Presidential Symposium

Stigma From Science: Group Differences, not Group Deficits

Time and Location
Friday May 25, 2007, 5:00 PM - 6:30 PM
International Ballroom Center


Groups often differ along various dimensions, and psychological scientists enjoy studying those differences. However, such scientific investigations of group differences can lead to a group's stigmatization if the goal of the comparison is to cast one group in a negative light, if the data are interpreted with reference to one group as the norm, and if the conclusions portray one group in an undesirable light. A distinguished panel will explore historical and contemporary examples of such "stigma from science" in studies of gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and culture, and suggest strategies for avoiding these problems in research.

Morton Ann Gernsbacher's Presidential Columns from the APS Observer, which address other issues of stigma in science, are available online.

Morton Ann Gernsbacher

Morton Ann Gernsbacher (Chair)
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Susan T. Fiske

Susan T. Fiske
Princeton University
Venus and Mars, or Down-to-Earth? Stereotypes and Realities of Gender Differences
Gender differences are easy to study but hard to interpret. Men and women are more similar than different, and the overlapping distributions on most variables suggest that people exaggerate the meaning of small average difference when they do occur. Nevertheless, of the bona fide average differences, historically they have been interpreted to the detriment of women, by the framing and the research methods. Examples include field dependence, visual-spatial ability, and mathematical ability. Neglected are women’s verbal abilities, social abilities, and lower rates of physical aggression. A more balanced approach is emerging that is less about culture wars and more about science.

Douglas L. Medin

Douglas L. Medin
Northwestern University
The Home Field Disadvantage
The study of culture and cultural comparisons has advanced beyond the infamous differences equal deficits era. But there remain more subtle, more difficult and perhaps more pernicious problems associated with the asymmetry between a home versus an away culture in comparative research. The challenges are especially large for researchers belonging to the "unmarked culture" (white, middle class, well-educated). This talk describes the conceptual and empirical challenges of the home field disadvantage and offers some prescriptions.

Gregory M. Herek

Gregory M. Herek
University of California, Davis
Sexualities, Science, and Stigma
Because sexual minorities are stigmatized in the United States and other Western industrialized countries, observed differences between heterosexuals and nonheterosexuals have routinely been interpreted as evidence of the latter's deficiencies. Such interpretations reflect basic assumptions about human sexuality, including that heterosexuality is a natural, normal state whereas homosexuality requires scientific explanation. I will discuss how the discipline of psychology historically conceptualized nonheterosexual orientations in ways that contributed to sexual stigma, and how it has actively worked to eradicate that stigma since the 1970s. I will conclude with a discussion of contemporary manifestations of the "differences are deficits" model, and how they can best be challenged by psychological science.

James M. Jones

James M. Jones
University of Delaware
'I’m White and You’re Not!' The Value of Unraveling Ethnocentric Science
Whether motivated by racist intent, ethnocentric arrogance, or data analytic myopia, research that systematically stigmatizes specific human groups is destructive. The racist assumptions of the inferiority of African culture and persons of African descent have contributed substantially to the stigmatizing beliefs about African Americans. This talk will present historical examples of several kinds of motivated and/or myopic theoretical and empirical projects that stigmatize African Americans. A consideration of the constructs that might emerge if we built a psychology from the experiences, motives and goals of persons from marginalized and oppressed groups will suggest that the "greening" of psychology will improve its ability to understand diverse people and contribute to society.

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