Cover story

Kevin Lewis

March 07, 2019

The media whiteness of Social Security and Medicare
Rosalee Clawson & Janel Jett
Politics, Groups, and Identities, Winter 2019, Pages 207-218


The mass media often represent black Americans in negative, stereotypical, and inaccurate ways. Scholars know much less about how the media characterize white citizens and the implications of these depictions for public opinion and public policy. In this research, we examine the whiteness of two popular social welfare programs — Social Security and Medicare. We argue that at least part of the popularity of these policies stems from their construction as programs serving white Americans. The media whiteness of these programs creates a positive depiction since many citizens perceive whites as hard-working, intelligent, and deserving of benefits. To examine the portrayal of Social Security and Medicare, we analyze media coverage of these programs in five news magazines between 2007 and 2017. We demonstrate that news magazines portray these well-liked social programs by overwhelmingly highlighting white beneficiaries. Further, the media often depict these white recipients in a sympathetic and positive manner. This is in sharp contrast to media coverage of poor people that disproportionately, inaccurately, and unsympathetically focuses on black citizens.

Stereotypes and Belief Updating
Katherine Baldiga Coffman, Manuela Collis & Leena Kulkarni
Harvard Working Paper, February 2019


We explore how beliefs respond to noisy information about own ability across a range of tasks, with a particular focus on how gender stereotypes impact belief updating. Participants in our experiments take tests of their ability across different domains. Absent feedback, beliefs of own ability are strongly influenced by gender stereotypes. We then provide noisy feedback about own absolute performance to participants and elicit posterior beliefs. Gender stereotypes have significant predictive power for posterior beliefs, both through their influence on prior beliefs (as predicted by a Bayesian model) but also through their influence on updating. Both men and women’s beliefs are more responsive to information in gender congruent domains than gender incongruent domains. This is primarily driven by differential reactions to exogenously-received good news about own ability: both men and women react more to good news when it arrives in a gender congruent domain than when it arrives in a gender incongruent domain. Our results have important implications for understanding how feedback shapes gender gaps in self-assessments.

Gender Bias in Pediatric Pain Assessment
Brian Earp et al.
Journal of Pediatric Psychology, forthcoming

Objective: Accurate assessment of pain is central to diagnosis and treatment in healthcare, especially in pediatrics. However, few studies have examined potential biases in adult observer ratings of children’s pain. Cohen, Cobb, & Martin (2014. Gender biases in adult ratings of pediatric pain. Children’s Health Care, 43, 87–95) reported that adult participants rated a child undergoing a medical procedure as feeling more pain when the child was described as a boy as compared to a girl, suggesting a possible gender bias. To confirm, clarify, and extend this finding, we conducted a replication experiment and follow-up study examining the role of explicit gender stereotypes in shaping such asymmetric judgments.

Methods: In an independent, pre-registered, direct replication and extension study with open data and materials (, we showed participants the same video from Cohen et al. (2014), with the child described as a boy or a girl depending on condition. We then asked adults to rate how much pain the child experienced and displayed, how typical the child was in these respects, and how much they agreed with explicit gender stereotypes concerning pain response in boys versus girls.

Results: Similar to Cohen et al. (2014), but with a larger and more demographically diverse sample, we found that the “boy” was rated as experiencing more pain than the “girl” despite identical clinical circumstances and identical pain behavior across conditions. Controlling for explicit gender stereotypes eliminated the effect.

“Should Have Known Better than to Fraternize with a Black Man”: Structural Racism Intersects Rape Culture to Intensify Attributions of Acquaintance Rape Victim Culpability
Audrey Miller
Sex Roles, forthcoming


Rape culture is characterized by prevalent rape of women by male acquaintances, which is exacerbated in the aftermath by negative social responses including attributions of victim culpability. In prior research, collaborators and I found that, consistent with norm theory, perceiving sociolegal context as unclear and ineffective in expressing that rape of women is a crime (vs. perceiving that law clearly and effectively expresses that rape is a crime) paradoxically intensified negative reactions and culpability attributions toward a woman raped by a male acquaintance. In the current research, I tested the hypothesis that, amidst rape culture, structural racism — in particular, disparate hypersexuality stereotyping of Black men — paradoxically would intensify attributions of victim culpability toward a woman raped by a Black male acquaintance. In Study 1, 268 students at a university in the Southern United States stereotyped Black men and Black women as more hypersexual than same-gender counterparts of other races/ethnicities. In Study 2, 238 students from the same university attributed more culpability to an acquaintance rape victim whose perpetrator was Black (vs. perpetrators of other races/ethnicities), and this effect resulted in part from rape-propensity stereotyping that was disparately activated by the Black perpetrator. Taken together, the present research highlights that intersectional dynamics do not work exclusively within members of particular groups, where marginalized identities coincide, but also in the contextual space that invisibly but undeniably affects people’s lives. Suggestions for combatting rape culture, structural racism, and their intersections are discussed.

Does “Privilege Checking” Make Us Less Racist, or More? Generation and Political Orientation Matter
Louisa Egan Brad, Tatiana Spisz & Chloé Tanega
Race and Social Problems, March 2019, Pages 1–14


In recent years, White-dominated communities have begun to attend more to issues of diversity and inclusion. To this effect, many communities have instituted formal diversity training sessions. Frequently, these include exercises designed to facilitate White people’s awareness of how whiteness shapes their experiences. We investigated how generation and political orientation might shape individuals’ responses to such interventions in a context in which commitments to social justice compete with concerns with abstract liberalism. A national online sample responded to a racial privilege checklist (or a control checklist), then expressed attitudes about an policy that enables hosts’ racial discrimination against guests. The present evidence indicates that while a White privilege salience exercise may increase anti-racist attitudes in moderate and liberal Pre-Millennials, it is associated with a backlash effect in Millennial conservatives and moderates, who express more racist attitudes when White privilege is salient compared with a control condition. We discuss potential mechanisms, as well as implications for diversity initiatives and limitations.

Sex differences in serial killers
Marissa Harrison, Susan Hughes & Adam Jordan Gott
Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences, forthcoming


Research directly comparing empirical data of the behaviors and crimes of male serial killers (MSKs) versus female serial killers (FSKs) within one study is nonexistent. This study sought to make such a direct comparison. We examined sex differences in serial murder that may be byproducts of ancestral tendencies. Specifically, we proposed and tested a “hunter-gatherer” model of serial murder. Using the mass media method to collect archival data, we obtained information about 55 MSKs and 55 FSKs (matched for age of first murder) who committed their crimes in the United States from 1856 to 2009. We found that MSKs more frequently act as “hunters,” stalking and killing targeted strangers in dispersed areas, while FSKs more frequently are “gatherers,” killing those who are around them and familiar to them and gaining profit from their crimes. We also documented other sex differences between serial murderers. We discuss these findings from an evolutionary psychological perspective.

An Analyst by Any Other Surname: Surname Favorability and Market Reaction to Analyst Forecasts
Jay Heon Jung et al.
Journal of Accounting and Economics, forthcoming


We find that forecast revisions by analysts with more favorable surnames elicit stronger market reactions. The effect is stronger among firms with lower institutional ownership and for analysts with non-American first names. Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and France and Germany's opposition to the Iraq War, revisions by analysts with Middle Eastern and French or German surnames, respectively, generated weaker market reaction. Surname favorability is not associated with forecast quality, but it has complementary effects with forecast performance on analysts’ career outcomes. Surname favorability mitigates under-reaction to forecast revisions. These findings are distinct from the effects of ethnic, cultural proximity, or in-group bias.

Gendertrolls just want to have fun, too
Amanda Paananen & Arleigh Reichl
Personality and Individual Differences, 15 April 2019, Pages 152-156


Previous research suggests online trolls choose their victims at random, and are motivated by sadistic tendencies. Gendertrolling, however, is directed specifically toward women (and those perceived as feminists or social justice warriors) and is often part of an organized effort to silence their voices. Thus, the purpose of this study was to determine if gendertrolling is predicted by hostile sexism and social dominance orientation, rather than the sadism underlying random trolling. Male participants (N = 347) were recruited online from highly trollable websites, including Youtube, Reddit, 4chan, and Amazon Mechanical Turk, and were asked to complete a series of personality and attitude inventories. As predicted, gendertrolling was correlated with both hostile sexism and social dominance orientation; however, a regression analysis showed neither variable was a unique predictor. Instead, gendertrolling was significantly related to random trolling, and both types of trolling were related to sadism, particularly physical sadism. Therefore, gendertrolling is evidently motivated less by sexism than is commonly believed.

A Thin Slice of Science Communication: Are People’s Evaluations of TED Talks Predicted by Superficial Impressions of the Speakers?
Ana Gheorghiu, Mitchell Callan & William Skylark
Social Psychological and Personality Science, forthcoming


First impressions based on physical characteristics and superficial information predict a wide variety of social judgments and outcomes. We build on recent work examining the effects of such impressions on the communication of scientific research and ideas to the general public. A large diverse sample viewed and evaluated scientific TED talks, while a separate group viewed short, silent excerpts of each video and judged the speakers on three core sociocognitive traits: competence, morality, and sociability. Neither the perceived scientific quality nor the entertainment value of the talks was meaningfully predicted by the thin-slice judgments; likewise, they were independent of the speakers’ age, gender, ethnicity, and attractiveness. We propose that these null results arise because the influence of superficial visual cues was overwhelmed by the wealth of more diagnostic information and by our participants’ attentiveness to this information. Our results suggest limits to the predictive power of superficial impressions.

Shifting Stereotypes of Welfare Recipients Can Reverse Racial Biases in Support for Wealth Redistribution
Erin Cooley, Jazmin Brown-Iannuzzi & Caroline Boudreau
Social Psychological and Personality Science, forthcoming


When people imagine welfare recipients, research indicates that they often imagine lazy, Black Americans who are perpetually dependent on government assistance. In the present work, we investigate the last assumption — perpetual dependence. We hypothesize that providing information about recipients’ ability to obtain financial independence may reduce racial biases in support for welfare policies. In Study 1, when given no information about recipients’ ability to obtain independence, White participants reported less support for the program and a greater desire to monitor recipient spending, when the majority of recipients were Black (vs. White). However, learning that most recipients gained independence (i.e., they obtained jobs and exited the program) eliminated or reversed these racial biases — an effect associated with reduced negative work ethic stereotypes of welfare recipients (Study 2). We conclude that perceived independence of welfare recipients may shift work ethic stereotypes and increase support for welfare policies, regardless of recipient race.

The effects of race/ethnicity and racial/ethnic identification on general trust
Jan Stets & Phoenicia Fares
Social Science Research, forthcoming


General trust in others can facilitate social cooperation and reduce uncertainty on a personal level. However, those from the dominant group in society are more likely to trust than those from minority groups. We examine the gap in trust for whites compared to blacks and Hispanics in the U.S., with special attention to how strongly individuals identify with their racial/ethnic group, which may help restore trust for some when it is lacking. Using the 2014 GSS Identity Module, we find, as have others, that whites show higher trust than blacks and Hispanics, but when we examine people's identification with their racial/ethnic group, whites show lower trust than blacks and Hispanics. A strong racial/ethnic identification among the majority (whites) is associated with group threat and reduced trust. We discuss how identification with one's racial/ethnic group appears to have different effects depending on whether one is of a minority or majority status.

Reducing Rape-Related Attitudes Utilizing a Cognitive Dissonance Paradigm
Sarah Steinmetz, Matt Gray & Elizabeth Raymond
Violence Against Women, forthcoming


This study used a cognitive dissonance mechanism that required college students to write essays dispelling previously endorsed rape myth beliefs. Results indicate that participants in the cognitive dissonance condition reported less rape myth endorsement at a 2-week follow-up than the control group. Effect sizes were large. The cognitive dissonance condition also led to more sustained internal motivation to respond in a nonsexist manner and earlier identification of sexually coercive behavior. Counter-attitudinal advocacy appears to result in sustained decreases in endorsement of rape-supportive attitudes, which could lead to safer communities for women by altering beliefs predictive of sexual assault perpetration.

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