My research broadly examines how cultural stereotypes impact people's choices and behaviors. I am particularly interested in the role that stereotypes play in determining people's sense of belonging to important social groups.
Below are some of my interest areas. For a current list of publications, see my lab's webpage.
Distancing from an alienating stereotype
Why do women consider a future in computer science to a lesser extent than men (Dryburgh, 2000; National Science Foundation, 2009)? Might this be because the powerful image of the male “computer geek” makes women feel like they do not belong in the field? With colleagues, I found was that there was a clear stereotype of computer science students as people who, for example, “stay up late coding and drinking energy drinks” and have “no social life". In several behavioral experiments conducted at Stanford University and the University of Washington (Cheryan, Plaut, Davies, & Steele, JPSP, 2009), we found that women were less interested in working in companies that contained objects stereotypically associated with CS (e.g., Star Trek poster, video games) compared to identical companies that had non-stereotypical objects (e.g., nature poster, general interest books). The stereotypical cues evoked a masculinity that made women feel that they did not fit with the people in these environments. These results held even when the proportion of women in the environment was equal across the two types of companies. Attracting more women into computer science may therefore depend on broadening the image of who belongs in computer science.
Defending a threatened identity
Identity denial occurs whenever one of our important group memberships is called into question because we differ from the prototypical image of that group (Cheryan & Monin, JPSP, 2005). We found in a series of studies that Asian Americans were perceived as less American than their White American peers and that they realized that this was the case, despite their own contention that they were no less American. Asian Americans responded by attempting to prove their American identity by displaying knowledge of ingroup culture (such as American television shows). Having one’s identity threatened as a result of deviating from the prototypical group member can also occur to those who find that their skills or attributes fall short in some important domain. With colleagues, I examined men’s reactions when their masculinity was threatened because their strength did not measure up to that of their male peers (Cheryan, Cameron, Katagiri, & Monin, under review). Men who were told that they were weak exaggerated their height (by three-quarters of an inch), claimed more past relationship partners, and stated they were handier than men who thought they were of average strength. They also expressed less interest in receiving gift certificates to clothing stores than men who thought their strength was average.
Negative effects of positive stereotypes
Asian Americans are stereotyped as being above average in math ability. We found that blatantly activating ethnic identity among Asian American women caused them to falter under pressure and perform worse on a math test than when that identity was not activated. Ironically, making the expectations prominent by reminding them of their ethnic group put pressure on the participants to perform, which interfered with their ability to successfully complete the challenging math problems (Cheryan & Bodenhausen, Psych Sci , 2000).
Learn more about our research on my lab's website: http://depts.washington.edu/sibl/