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Stereotype Processes and Status Characteristics Theory

Sarah Ogilvie

Consideration of the possible links between stereotype processes and status characteristics theory, has led researchers to examine the role that implicit knowledge and explicit attitudes play in the formation of status based performance expectations and thus, in task-related behaviour (Foddy, 1997). While it may be the case that in general women are perceived as being less competent than men, this belief may be found to vary as a result of the level to which stereotypes about women are known or endorsed. To investigate this proposal, Foddy (1997) conducted a study that aimed to assess whether endorsement or knowledge of gender stereotypes was predictive of competence-related behaviour.

Based on the assertion that status organising processes are largely unconscious and noncalculating and therefore may be similar to the processes involved in activating implicit stereotypic knowledge (Berger et al., 1977), Foddy surmised that implicit knowledge of gender stereotypes may be operating in the formation of expectations for competence.

In this study, competence-related behaviour in a mixed-sex dyad was measured as the level to which influence of the partner was rejected. The paradigm used was a parallel form of the standardised experimental setting (Norman et al., 1988). Implicit knowledge of gender stereotypes was measured via response latencies on a lexical decision task, and explicit beliefs through attitudes toward women scales. It was proposed that in order for implicit knowledge to be more predictive of behaviour than explicit beliefs, the same level of influence rejection would be evident across participants with differing levels of explicit attitudes toward women. Alternatively, if explicit attitudes better predict competence-related behaviour, then male participants lower in explicit prejudice toward women would show lower levels of influence rejection than highly prejudiced males. It was found that explicit or controlled attitudes concerning women were significantly correlated with competence-related behaviour, while implicit knowledge of gender stereotypes were not.

On the basis of these results, Foddy (1997) argued that expectations for competence which give rise to competence-related behaviour, can be better understood if individual differences in explicit beliefs about a stereotype are taken into account.

While these findings appeared to contradict the prediction of status characteristics theory that automatic processing is involved in generating expectations for competence, Foddy's results (1997) may be explained by the fact that more controlled deliberative processing may be the product of more controlled, explicit beliefs (Dovidio et al., 1997). In a study by Dovidio et al. (1997) evaluations of race-related behaviour in an interracial setting were measured along with spontaneous non-verbal behaviours related to negative arousal, such as eye gaze and blinking. It was found that the spontaneous behaviours correlated with implicit knowledge of the racial stereotype, and that the evaluative task requiring more deliberative responses correlated with explicit race-related beliefs.

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