of my grad school buddies was able to secure a copy for me, haha (Thanks Dave!). The "special" introduction is hilarious!

Oh, by the by, if they came to your campus today, and you received a copy, then send a picture to The Primate Diaries. According to Pharyngula, Eric Michael Johnson (blogger at The Primate Diaries) is putting together a collage "of smirking evilutionists with Comfort's folly."

October 7, 2009

A TEDtalk with Oliver Sacks!

Oliver Sacks, the famous British neurologist, recently gave a talk at TED concerning the topic of hallucinations.

Dr. Sacks is probably best known for his popular books in which he describes case studies of his patients with intriguing neurological disorders. One of my favorites is: The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat: And Other Clinical Tales. And then you probably know: Awakenings, which was made into a movie starring Robert De Niro and Robin Williams. I believe his most recent book is: Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, Revised and Expanded Edition, in which Dr. Sacks examines the effects of music on the brain.

Well, this TED talk is about hallucinations. Well, not just hallucinations, but a particular type of disorder that causes hallucinations called, Charles Bonnett Syndrome. This is a disorder in which people who are blind experience visual hallucinations, and people who are death experience auditory hallucinations. It's very interesting. Apparently the syndrome is common, occurring in about 10% of the blind population, though it is probably under-reported.

These people are not crazy. They are perfectly sane, healthy individuals. The syndrome seems to occur in people who are blind from macular degeneration. What seems to be happening is that, as the structures that gather sensory information gradually break down, the visual/auditory parts of the brain go in hyper-drive. They are over-working, and the brain is trying to make sense of the jumbled mess of activation. Well, Dr. Sacks describes it a lot better, and includes some funny stories (including one about a woman who hallucinates Kermit the Frog). I'm posting the talk below, so check it out:

October 1, 2009

Dawkins on Colbert!

Now for something a little more cheerful.

Richard Dawkins was on the Colbert Report last night promoting his new book, The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution. It's a new book that synthesizes the evidence for evolution in a manner that is simple and easy to understand. I'm looking forward to reading it.

Check out the clip:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Richard Dawkins
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorMichael Moore

September 30, 2009

Margo Wilson (1942 - 2009)

I recently learned over the weekend, through the Human Behavior and Evolution Society email listserv, that Professor Margo Wilson died due to complications with lymphoma. This is very sad news.

Margo Wilson was a professor at McMaster University in Canada. And she was a pioneer in the field of evolutionary psychology, along with her longtime collaborator, Martin Daly. She was a past president of HBES and founding editor of the society's flagship journal, Evolution and Human Behavior. And she was also a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.

Dr. Wilson might be best known for her classic work on homicide, in collaboration with Daly. Their influential book on the topic analyzes historical and anthropological data from around the world through an evolutionary framework. They argued that the most common type of homicide (that between two conflicting young men who know each other) is a by-product of behavior that is selectively advantageous for controlling the reproductive behavior of women.

She has also done some interesting work on the "Cinderella effect." The Cinderella effect describes phenomena wherein step-parents mistreat their step-children at much higher rates than their mistreatment of their own genetic offspring. This effect is robust across cultures and stays strong, even controlling for socioeconomic factors. For instance, they found that children in the UK were 100 times more likely to be beaten by stepfathers than by genetic fathers.

She has done great work in the field, and has helped build a strong foundation on which evolutionary psychology could grow, and her death is a significant loss to the field.

September 21, 2009

Darwin Lectures at UK!

Okay, I can't believe my wife beat me to it . . . well, on second thought, maybe I can.

Anyways, the University of Kentucky will be paying tribute to Darwin this October with a lecture series that's about a week long! Woo!

The Gaines Center of the Humanities is sponsoring this year's Bale Boone Symposium entitled: Science, Humanities, & Culture in the Wake of Darwin. There will be a host of great speakers, including Ken Miller, who I've heard talk before at a Darwin Day festival back in 2005 when I was still at VCU. I think that he does an excellent job of discussing the fact of evolution, and I will be glad to get to hear him again. Another talk that I think will be quite interesting is from Jonathan Gottschall (a professor of English at Washington and Jefferson College) entitled: Darwin in Wonderland: Evolution and the Science of Story. Looks like it'll be great fun!

All talks are within the student center at 6pm, are free, and open to the public! Here's a copy of the flyer for more details. My wife and I will be there, you should go too!

On a similar note, V. Betty Smocovitis, Biologist from the University of Florida, will be presenting a lecture titled Rhapsody on a Darwinian Theme: Darwin in Song and Musical Production this week! It will be on Thursday, Sep. 24 in the Lexmark Rm in the Adm. Bldg at 3:30 pm. Unfortunately, I will not be able to attend this lecture, as I have to teach . . . :(

But you may want to go nonetheless!

Lastly, the IdeaFestival is happening this week in Louisville, KY. It starts on Tuesday and runs through Saturday. It's an event that happens in Louisville (I think every year, but I'm not sure) where great thinkers and innovators come to speak. I like to compare it a bit to the TED talks. Well, anyways, you can check out the agenda on their site. It looks like there will be some pretty good talks there too, so I encourage you to go, if you plan to be in Kentucky this week. Tickets are a little pricey, as it's much like a conference, but you can purchase tickets for individual events if you just wanted to see one or two of the talks. Check it out!

August 19, 2009

The End of Summer

Wow, the summer is practically OVER!! School starts next week! Oh noes!

Ah well, I hope that everyone out there reading this has had an enjoyable summer.

I know, I know . . . I haven't posted much over the past couple months (I skipped the whole month of July even!). Well, I've either been too busy to think about my blog, or I've been out of town and rarely around a reliable internet connection.

Probably the coolest, or at least most interesting, thing that I've done this summer was participate in the 4th annual Summer Institute in Social Psychology (SISP) hosted by Northwestern University and sponsored by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology and the National Science Foundation. SISP is a selective program of intensive courses and workshops geared towards students who are early in their graduate careers in personality and social psychology. The courses that I participated in were the Biological Basis of Social Behavior and Personality course and the Meta-Analysis course. Needless to say, the experience was great! I really learned a lot, and the summer institute has helped me generate and/or solidify numerous ideas that I can now incorporate into my own research (though two weeks is not enough time to really become an expert with these methods, so I will definitely need more experience if I wish to pursue them further). It's even got me started thinking about possible post-docs that I may want to pursue in the future (but that's still a long ways away, haha).

But anyways, I've met a lot of new friends and possible collaborators, many interested in the same questions that I myself am interested in. The program even included a trip to downtown Chicago! (a city to which I have never been!) It was great! For any social/personality grad students out there reading this, I really do recommend participating in one of these SISP programs. You'll gain knowledge of some of the most up-to-date theory and methods in the field and you'll get to know a lot of new people, do networking, and form collaborations (many of these people will be future superstars in the field!).

Other than SISP, I've taught a summer lab on social psychology research methods, worked on my research, watched A LOT of movies, made a couple trips back "home" to Virginia and to North and South Carolina, and participated in a book club that my grad student buddies and I recently begun. The book club is going well, and I think that it's really a good idea. It's really hard to read stuff for "fun" when you are in graduate school, and this type of club kind of forces you to do it (otherwise discussion will not go well). So far we've read Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science and Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture which were both pretty good. Naked Economics was really my first reading on economics and I thought that it was generally a good read as an introduction for the layperson. (Please see Medicine for Melancholy for a more detailed review, if interested.) Female Chauvinist Pigs was a more alarming book about the social problem of "raunch culture." Books I'm reading now include: Rock, Paper, Scissors: Game Theory in Everyday Life and Bozo Sapiens: Why to Err is Human. Perhaps I will eventually write up a review of one or two of these books . . . we'll see.

One last note. My wife recently started a blog called, Deconstructing the Flower, which focuses on modern feminist issues, and it might be of interest to some of you. I'm also linking it on my sidebar, under "Friends." So if feminism and/or women's issues is a concern or interest of yours, please visit her blog and enjoy!

June 24, 2009

Steven Pinker, George Church, Anne Wojcicki, & Linda Avey on Charlie Rose

Hello all! I hope that everyone is having a great summer so far!

I was browsing the Edge website and came across a link to a Charlie Rose clip featuring Steven Pinker, George Church, Anne Wojcicki, and Linda Avey (I guess that you could have gotten that from my title, right?). It's about the Personal Genome Project, which I've mentioned in previous posts.

Anyways, it's a pretty good discussion about the importance of the project and about how having open access to people's genomes will open up many opportunities for researchers in developing new ways of analyzing the influence of genes on behavior.

Well, I'm posting the clip below. Check it out, and enjoy:

May 27, 2009

Hard-Wired Morality

This looks interesting.

University of Colorado, Boulder ecologist, Marc Beckoff, and philosopher, Jessica Pierce, have written a new book (Wild Justice
) that examines morality as an adaptive strategy for helping aggressive and/or competitive species to live together in groups. Morality, in the form of empathy, cooperation and reciprocity, provides what Beckoff calls, the "social glue," for group living.

The authors cite evidence from around the world and across a variety of species, from mice to elephants, that support the claim that animals have an innate sense of fairness and empathy. For instance, experiments with rats have shown that they will refuse to obtain food if their actions will protect other rats from being harmed. As well, in play, dominate wolves will self-handicap and allow lower ranked wolves to bite them. Additionally, neurological evidence is presented that shows how some species have structures in their brains that are similar to those "empathy" areas in human brains.

This is a very interesting topic, and I just might have to put this book on my summer reading list. I agree that what we call morality today probably started out as an adaptive strategy for group living, because social networks were so important for survival across species. And as such, evidence for this "social glue" should be abundant in nature.

Such evidence for a hard-wired morality could have strong implications for us humans. For one, morality is often seen as a philosophical and/or religious concept. It sometimes seems like scientists have no business talking about moral issues. But this book could show that one doesn't need religion to explain while we feel empathy for others, have urges to be honest, and want to protect others from harm. Such feelings could be . . . dare I say it . . . instinctual. Yet I'm not sure whether I would agree that animals can tell the difference between right and wrong, not in the abstract sense that we mean those concepts. I really liked what Emory primatologist, Frans de Waal, said on the topic:

"I don't believe animals are moral in the sense we humans are – with well developed and reasoned sense of right and wrong – rather that human morality incorporates a set of psychological tendencies and capacities such as empathy, reciprocity, a desire for co-operation and harmony that are older than our species. Human morality was not formed from scratch, but grew out of our primate psychology. Primate psychology has ancient roots, and I agree that other animals show many of the same tendencies and have an intense sociality."
Really cool, exciting stuff. Guess I'll have to pick the book up sometime.

May 25, 2009

Bridging the gap between the Humanities and the Sciences

So it's been a couple weeks since my last post. You know how it goes, classes ending, submitting grades, finishing papers, etc. And let's not forget the importance of taking a much needed rest from work!

Well, not too much is going on now . . . besides teaching the lab sections for summer courses and working on summer research projects. Anyways, the other day I was browsing the Edge website and came across this page celebrating the 50th anniversary of C.P. Snow's lecture on the "Two Cultures," that is the culture of the literary intellectual and the culture of the scientist. At the time, the two cultures were seen as divided camps of thinking. Those in the humanities were viewed as the true intellectuals (i.e., those in philosophy, literature/poetry, art, the social sciences, etc.). And the expectation was that scientists had very little to say about culture, the human experience, or human nature.

50 years later, Seed Magazine asked members of the "Third Culture" (i.e., those bridging the gap between the humanities and the sciences) whether the two cultures are still divided today. Visit the link and check out the videos. They're pretty good, and quite short (6-10 mins.). Overall, the answer seems to be that the two cultures are not as divided as once was and is more like a continuum from one pole to the other. Advancements made in the science of the mind have especially contributed to bridging this gap. It has helped changed how we think about those abstract concepts (e.g., human nature, religion, even beauty). As well, it is young scholars who are becoming more and more interested in collaboration among different fields of inquiry.

Below are the videos from Harvard psychologists, Steven Pinker and Marc Hauser. Enjoy!: