Monday, 12 September 2016

Older Women, Deeper Learning, and Greater Satisfaction at University

“The ‘ideal learner’, from an institutional view, is young, well-resourced and not bound by conflicting family obligations” (Mallman & Lee, 2014, p. 3). However, some recent research published in the Journal of Diversity in Higher Education challenges this view. If we consider “ideal learners” to be active, independent, critical, and inquisitive students who go beyond the set curriculum, then older women should be regarded as more ideal than younger women and men of all ages.

In our research, we asked 983 Australian undergraduate students to complete a research survey that contained measures of learning approach and degree satisfaction. We found that older women showed the greatest deep learning. In other words, they were most likely to go beyond the set curriculum and relate the material that they studied to its wider context. This greater deep learning helped to explain older women’s greater satisfaction with their degree.

This study corroborates previous qualitative research in this area, which has found that older women have more intrinsic motives for undertaking higher education. For example, consider the following quotes from mature-aged female university students:

“I’m not doing this because I want to change my job.  I’m not doing this because I think it’s going to get me any more money, I’m doing it because I want to learn” (McCune, Hounsell, Christie, Cree, & Tett, 2010, p. 696).

“I’m not doing it for vocational reasons.  I’m doing it for me” (Reay, 2003, p. 304).

For more information, please see the following journal article:

Rubin, M., Scevak, J., Southgate, E., Macqueen, S., Williams, P., & Douglas, H. (2016). Older women, deeper learning, and greater satisfaction at university: Age and gender predict university students’ learning approach and degree satisfaction. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education. doi: 10.1037/dhe0000042

For a self-archived version of the article, please click here

Friday, 11 March 2016

Mates Make Groups for Individualists But Not for Collectivists

Humans are an incredibly groupy type of animal. We form psychologically-meaningful groups based on our gender, age, nationality, religion, politics, skin colour, occupation, sexual inclination, and sports teams, to name just a few. Even in the artificial environment of psychology labs, people will identify with groups based on their totally random allocation to “Group A.” Indeed, they will declare that they feel “more similar” to Group A members than to Group B members, and even discriminate in favour of Group A members and against Group B members! But does everyone around the world identify with groups in the same way?

To investigate this issue, my colleagues and I conducted two studies in which we compared individualists (people from Western countries such as Australia and the USA) with collectivists (people from non-Western countries such as China and India). We measured people’s interpersonal closeness with other group members (in-group ties) and the degree to which they felt similar to other group members (perceived self-to-group similarity; a key indicator of social identification). In both studies, we found that interpersonal closeness was a significant positive predictor of perceived self-to-group similarity. In other words, the closer people felt to other people in their groups, the more similar they felt to them. Critically, however, this positive relation only held for individualists. There was no significant relationship between perceived interpersonal closeness and self-to-group similarity among the collectivists in our samples.

This suggests that interpersonal closeness is a stronger predictor of social identification among people from individualist cultures than among people from collectivist cultures. This is an important finding because social identification predicts prejudice and stereotyping, and so a better understanding of cross-cultural differences in the basis for social identification may help to improve the effectiveness of social interventions that reduce prejudice and stereotyping. For example, interventions based on interpersonal closeness may be more effective among people from individualist Western countries like the USA than among people from collectivist non-Western countries like China.

Our research helps to explain the basis for social identification among individualists. But it does leave an important question unanswered: On what basis do collectivists form their social identities? If interpersonal ties with other group members are not crucial, then what is? We believe that group harmony and sense of duty may represent two potential answers to this question.

For further information about this research, please see the following journal article:

Rubin, M., Milanov, M., & Paolini, S. (2016). Uncovering the diverse cultural bases of social identity: Ingroup ties predict self-stereotyping among individualists but not among collectivists Asian Journal of Social Psychology, 19 (3), 225-234 DOI: 10.1111/ajsp.12137   Self-Archived Version

For a You Tube video explaining the research, please click here.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Social Class Differences in Mental Health: Do Parenting Style and Friendship Play a Role?

It is now well-established that social class and socioeconomic status (SES) are positively related to mental health.  For example, a meta-analysis of 51 studies found that people with a higher SES are less likely to be depressed than people with a lower SES. However, researchers remain unclear about the specific processes that underlie the relation between social class and depression.

In some recent research, Benjamin Kelly and I investigated the potential roles of parenting style and friendship in explaining the relationship between social class and mental health. We predicted that people from higher social class backgrounds experience a warmer and more responsive parenting style from their mother and father than students from lower social class backgrounds, who experience a more restrictive, disciplinary, and controlling parenting style. We also predicted that a more responsive parenting style promotes the development of a range of socially-beneficial psychological resources such as self-management and social competence, which enable people to develop more and better quality friendships.  In turn, better friendships were expected to lead to better mental health and well-being due to their stress-buffering effects and beneficial effects on self-esteem, sense of belonging, and perceived social support. Our model is outlined below.

We tested our model using a sample of 397 psychology undergraduate students at a large public Australian university. Consistent with our predictions, we found that:

  1. Students with higher social class experienced better mental health and well-being than students with lower social class.
  2. Students with higher social class reported their parents to be the warmer and less disciplinary than students with lower social class.
  3. Students with higher social class reported better friendships social integration at university than students with lower social class.
  4. Students who had experienced a warmer and less disciplinary parenting style reported (a) better friendships and (b) better mental health.
  5. Friendship and social integration mediated (statistically explained) the relation between social class and mental health.
Based on this evidence, we concluded that working-class parenting styles may inhibit the development of socially-supportive friendships that protect against mental health problems at university.

Our single cross-sectional study only provides preliminary evidence, and further longitudinal studies that sample from different populations are required in order to arrive at firmer conclusions. However, our initial results suggest two potential interventions for reducing social class differences in mental health in university communities and, potentially other communities if our effects generalize to these communities.  The first is to increase working-class people’s social integration, and I have discussed this issue with regards to working-class students at university elsewhere. The second, more distal intervention is to alter the working-class parenting style in order to make it warmer, more responsive, and less disciplinary. However, any such parenting style intervention needs to take into consideration the impact of an array of sociocultural factors, and we consider these in some depth in our article.

For more information about this research, please see the following open-access article:

Rubin, M., & Kelly, B. (2015). A cross-sectional investigation of parenting style and friendship as mediators of the relation between social class and mental health in a university community International Journal for Equity in Health, 14 (1), 1-11 DOI: 10.1186/s12939-015-0227-2

Friday, 12 December 2014

Party On! (If You're Middle-Class and Young): Age Differences Explain Social Class Differences in University Friendships

In a recent meta-analytic review, I found that working-class students are less integrated at university than their middle-class peers. I offered up nine potential explanations for this working-class exclusion effect. It turns out that one of the simplest explanations in this list is also the most promising. It’s all to do with age.

Working-class students tend to be older than middle-class students. Why? Most likely because they don’t tend to go to university immediately after school but instead get out into the real world and earn a bit of money before accumulating the financial security to upskill in higher education (James, 2000). So, there tends to be a negative correlation between social class and age at university. Younger students tend to be middle-class school leavers, and older students tend to be more mature-aged, worldly-wise students.

In some recent research, Chrysalis Wright and I found that age differences help to explain social class differences in students’ friendships. We surveyed 376 first-year undergraduate psychology students, asking them how many friends they had at uni and how much their friends mattered to their identity. We found that working-class students had fewer identity-relevant friends and regarded the friends that they did have as being less relevant to their identity. Moreover, we found that age differences explained this social class effect.
Put Your Hands Up!...Unless you have kids and no money to go out!
So what? Well, as I’ve argued elsewhere, a potentially important method of improving working-class students’ academic outcomes is to improve the quality and quantity of their university friendships. University friends can help to explain coursework assignments, remind one another about due dates, act as study buddies, provide a shoulder to cry on during stressful periods, and instil a sense of belonging and institutional identification that increases degree commitment and persistence. Research has shown that working-class students are most in need of this type of support.

What our current research shows is that any attempts at improving working-class students’ friendships need to take their more mature age into account. So, night-time discos and parties might be fun for the 20-somethings, but it’s not a realistic approach to social integration for the more mature-aged, child-caring, working-class students. Likewise, on-campus accommodation is an excellent method of improving social integration at university, but this tried-and-tested approach needs to be adapted to take into account students’ social class, age, and concomitant family commitments.

Last thing before I go! Our research found that working-class students had not only fewer friends than middle-class students but also less desire and concern about making new friends. Hence, simply providing opportunities for friendship-building is unlikely to be sufficient. Universities also need to motivate older working-class students to participate in social life at university, perhaps through the use of information campaigns that highlight the informational and emotional support that is provided by university friends.

For more information about our research, please see the following paper:

Rubin, M., & Wright, C. (2014). Age differences explain social class differences in students’ friendship at university: Implications for transition and retention Higher Education DOI: 10.1007/s10734-014-9844-8

Please click here for a self-archived version. 

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

How You Feel About People is Related to How You Feel About Cities

You take delight not in a city's seven or seventy wonders, but in the answer it gives to a question of yours. (Calvino, 1978, p. 44).

There are numerous structural factors that influence people’s attitudes towards cities, including the city’s architecture, size, infrastructure, transport, crime rates, population density, and quality of housing, to name just a few.  However, as the Italian writer Calvino (1978) alluded to in his book Invisible Cities, these factors may be constituents of broader sociocultural “questions” that people ask about their cities.  For example, residents’ concern about the transport and entertainment venues of a city might form part of a broader social psychological concern about the potential for the city to accommodate their need to meet friends and socialize with others. Alternatively, people might focus on a city’s economy and job opportunities because they are concerned about the ability of the city to meet their needs for personal income and wealth.

Hong Kong - Why Would You Want to Live There?
In some recently published research, Dr Tessa Morrison and I predicted that individual differences in individualism and collectivism operate as important predictors of people's city needs and goals. Individualism and collectivism are sociocultural orientations towards treating the self and others as individuals or group members respectively: Individualists see themselves and others as being self-reliant, autonomous, and independent, whereas collectivists are more interdependent and concerned about their social groups, including their family, friends, and community. We predicted that these dispositional orientations towards the self and others might also influence how people feel about cities.

To test our predictions, we asked 148 psychology undergraduate students to take virtual guided tours around one of four Utopian historical cities - cities that had never been built and were unfamiliar to our participants. YouTube videos of the four guided tours can be viewed here: Christianopolis, City of the Sun, New Harmony, and Victoria, and the picture below shows a scene from one of the tours. Participants then evaluated the cities’ liveability and environmental quality and completed measures of individualism and collectivism.

Consistent with our predictions, people with a strong sense of self-responsibility (a form of individualism) tended to evaluate the virtual cities in terms of their potential to meet the goal of acquiring resources, income, and wealth, whereas people with a strong sense of collectivism tended to evaluate the cities in terms of their potential to provide community and a sense of connection with others.

Scene from a virtual tour around the Utopian city of Victoria

To paraphrase Calvino (1978), city evaluation may be based on the answers that cities provide to our questions. However, our research suggests that different types of people have different types of questions. Individualists appear to ask: “can this city enhance my personal wealth?” whereas collectivists appear to ask: “can this city enhance my group’s community?”

These findings are important because they can help us to understand why some people choose to move into certain cities and others choose to leave. However, a key limitation of our work is that it lacked ecological validity because it involved nonresidents evaluating novel, historical, virtual, and unpopulated cities. In our future research, we intend to measure residents’ evaluations of more familiar, modern, real-world, populated cities.

For further information, please see the following journal article:

Rubin, M., & Morrison, T. (2014). Individual Differences in Individualism and Collectivism Predict Ratings of Virtual Cities’ Liveability and Environmental Quality The Journal of General Psychology, 141 (4), 348-372 DOI: 10.1080/00221309.2014.938721

A self-archived version of this journal article is available here.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

“I am Working-Class”: Self-Identification as a Measure of Social Class in Educational Research

Governments around the world are trying to open up higher education to working-class people. For example, in January this year, the White House released a report titled: "Increasing college opportunity for low-income students: Promising models and a call to action."

In the context of this general push towards widening participation in higher education, my colleagues and I have been developing a research project that aims to investigate social class differences in social integration among students atuniversity. After all, we need to bring working-class people into our universities socially and psychologically as well as physically. Our Australian research team includes myself, Dr Nida Denson from the University of Western Sydney, Prof Sue Kilpatrick from the University of Tasmania, Ms Kelly Matthews from the University of Queensland, Dr Tom Stehlik from the University of South Australia, and Dr David Zyngier from Monash University.

As we developed our research project, we quickly realised that the measurement of social class is an extremely contentious issue, with different researchers often preferring different measures. In particular, we noticed that there was a clear divergence between social psychologists and educational researchers in the types of social class measures that they used. Following the recommendations of a 2006 American Psychological Association report on measuring social class, modern-day social psychologists use subjective, self-identification measures of social class alongside more objective measures of income, occupation, and education (for a good example, see Michael Kraus’ work). In contrast, educational researchers have tended to restrict themselves to objective measures and to ignore the more subjective aspects of social class (for a recent review, see Rubin, 2012; for a notable exception, see Ostrove & Long, 2007).

We have discussed this interdisciplinary discrepancy in a recent review article published online this month in Educational Researcher. In our article, we call for educational researchers to follow the lead of social psychologists and complement (not replace) their objective measures of social class with measures of subjective social class. We believe that subjective measures are not only valid and reliable but also more direct and sensitive in their assessment of social class compared with objective measures. Most importantly, subjective measures tap the social identity aspect of social class, and they give a voice to students’ own opinions about their social class.

For further information, please see the following article: 

Rubin, M., Denson, N., Kilpatrick, S., Matthews, K., Stehlik, T., & Zyngier, D. (2014). "I am working-class": Subjective self-definition as a missing measure of social class and socioeconomic status in higher education research. Educational Researcher DOI: 10.3102/0013189X14528373 

A self-archived version of this journal article is available here.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Spock's Not One of Us! Exploring the In-Group Overexclusion Effect

Liberal or Conservative?
We all belong to many different social groups. For example, we belong to groups based on our age, gender, nationality, sexuality, and occupation, to name just a few. Most of the time, it's fairly easy to work out who belongs to which group. But sometimes it's not that clear. For example, if you had to guess, would you say that the man opposite is a liberal or a conservative? Well, social psychologists have found that your answer will sometimes depend on which group you belong to. If you're a liberal, then you'll probably guess that the man is a conservative. And if you're a conservative, then you'll probably guess that he's a liberal. This mysterious phenomenon is called the in-group overexclusion effect. 

Human or Vulcan?
Now sit up straight - it's formal definition time: The in-group overexclusion effect is an intergroup effect in which people are more likely to classify ambiguous individuals as members of the out-group (i.e., the group that they don't belong to) than their in-group (i.e., the group that they do belong to). So, to take a slightly less real world example, you’d be more likely to classify the lovely Mr Spock as a Vulcan (i.e., an out-group member) rather than a human (i.e., an in-group member), even though he is half human and half Vulcan. (Apologies if you’re of the Vulcan persuasion by the way. My example only works if you're human!)

Based on social identity theory (Tajfel and Turner, 1979), Leyens and Yzerbyt (1992) proposed a motivational explanation for the in-group overexclusion effect: People are motivated to protect their in-group from intrusion (contamination, pollution!) by negatively-valued out-group members in order to protect the positivity of their associated social identity and self-esteem. If those no-good out-group members get classified as in-group members, then they'll sully your group with their negativity and, since part of your self-esteem is derived from belonging to a positive in-group, you're motivated to err on the side of caution and make sure that you exclude anyone from your group who shows even a hint of being an out-group member.

There's some good evidence in support of the social identity part of this explanation: People who identify strongly with their in-group are more likely than those who identify weakly to show the overexclusion effect (Castano, Yzerbyt, Bourguignon, and Seron, 2002). However, to date, there has been no direct evidence for the motivational part of the explanation - the part that relates to the in-group's positivity and your own self-esteem. Do people excluded ambiguous others from their group in order to protect the their group's positivity and their own self-esteem? My colleague, Dr Stefania Paolini, and I aimed to test this motivational part. We made two predictions:

Prediction 1: If the overexclusion effect is caused by the need to protect the in-group’s positivity, then it should only occur when the in-group is positive and the out-group is negative (and not vice versa) because it is only in this situation that group members would be motivated to exclude nasty negative out-group members from their nice positive in-group.

Prediction 2: If the overexclusion effect is caused by the need for self-esteem, then people who have low self-esteem should be most likely to display the effect because they have the greatest need for self-esteem.

To test these predictions, we asked 122 undergraduate students to complete Rosenberg’s (1965) Self-Esteem Scale. This scale includes 10 statements such as "I feel that I have a number of good qualities." Respondents are asked to indicate how much they agree or disagree with each statement.

Next, participants completed a memory recall task in which they were presented with a series of diagrams on a computer screen like the one below. Each diagram showed two groups of people, with each person represented by a code number from 1 to 20. One group was located inside a picture of a bucket of soapy water. The other group was located inside a picture of a dustbin full of rubbish. We asked participants to consider the people in the bucket as "clean" and people in the dustbin as "dirty." So, obviously, the clean group was a positive group and the dirty group was a negative group.

Participants were given an identity number (3 or 14) which they were told identified them, and this code number appeared in one of the two groups. So, one of the groups represented an in-group, and the other represented an out-group. In the diagram above, the dirty group is the in-group because it contains the numbers 3 and 14 (the participants' identity numbers), and the clean group is the out-group. But in other diagrams that we presented, the clean bucket contained the in-group members and the dirty dustbin contained the out-group members.
For each diagram that they viewed, participants were given 5 seconds to memorize which people belonged to which group. The diagram was then removed, a person’s code number was presented, and participants were asked to recall which group the person had belonged to, like this: “Person Number 7. Clean or Dirty?” Our predictions related to those instances in which participants made errors in the memory recall task and assigned a person to the wrong group.

Consistent with previous research, participants erred on the side of caution and misassigned more in-group members to the out-group than they misassigned out-group members to the in-group. In other words, they showed the classic in-group overexclusion effect. However, consistent with Prediction 1, this effect was qualified by whether the group was clean or dirty. The overexclusion effect only occurred when the in-group was clean (i.e., positive) and the out-group was dirty (i.e., negative) – the red line in the diagram below. There was no significant overexclusion effect when the in-group was dirty and the out-group was clean – the green line in the diagram. Hence, consistent with Prediction 1, the overexclusion effect only occurred when the in-group was positive and out-group was negative and not vice versa.

To test Prediction 2, we computed an index that represented the overexclusion effect by subtracting the number of misassignments to the in-group from the number of misassignments to the out-group. Larger positive scores on this index indicated a larger overexclusion effect. Consistent with Prediction 2, participants' scores on the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale negatively predicted the overexclusion effect. Hence, the lower people’s self-esteem, and the greater their need for self-esteem, and the more likely they were to show the overexclusion effect by misassigning people to the out-group rather than the in-group.

Our results provide an important piece in the puzzle of the in-group overexclusion effect - the motivational piece. They tell is that it's not enough to simply identify with your group to show the overexclusion effect - you also have to value your group positively. Admittedly, identification and in-group favouritism often go hand in hand, but there are some cases where they diverge. For example, members of stigmatized, low status, and minority groups might identify with their group but also recognise its inherent negativity.

Interestingly, our research also suggests that people with low self-esteem are the most likely to exclude people from their group. Transporting back to the USS Enterpise, perhaps Dr McCoy ("Bones") had low self-esteem because, as Spock observed, he was always the first to exclude Spock from the human race:

Dr McCoy: “Are you out of your Vulcan mind? No human can tolerate the radiation that's in there!”
Mr Spock: “As you are so fond of observing, doctor, I am not human!”
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

For further information, please see the following journal article:

Rubin, M., & Paolini, S. (2014). Out-group flies in the in-group’s ointment: Evidence of the motivational underpinnings of the in-group overexclusion effect. Social Psychology DOI: 10.1027/1864-9335/a000171

For a self-archived version of this article, please see here.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

In-Group Favouritism can be used to Get Even as well as to Get Ahead

Social identity theory is a major mainstream theory of intergroup relations (Tajfel and Turner, 1979). At its heart lies the assumption that social groups fight and compete with one another in order to attain positive distinctiveness from one another. In other words, group members are motivated to favor their own group (the in-group) and derogate other groups (out-groups) along specific intergroup comparison dimensions in order to increase or maintain their group's relative social status. High in-group status and positive in-group distinctiveness enable in-group members to achieve or maintain a positive social identity and concomitant positive self-esteem (Rubin and Hewstone, 1998, 2004). So, for example, sports fans support their team and derogate the other team in the hope that their team will beat the other group so that they can then bask in the reflected glory of their team's success.

Oxford United Fans Celebrating at a 2011 Game
There is a lot of evidence in support of the social identity explanation of in-group favoritism. However, my colleagues (Constantina Badea and Jolanda Jetten) and I have recently questioned whether beating the out-group is the only motive for in-group favoritism. We assumed that, in the specific case of low status groups, in-group favoritism may be used to make the in-group equal to the out-group, and not necessarily better than the out-group. In this case, in-group favoritism is used to achieve intergroup fairness rather than positive in-group distinctiveness. To give a real world example, gay men and women may favor their low status group not because they want to outdo straight men and women but because they seek equality with straight people in having the right to marry their partners. In this case, in-group favoritism is enacted with the aim of achieving intergroup equality rather than high in-group status or positive distinctiveness.

An Equal Love Rally in Melbourne, Australia
To clarify our assumptions, we distinguished between two types of in-group favoritism that might be used by low status groups: competitive favoritism and compensatory favoritism.
  1. Low status groups can use competitive favoritism to compete with high status out-groups in order to achieve positive in-group distinctiveness.
  2. Low status groups can use compensatory favoritism to compensate for their low status and achieve intergroup fairness.
To test these predictions, we asked 139 psychology undergraduates to take part in a social group resource distribution task. Participants were given an identification number ranging from 1 to 50 and then randomly assigned to two arbitrary groups called the “Red Group” and the “Green Group.” They then allocated points to people from their group and the other group. They were told to think of the points as "points in a game," where the more points a person or group gets, the better. Crucially, the members of one group always started this points allocation task with two more points than the members of the other group. So, in the context of our admittedly artificial laboratory situation, we had an intergroup status hierarchy, with a high status group starting off with more points than a low status group.

Participants used a series of point allocation tables like the one below to award points to group members. In each table, they had to circle one of the four columns listed under the heading “My Allocation to Each Person.” Some of the choices in these columns compensated the low status group member for their initial two-point disadvantage. For example, if a member of the Red Group circled the 3/5 choice in the table, then their fellow low status Red Group member would end up with the same number of points (6 starting points + 5 allocated points = 11 points in total) as the high status Green Group member (8 starting points + 3 allocated points = 11 points in total). Other choices in the tables allowed low status group members to get more points than the high status group member. For example, the 2/6 choice meant that the Red group member ended up with more points (6 + 6 = 12) than the Green group member (8 + 2 = 10).

Using this novel approach, we found that participants in the low status group were significantly more likely than participants in the high status group to choose the competitive in-group favoritism option (e.g., the 2/6 choice in the above table). So, we replicated the classic, competitive favoritism effect that is predicted by social identity theory.

However, we also found that participants in the low status group selected the compensatory favoritism option (e.g., the 3/5 choice in the table) significantly more than chance. Here, awarding more points to the in-group than to the out-group had the effect of compensating the in-group for its initial points disadvantage and leading to intergroup fairness.  Hence, the compensatory favoritism choice enabled the low status in-group to do as well as the high status out-group in terms of its points allocations but not necessarily better than the out-group.

Social identity theory has touted social competition as the key driver of social change (Tajfel and Turner, 1979). Our research suggests that, in the context of unequal intergroup status relations, social compensation can also provided a pathway to social change. Specifically, low status groups can use in-group favouritism to change the intergroup hierarchy by getting even with the high status group, rather than by surpassing it in status.

For further information, please see the following journal article:

Rubin, M., Badea, C., and Jetten, J. (2014). Low status groups show in-group favoritism to compensate for their low status and to compete for higher status. Group Processes and Intergroup Relations DOI: 10.1177/1368430213514122

For a self-archived version of this article, please see here.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Boys Don’t Cry, But They Can Be Sensitive! Behavioural Descriptions of Counterstereotypical People Cause Greater Prejudice than Personality Descriptions

Stereotypes are pretty useful things! We use them to help us to understand and respond to people from a large and diverse array of social groups. But how do people feel about individuals who buck the trend and contradict stereotypes? For example, how do people feel about a man who is crying or a woman who is smoking a cigar!

Most evidence shows that people react quite negatively towards counterstereotypical individuals. The typical explanation for this negative bias refers to people’s need to protect and maintain their stereotypes: People are biased against counterstereotypical individuals because they disconfirm stereotypes and threaten people’s need to maintain stable and coherent stereotype systems.

However, recent social psychological research has provided some hope for counterstereotypical people. This new evidence shows that, although counterstereotypical individuals are disliked when they are described using behaviours, they are actually liked when they are described using personality traits. So, for example, although people may dislike “a man who is crying”, they like “a sensitive man”. In both cases, the man is counterstereotypical because he contradicts a gender stereotype. However, in the former case he is described using a behavior (“crying”) and in the latter case he is described using a personality trait (“sensitive”). Notably, this linguistic description effect occurs even when the particular valence of the words that are used (positive/negative) is taken into account.

So, why does this linguistic description effect occur? Well, it’s possible that counterstereotypical individuals are evaluated relatively negatively when they are described using behaviours because this linguistic description promotes a deeper, more systematic processing of the person that highlights their stereotype disconfirmation and, as we know, people don’t like individuals who step out of line with their stereotypes! In contrast, counterstereotypical individuals may be evaluated relatively positively when they are described using personality traits because this linguistic description promotes a more superficial type of processing that highlights individuals’ uniqueness, and people tend to value uniqueness.

How is all this relevant to you? Well, if you stop for a minute and consider your own social categories (i.e., your gender, religion, occupation, age group, political orientation, etc), then I’m sure you’ll find at least one in which your own characteristics contradict your group’s stereotype. Now don’t worry – it's often good to be the black sheep! Throughout the ages, counterstereotypical people have been the agents of beneficial social change. For example, independent women (who were counterstereotypical for their time) spearheaded the Feminist movement. In addition, the diversity embodied by counterstereotypical people brings with it a wealth of positive outcomes in work and organisational contexts. So, you should feel proud if you’re different from the rest of your group. The trick is to get other people to appreciate you for your uniqueness, rather than to denigrate you for your deviance. And describing yourself in terms of personality traits rather than behaviours may provide one way to do this.

For further information, please see the following journal article:

Rubin, M., Paolini, S., & Crisp, R. J. (2013). Linguistic description moderates the evaluations of counterstereotypical people. Social Psychology, 44 (4), 289-298 DOI: 10.1027/1864-9335/a000114

For a self-archived version of this article, please see here.

This research was supported by the Australian Research Council's Discovery Projects funding scheme (Project DP0556908). However, the views expressed above are not necessarily those of the Australian Research Council.


Monday, 4 March 2013

“It Wasn’t My Idea to Come Here”: Young Women Lack Ownership of the Idea to Immigrate


Together with getting married and buying a house, the decision to immigrate is one of the most important decisions that a person can make.  So, it’s important that immigrants feel that they have satisfactory input into the process of deciding whether or not to migrate.  In some recent research, I looked at a very early stage of this decision-making process: ownership of the idea to immigrate.

I analysed survey data from 1,702 married immigrants to Australia. Each immigrant was asked “whose idea was it to emigrate to Australia?” Responses were coded as indicating either sole ownership (“It was my idea”), joint ownership with spouse or partner (“We thought of the idea together”), or no ownership (“It was my husband or wife’s idea”).

Surprisingly, I found gender, age, and cross-cultural differences on this very simple, early-stage measure of decision-making. Women were significantly less likely than men to claim ownership of the idea to immigrate, and this lack of ownership went on to predict women’s lack of satisfaction following their move to Australia.

In addition, young women and nonWestern women were less likely than older women and Western women to claim ownership of the idea to immigrate. This pattern of results may reflect a lack of power experienced by young and nonWestern women in their marriages.

The present findings do not imply that young or female immigrants were in any way forced or coerced to migrate to Australia.  However, they do provide some cause for concern, especially given that ownership of the idea to immigrate appears to predict subsequent satisfaction in the new country.

This research has been officially accepted for publication in the International Journal of Intercultural Relations, which is a top quality journal, ranked in the top third of sociology journals. For further information, please see the following article: 

Rubin, M. (2013). “It wasn’t my idea to come here!”: Ownership of the idea to immigrate as a function of gender, age, and culture International Journal of Intercultural Relations DOI: 10.1016/j.ijintrel.2013.02.001

Note: The views expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Australian Government's Department of Immigration and Citizenship.