Publication: Ring a Bell? Charles Murray and the Resurgence of Scientific Racism

This article was first published on The Humanist on 15 May 2017. Below is an excerpt.

In his latest podcast episode titled “Forbidden Knowledge,” atheist author Sam Harris guides political scientist Charles Murray through an extensive defence of Murray’s widely debunked body of work, focusing mostly on The Bell Curve. Co-authored with psychologist Richard Herrnstein (who died around the time it was published in 1994), the book was universally critiqued as an example of modern-day scientific racism. Continue reading Publication: Ring a Bell? Charles Murray and the Resurgence of Scientific Racism

The Institute of Sexology

This exhibition was held in London. It covered the early work by Western scholars to study sexuality and diverse sexual identities. Featuring various social scientists from anthropology (such as Margaret Mead) to psychology (Freud), I was ecstatic that two sociologists, Prof Kayle Wells and Prof Julia Field, are featured prominently in the final section of the exhibit.

Wells and Field are two of the lead investigators of the longitudinal National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles.

The exhibition ends with an invitation to participate in the exhibition survey and also contribute a question. One of these is chosen to be added to the survey each week and the aim is to replace all the original questions with public questions. Some of the anonymous answers are on display and they change constantly.

My favourite that I’m still mulling over is by a woman in her 20s (paraphrased): “You can tell whether a man is feminist or not by the way he has sex.”

Science Media Hype: Women, Testosterone and Navigation

Lower two-third is an oil picture of two arms extended over a large map outdoors. The two White hands put to different areas

As usual, science hyperbole would like us to believe that men are “hardwired” to perform better than women at technical tasks. In this article by Science Alert, the heading tells us women navigate better when given testosterone: “Women can navigate better when given testosterone, study finds” The article itself keeps up this facade. Reading the study, however, we find that nothing of the sort is true.

Fifty-three women were recruited on the basis of being on the oral contraceptive pill and not having significant experience in gaming. Why did the latter matter? Because this experiment uses computer games to simulate navigation. The study does not actually test navigation in real life conditions. That’s usually okay – experiments try to construct experiences in a controlled environment. But when those conditions are created to exclude women with certain skill sets that immediately tells us that what is being measured is not biological processes, but rather experience – a social experience.

Continue reading Science Media Hype: Women, Testosterone and Navigation

Visual Sociology of Art in Amsterdam

A visual sociology of my weekend trip to Amsterdam during my secondment in London! Learn more about the Stendhal Syndrome Pavillion, the psychological condition elicited by artworks. The Oasis of Matisse was wonderful, but offers an opportunity to apply the sociology of gender.  The Zero Exhibition recreates an experimental exhibition from the 1950s and 1960s.

Stendhal Syndrome Pavillion

Continue reading Visual Sociology of Art in Amsterdam

Dehumanisation, Superhumanisation and Racism

Dehumanisation, Superhumanisation and Racism
Dehumanisation, Superhumanisation and Racism

Dehumanisation and “super-humanisation” are two sides of the same coin serving a racist agenda. Dehumanisation is the process by which conscious and unconscious bias leads people to see a racial minority as less human – less worthy of respect, dignity, love, peace and protection. Psychology research finds that White police officers and young White students are more likely to see Black children as young as 10 years of age as being less worthy of protection and inviting violence in comparison to White children. Super-humanisation is on the other end of the dehumanisation continuum. It is when majority groups harbour latent ideas that minorities have special qualities or powers that make them less deserving of bodily consideration and pain relief. Research finds that White people have a tendency to see Black people as being stronger and therefore more able to withstand pain. These two twin processes, that place Black people outside of humanity, are steeped in colonial practices and they contribute to excessive policing and violence aimed at Black bodies. There are implications of dehumanisation and super-humanisation on the ongoing events in Ferguson. This social science research speaks to the issues raised by the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Continue reading Dehumanisation, Superhumanisation and Racism

Sociology of Personality Tests

Sociology of Personality Tests

Do you know much about the Myers-Briggs test? It’s a psychology test used to classify different personality types. Many workplaces use this test to try to help manage different communication styles. Sociological research has shown, however, that many workplaces lose sight of how the test should be used. Workers can sometimes become pigeon-holed into certain roles and broader organisational issues can be excused away due to a misunderstanding of the personality types.

Check out my Social Science Insights blog to see how workplaces can better use the Myers-Briggs test:

#socialscience #sociology #psychology #myersbriggs #personality #leadershp #business #entrepreneurship #management

Dehumanisation of Black Youth & Police Violence

Dehumanisation of Black Youth & Police Violence

A psychology study from 2014 finds that White police officers as well as White students overwhelmingly perceive Black children as young as 10 years of age to be older, less innocent and culpable, even though they have done nothing wrong. The study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology included 176 police officers, who were mostly White males (average age of 37), and 264 mostly White women undergraduate students. The participants over-estimated Black and Latino boys’ age by an average of 4.5 years. The participants also held an unconscious bias that led them to associate boys of colour, especially Black boys, with animals. Experiments show that the police officers were more willing to use violence to control Black youth.

The researchers argued that White people on the whole dehumanise Black boys, not showing the same empathy and willingness to protect their innocence in comparison to images of White children. In other words, Black children are presumed to be guilty and inviting violence by simply doing nothing.

The researchers write: “Again, the implicit dehumanisation of Black children predicted the extent to which police officers overestimate the age of Black suspects, how culpable those Black suspects are perceived to be, and the extent to which officers were more likely to use force on Black suspects than suspects of other races throughout their career, controlling for how much suspects resist arrest or are located in high-crime areas.”

These findings can help to put police brutality into context, and help to explain why studies find that White people’s confidence in police has increased since the non-indictment of police officers who murdered unarmed Black people including Aiyana Jones (age 7), Michael Brown (age 18), Eric Garner (age 43), Tamir Rice (age 12) and several other high-profile cases.

The study: (free PDF) Research on police confidence: Image by artist Mary Engelbreit, who donates all proceeds from this painting to the Michael Brown Jr Memorial Fund: #sociology #psychology #blacklivesmatter

What is Fair? A Cultural Perspective

Two people's hands are seen holding each end of a paper that says, "Unity? Truth?"

In an excellent post for our Science on Google+ community, Cheryl Ann MacDonald details three concepts central to the idea of fairness: social justice; personal freedom; and equal opportunity of outcome. (Make sure you watch the video at the end on the moral behaviour of animals!) I wanted to elaborate on some of the cultural variations of fairness.

Psychology Professor Jessica Sommerville’s research is intriguing. She looks at how babies react to fairness issues when they notice someone is the same “race” as them. Children will gravitate towards people who look like them, even if others have exhibited more equitable sharing behaviour. I see this shows how children learn to associate pro-social behaviour with people who remind them of their caregivers. To put it another way, babies learn to see the behaviour of people like themselves as being fair, even if they see outsiders being more fair and equal. This goes to the heart of positive stereotypes (“our” group is really kind!), and learned bias (“our” group is more fair than others).

There was also great New York Times article by Professor Paul Bloom on how babies learn about morality. He’s argued that babies are “hard-wired” to be moral, but of course socialisation matters. We know this because different cultures look at ideas of fairness in very distinct ways. Let’s start by looking at interpersonal ideas of what it means to be “fair.” Continue reading What is Fair? A Cultural Perspective

Psychological History of Wonder Woman

Psychological History of Wonder Woman

Psychologist William Marston created the Wonder Woman comic. There is a fascinating history of how social science influenced one of the most enduring comic book characters and how the social science was eventually removed from the story as censors and commercialisation took over.

“Feminism as Marston defined it was less about advocating gender equality and fighting sexism than it was a variant of the 19th-century temperance movement, which held that women were morally superior to men and, as such, responsible for controlling their appetites. Marston, who invented a precursor to the modern-day lie-detector test and was a top researcher in submission-and-domination sexuality, thought that society’s male-wrought problems would be solved by women—who, unlike men, would rule the world with love, compassion, and justice.”

Social Justice in Ferguson

Over 1,400 sociologists have signed an open letter protesting police brutality in Ferguson, USA. The letter includes practical measures to address the killing of Michael Brown and mistreatment of protesters in Ferguson. Coordinated by Sociologists for Justice, the letter shows that systemic racism needs to be addressed as well as wider socio-economic and political issues to ensure effective change is enacted.

The book The New Jim Crow outlines how the criminal justice system in America is affected by systemic racism. Additionally, decades of sociological research shows that police officers’ decision-making is affected by racial stereotypes and that better training can address this bias (more links below). Effective change in community policing begins by understanding the effects of the victimisation of people of colour and by addressing the institutional practices that lead to excessive policing of people of colour. Below are the suggestions outlined in the open letter, but I urge you to read the letter in full as it summarises sociological research on race bias in policing. You can also add your name to the open letter, as I have done.

Social Justice for Michael Brown and Ferguson
We are troubled by the killing of Michael Brown. We are troubled by the excessive show of force and militarised response to protesters who rightfully seek justice and demand a change in the treatment of people of colour by law enforcement. – Sociologists for Justice.

Continue reading Social Justice in Ferguson