Below is a description of a research study. This study illustrates several important concepts related to research methods. For each of the seven concepts below identify the excerpt from the study description that best illustrates that concept and explain why it fits by giving the definition of that concept.
• control group
• control variable
• dependent variable
• experimental group
• independent variable
Sample Study: Self-Fulfilling Prophecies and Stereotypes
Introduction. Stereotypes are sets of expectations about a social group or category of people, often suggesting particular characteristics and behaviors typical of members of that group. Often the expectations are negative ones. For example, a group of people might be regarded as lazy, shiftless, unwilling to work, and not terribly smart. As bad as stereotypes are, what is even worse is that sometimes the expectations for behaviors based on stereotypes lead people to behave in the manner expected. This is a self-fulfilling prophecy — an assumption that, once having been made, leads to the predicted event occurring. For example, all of us form first impressions about people based on visible characteristics such as gender, age, race, and physical attractiveness. In many cases, those impressions are biased and negative. However, when we act upon them, we may encourage people to behave in the negative ways we expect. But how do we separate this self-fulfilling prophecy effect from real differences that might describe a category of people? In an intriguing social psychological experiment, Mark Snyder (1977) created a study that did just this — permitting us to see how the physical attractiveness of a woman can lead men to treat her differently, leading her, in turn, to act in a manner consistent with that stereotype.
Research Methods. Snyder expected that the physical attractiveness of people influences the perception of them by others and the way others treat them. To test this, Snyder (1977) had 51 male and 51 female undergraduate students at the University of Minnesota interact with one another in male-female dyads in which they could not see one another but could talk via telephone. A photograph of either a physically attractive or physically unattractive female was randomly assigned to each dyad. The photographs were not actually of the females with whom the males were interacting. This effectively created two groups: one with a woman the man perceived as attractive and the other with a woman the man did not perceive as attractive. At that point, before any interaction took place, each male was asked to provide his first impressions of the female (based on the picture only) on a number of characteristics. Each dyad then engaged in ten-minute unstructured conversation in which the statements by the male and female were recorded on separate channels of an audiotape, so they could be analyzed separately later. Then 12 raters were asked to rate each female on the same personality characteristics by listening to just her side of the taped conversation. Finally, 9 raters were asked to rate each male on the same personality characteristics by listening to just his side of the taped conversation. The consistency of the raters with one another in their ratings of the same males or females was assessed and found to be highly reliable. The raters did not know the hypotheses of the study and did not know whether the female had been assigned to the “attractive” or “unattractive” condition.
Conclusions. Snyder found that the men formed their initial stereotypes of the females based on general stereotypes associating physical attractiveness with socially desirable personality characteristics. Females in the “attractive photo” condition were perceived to be more cordial, poised, socially adept, and humorous, while those in the “unattractive photo” condition were perceived to be more awkward, serious, withdrawn, and socially inept. The men also treated the women differently. The judges perceived the men in the “attractive photo” condition to be more cordial, sexually warm, bold, outgoing, humorous, sexually permissive, and socially adept than those in the “unattractive photo” condition. Finally, the changed behavior of the men led the women to behave in ways that conformed to the men’s stereotype of them. Women in the “attractive photo” condition (who did not know in which condition they were) were perceived by the judges to be more friendly, likable, and social. In short, those women tended to act in the manner expected by the men.
This study by Snyder dramatically illustrates how our stereotypes of people, even when based on something as flimsy as a first impression from a photograph, can change our behavior toward those people enough that it leads those people to act in ways we expect based on our stereotype. If “beautiful” people can be made to act more gracefully because of our perceptions of them, then how might our expectations influence the behaviors of other people with whom we interact, such as members of minority groups, people on welfare, people from other countries, or people of a different age or gender?
Reference: Snyder, M., Tanke, E. D., & Berscheid, E. (1977). Social perception and interpersonal behaviour: On the self-fulfilling nature of social stereotypes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 35, 656–666. Hide
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