Friday, September 15, 2006

Stossel on stereotyping

John Stossel will be hosting a 20/20 special putatively about stereotypes (although the content strikes me as more accurately being about self-image rather than the perceptions one has of others) this evening. I happened to catch the GMA's promotional interview with him this morning, and immediately became credulous about his claim that 30%+ swings in test scores were attributable to the test-taker's self image. He made this claim based on the results of two groups of girls, one which saw a commercial featuring a ditsy Malibu Stacy before taking the test.

There's a plethora of potential failings in the methodology used to reach the conclusions, which I hope will be fully explained in the one hour segment airing at 10pm Eastern time tonight.

For one, it appeared that there were around ten or so testers per group. So sample size could be an enormous issue. Also, what did the control group do prior to the test? Witnessing dopey vacuity before doing something mentally rigorous is probably detrimental irrespective of the content. Did/would girls perform better if they saw feminist propaganda before taking a test?

Assuming this is all answered satisfactorily, I suspect 'propaganda' does have a palatable effect on performance, cognitive, physical, or otherwise. If it doesn't, high school coaches across the land are wasting their breathe on inspirational pre-game pep talks. I used to watch segments of One on One before basketball games, and the opening battle scene of Gladiator before Warcraft II tournaments. It certainly seemed to help.

The adherents of the ZGD (zero group differences) orthodoxy will undoubtedly use Stossel's report to bolster the view that blacks score a standard deviation lower on IQ tests than whites due to a low self-image propagated by a bigoted white-dominated society. (Of course they won't ask why the gap has remained so tenaciously even as white America's view of blacks has clearly improved over the last eighty years, or why white society apparently paints Asians in a better light than it paints itself, or why racial supremacists don't perform astronomically on aptitude tests, or why an American educational system that makes ubiquitous the idea that all students have the potential to be astronauts, scientists, or Congressmen, has been unable to keep pace with the rest of the developed world, particularly in Asia where students are put on various academic paths very early on based on their abilities).

But the question of duration is critical. Stossel's girls apparently saw the commercial right before taking the test. If they saw it a week prior, would it have any effect? Maybe I'd be able to recall Crowe's powerful words ("What we do in life men, echoes in eternity") from memory, but any effect would likely be greatly attenuated. And if I saw a CareBear episode right before the tournament, Gladiator from last week would be pushed out of my mind for sure.

Is the phenomenon one of 'institutionalized' stereotyping, or merely a question of personal motivation? If the former, then Stossel's results don't make sense. If a thirty second commercial can drop a person's performance by more than 30%, then the ubiquity of subtle societal stereotyping is easily remedied by a quick inspirational blurb. Educators across the country, NCLB requirements just became a lot easier to meet, and without any number fudging. Just tell the kids they're great (or mediocre this year, good next year, great the year after that, etc).

Yet I suspect that the program will be presented as if to show how damaging an 'instituitionalized', all-permeating stereotypical society is to all but heterosexual male WASPs who are supposed to enjoy a society that works for their benefit and presents them as infallible (of course contemporary American media does anything but that). If this were the case, it would be nearly impossible to prove (and in this way is quite religious in nature, whereas propaganda verfiably mutating performance back and forth makes cross-group comparisons easy). If it can be escaped from with a silly video clip lasting a few moments, then it really isn't much of a problem.

Some other tidbits Stossel lays out:

We'll show you tests that demonstrate the power of believing in stereotypes — how they can become self-fulfilling prophecies. For instance, women who watch commercials showing dumb women go on to do worse on intelligence tests. Blacks who are told a golf game is a test of athleticism score higher than blacks who are told the test is an intelligence test. Asian women score higher on IQ tests when reminded that they're Asian and lower when reminded they're women.
Again, if these results are valid (and to the extent they are, they are likely to have a greater effect on people who have little invested in the activities/tests they are performing--I doubt telling Tiger Woods that hybrids are better or worse than 'purebreds' at golf will have much effect on his performance), we've been wrong about stereotyping for a long time. Conventional wisdom said it was hard to undue. Self-proclaimed realists claimed it was largely based on statistical tendencies, and though not specifically true, still generally correct. But it would turn out to be incredibly fickle, as mutable as a cheesy tv spot.

Too bad Nixon's dead--he'd have been able to resurrect his image as a foreign policy expert by suggesting the US buy television and radio spots in hostile countries that subtely denegrated the ethnic majority there.

More seriously, group differences are very real and mostly intractable. Mood swings and motivational shifts can alter a person's performance to a degree, but sustainability and permanence are as elusive as they've ever been.

I'm looking forward to Stossel's special because for a mainstream journalists he's as close to a truth detective as one can find. If anyone will touch a taboo and spark a national conversation about it, it's him. And the preamble sounds promising:
And are some stereotypes true? Are blacks better athletes because they are physically different? Are gay men more effeminate [can even the most blithely quixotic leftist really dispute that?] and more likely to become dancers? We search for answers in "Race and Sex: What You Think, but Can't Say" this Friday, Sept. 15, at 10 p.m. ET.
Interesting, this comes on the heels of the release of Rushton's findings that males average a little over three points higher than females on IQ tests:

A study published in the September 2006 issue of the journal "Intelligence" analyzed 145 items from the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) in 100,000 17- to 18-year-olds and found a male IQ advantage of 3.63 points. It also found that the g factor--the general factor of mental ability underlay both the SAT Verbal (SAT-V) and the SAT Mathematics (SAT-M) scales with the congruence between these components greater than 0.90, and that it was the g factor that predicted student grades better than the traditionally used SAT-V and SAT-M scales.
Makes sense. For most of human history, mating was not a mutually decided upon act. Dominant men chose the women they wanted to mate with. Smart men had to figure out how to form alliances with other men, navigate traps set by rivals, and manipulate political and social arrangements to gain positions of dominance to procreate with the best women. This pressure wouldn't have existed as strongly in females. The healthy, pretty ones would be the most likely to be chosen.

(Human biodiversity2)


JSBolton said...

If you tell people they're bulletproof that will not make them so.
There's a progressive retardation in such ideas; that everyone might just get together and use their jiminy cricket wish power to obliterate inequalities.
Some Indians believed that if they all danced around and made magic, their ancestors would come back out of the ground and fight with them. this did not bring about victory, but it did get a bunch of them killed.
Discrimination is not the problem; aggressive official anti-discrimination is what worsens an already unequal performance between groups.
If you look at say, classical music performers, they are always being found fault with in their practice, so they can improve or maintain a level of quality.
Imagine the military turning its detailers into non-judgemental applauders of every defective performance, since otherwise they would be perpetuating racism, discrimination and low self-esteem among the disadvantaged.

crush41 said...

Or running through bullets in the Boxer Rebellion.

But attitude and motivation likely does play a part in most types of performance. Watching an intense basketball game prior to playing gets the viewer's adrenaline pumping, and that alone helps.

Of course it comes nowhere near the scope or magnitude the ZGD crowd wants us to believe and is quite mutable (contrary to the idea of some all pervasive underlying bias that infects every societal nook and cranny).

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