Cognitive Bias Hiding Sexism
February 25, 2016 10:24 PM   Subscribe

I recall reading in Overwhelmed by Brigid Schulte about a study in which participants were asked to evaluate how much men and women talked during a discussion. It demonstrated that while both men and women talked equal amounts during the discussion, evaluators thought women talked more. Am I imagining this, or can someone point me to the study? I would also welcome other research in the same vein - cognitive bias that causes people to not see the effects of privilege.
posted by sibilatorix to Science & Nature (14 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
I remember something like this having been mentioned on MeFi at least once, maybe twice. My recollection was that it was a stat saying women only needed to talk for X% of time for people to estimate they spoke 50% of the time. I would also really appreciate if someone has a source - I am developing a bid to investigate something along these lines as part of a wider project to do with gender participation in STEM subjects and if I can nail this down it would help considerably.
posted by biffa at 11:29 PM on February 25, 2016

No idea which studies Schulte cited, but here's a few results from an internet search limited to

Maybe she was talking about this study but you have to log in to see it.

An overview

Also, 400 years of referential inequality
posted by aniola at 11:45 PM on February 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh hey, previously.
posted by aniola at 11:54 PM on February 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Well, I'm less interested in the gender-linked talking research and more interested in the cognitive bias aspect.

BUT, I think aniola's "previously" link (which is also cited in Language Log's overview of the topic that aniola also linked to, has the answer here.

It has a link to the paper's abstract, though the paper itself appears to be paywalled.

I would still welcome links to any other research about how cognitive bias can prevent us from identifying sexism/racism/etc.
posted by sibilatorix at 12:01 AM on February 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Here's the article on Speaker sex and perceived apportionment of talk by Anne Cutlera and Donia R. Scott. Via
posted by aniola at 12:14 AM on February 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I think there have been a lot of studies about this, here are some resources I found

"When we showed teachers and administrators a film of a classroom discussion and asked who was talking more, the teachers overwhelmingly said the girls were. But in reality, the boys in the film were out-talking the girls at a ratio of three to one. Even educators who are active in feminist issues were unable to spot the sex bias until they counted and coded who was talking and who was just watching"

"The talkativeness of women has been gauged in comparison not with men but with silence. Women have not been judged on the grounds of whether they talk more than men, but of whether they talk more than silent women." -Dale Spender
posted by CarolynG at 12:41 AM on February 26, 2016 [17 favorites]

sibilatorix: I am planning to write my bid in about 4-6 weeks, it is more concerned with the sort of thing I think you are talking about, essentially looking at hands on time vs perceived hands on time in taught lab work, hopefully followed by us working on applying different methods to address it to see what works best in achieving equality of experience. I will let you know if I find anything interesting that might be of interest while prepping it.
posted by biffa at 1:53 AM on February 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: You might try searching for the phrase "implicit bias." That's the term I've heard used of late.
posted by bluedaisy at 4:30 AM on February 26, 2016

"We just heard a fascinating and disturbing study, where they looked at the ratio of men and women in groups. And they found that if there's 17 percent women, the men in the group think it's 50-50. And if there's 33 percent women, the men perceive that as there being more women in the room than men." (via)
posted by ourobouros at 4:31 AM on February 26, 2016 [12 favorites]

I think Dale Spender covered this in "Man made language" which is not just about gender bias in language but perceptions of women and women's speech.
posted by BAKERSFIELD! at 8:27 AM on February 26, 2016

Speaking up for male-kind, maybe the men were boring and the women were interesting.

[I make this comment to suggest that when you read these studies, you check to see if there was research to determine the reason for the erroneous perceptions, or if it was merely assumed.]

I don't have anything direct to add to the discussion except that some time ago, maybe 25 years, there were some studies that showed that when decisions were made in meetings, they were made more on human factors than on the merits. Or to put it simply, the boss usually got his way. Or maybe someone with charisma got his way. The guy with the best idea did not usually get his way.

A procedure was developed to combat this by replacing the meeting with papers being circulated so they could be studied/evaluated with less consideration of the personalities involved. I forget this name by which it was called, unfortunately, which makes it hard to Google.
posted by SemiSalt at 9:07 AM on February 26, 2016

The process referred to above is the Delphi Method. Apparently, there is another method which I had not heard of called the Nominal Group Technique.

The purpose of methods like this is to reduce effect of social factors including gender bias (overt or implied).
posted by SemiSalt at 9:51 AM on February 26, 2016

Dale Spender completed studies in this area, many years ago. She seems to be still publishing.
posted by what's her name at 11:50 PM on February 26, 2016

Response by poster: Thanks for the good links! Aniola found the paper I was thinking of, but I ended up using the quote about classroom speech distribution CarolynG posted. It's a wonderfully clear and concise description of the phenomenon I had in mind - a latent bias shared by people regardless of gender, even active feminists.

Hopefully it helps the folks I volunteer with recognize that (1) we may be engaging in sexist behavior without realizing it and (2) it doesn't mean we're bad people, it just means we have some cultural baggage to unpack if we really want to promote equity.
posted by sibilatorix at 9:00 AM on March 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

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