Athene Donald on unconscious bias

A fantastic post.. The newest bit to me was this one:

The most recent study I came across, entitled The Matilda Effect in Science Communication: An Experiment on Gender Bias in Publication Quality Perceptions and Collaboration Interest looked at the responses of ‘243 young communication scholars’ when asked to rate some (carefully manipulated) conference abstracts. (The Matilda effect was a phrase coined by Margaret Rossiter 20 years ago to describe the systematic underrecognition of women in science.) The abstracts’ topics and authors were varied to see how the readers reacted and to test a series of hypotheses relying on ‘role congruity’. This theory says that a group (or in this case, an abstract) will be positively evaluated when its characteristics are recognized as aligning with that group’s typical social roles. So a paper written by women about a subject ‘appropriate’ to their gender, such as the effect of media on children (remember this was a project involving science communicators), will be more highly rated than one written by women on an ‘inappropriate’ topic such as political communication.

Their hypotheses were largely borne out; on average the papers written by ‘men’ were perceived as of higher quality than those written by ‘women’, and even more so if stereotypically male topics were being written about. The respondents were also more likely to want to collaborate with the males on stereotypically ‘male’ topics and with the women on those topics associated with women. These trends were the same irrespective of the respondents own gender. The differences in evaluations were not large, but as earlier studies have shown, small effects multiply up over time; this is true of salaries and it is true of less tangible attributes such as recognition or collaboration opportunities.

But do check out the whole post. There’s also a great example of some biased letter-writing. (Thanks, J!)

3 thoughts on “Athene Donald on unconscious bias

  1. To some extent we’ve noticed this. For example, for a long time everyone seemed happier if women spoke about the history of philosophy, which was associated with women, rather than philosophy of language. It used to drive me crazy the way philosophers simply assumed that what I said in, e.g., epistemology was wrong. If I talked about knowledge and causes, I’d be said to be making the standard error of the day.

    Not sure why I used the past tense there.

  2. Rachel: I think it does. My student teaching evals (I was one of only 2 female teachers in a large department) said things like ‘Given that this was the first time she taught the course, she did OK’, and ‘She did her best’. I then went to look at the evals, and saw that the students who were not from the philosophy department (it was an interdisciplinary course) gave me significantly better evaluations than the students who were majoring in philosophy. Also, women rated my performance better than men.

Comments are closed.