Biernat Lab: Social Judgment and Shifting Standards
As a social psychologist, I am interested in understanding stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination. My research focuses on on how stereotypes affect judgments of and behavior displayed toward individual members of stereotyped groups. My model of "shifting standards" suggests that by virtue of holding a stereotype, we use category-specific standards against which we judge members of stereotyped groups. The result is that, for example, an individual woman might be judged as more aggressive than a comparable man, because she is judged relative to a lower (female) standard. Subjective language (especially adjectives) allow for these shifts to occur -- "very aggressive" can mean something quite different when applied to a woman versus a man. At the same time, if forced to choose who is more aggressive (the man or the woman), or if judgments are made in "objective" units of aggression, males tend to be seen as more aggressive than females. Thus, judgments of individuals may either assimilate to group stereotypes, or contrast from them. Similarly, stereotypes may lead us to set low minimum standards for members of groups stereotyped as lacking some attribute, but also higher standards to confirm they posses the attribute. For example, in a masculine work domain, women may need to show less evidence of competence to meet minimum standards for the job, but more evidence of competence to confirm their ability to perform. This research points to the complex ways that stereotypes affect social judgment, and suggests that individual targets of judgments may sometimes receive contradictory feedback.