Gender Stereotyping and Eating Disorders

Before I continue on with this final post of Psych 13, I just want to say that I have found this course to be very engaging and the concepts easy to apply to everyday life! I know summertime always seems to fly by, but the last six weeks have really gone by in the blink of an eye. I can definitely say that I am looking forward to the psychology courses that I will take in the future as I progress through my college career. In fact, this was my first ever college-level course (I will officially be a Freshman next month) and this course was a great way to kick it off!

My inspiration for this week’s post is based off of the Buzzed article linked in the most recent post on our class blog.

Particularly, I find number 11 on the list (with the girls’ onesie displaying the words “I hate my thighs”) very troubling. This message pretty much shows an EXPECTATION that most girls will grow up to loathe their bodies, when most of the problem is from such environmental factors! Sure, there can be a link be a genetic link for eating disorders within families, but they can be reasonably attributed to external forces within society. These forces, especially due to the rise of social media, can include photoshopped “fitspiration” pictures, triggering sayings, bullying about one’s weight/appearance, etc. The onesie basically normalizes this serious mental condition and makes a joke about the seriousness of it.

The stereotype here (that most young women deal with eating disorders) has sadly been true for so many women that now society pretty much projects the same beliefs and behaviors onto others, almost unconsciously. In some ways it is done consciously though, in the way in which clothes are marketed and models are so highly praised for their unattainable looks. Overall, idealized body images for women do go in cycles, but their will always be a “gold standard” to try to achieve at any time period. Stereotypes about women and eating disorders don’t always hold true, but unfortunately they commonly are–thanks to societal influences! A main issue with this stereotype, however, is that since this issue is so prevalent, many people don’t get help. I understand that the disorder itself is partially to blame for this, but since so many of one’s peers deal with the same feelings, a person may not think of the disorder (and its terrible health consequences) as “such a big deal”.

Another stereotype that relates to eating disorders is that it only effects women and rarely ever men. But in fact, there are many cases (though historically not reported nearly as much) in which men fall victim to eating disorders as well. Just as women try to be as thin and toned as possible, men may feel the need to be as “ripped” and muscular and strong as possible. Men aren’t immune from stereotypes after all. Men are generally expected to be tall and lean and athletic and “better” than others in many ways, with looks being no exception. Especially since men are expected to conceal their emotions and not be so forthcoming with their struggles, many don’t get the medical help their need to deal with their eating disorders. Yet another example of how stereotypes are harmful.

Overall, stereotypes are simply a menace to their victims’ mental and physical well-being.

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Groupthink and the Argument of Innate Racial Biases

As I was thinking about the content of this past week’s lectures and reading, I became interested in learning more about “groupthink”. Particularly, I wanted to find studies that supported this phenomenon just for the sake of reading and learning. But as I was preparing to write a post on this personal blog, I wanted to research a controversial social issue that could relate to groupthink in some way and could lead to an engaging piece of writing or conversation. So, the social issue I chose to research was race. It just so happens that when I googled… as a side note, imagine if literary scholars from the past could time travel to the present and witness us using this word as a verb- oh, how odd and confusing that would be! But, I digress…when I made a search using the keywords “groupthink social psychology race”, I came across an article surrounding your findings and comments, Professor Sommers! This one to be exact:

This writing piece, with the contributions from Prof. Sommers was engaging to read. It highlights the, almost natural, negative outcomes that arise from groupthink within one’s own race. The content of this piece, as well as other materials I have read about people’s unconscious racist tendencies, got me thinking and lead me into the directions of a new idea to research. Do the racist thoughts and decisions and actions initiated by people lean more towards innate or learned behavior?

I came upon another informative article.

It seems that “essentializing”, the new word I pick up on, relates to categorizing human characteristics just as much as it did in categorizing aspects of life for humans thousands of years ago. I suppose I am being unclear…but the article describes it well. As the article exemplifies, early humans couldn’t afford to categorize between poisonous and non-poisonous mushrooms or hungry/aggressive and passive wild animals when it came to protecting one’s life. So, in a way, I’ve gathered that some level of categorizing is normal in the human mind. Another point the article made is that humans, as they put it, are “herd animals” and show favoritism towards those who are similar– I guess because it promotes a sense of safety. In this case, if race is used as a category in the human mind, it is plausible that this makes an impact on human behavior as it relates to the treatment of and regard for individuals of a different race.

However, I am in no way trying to come across as racially-biased myself or trying to show that us humans are hard-wired to behave this way, in which all “learned” racial prejudices would be disregarded. I know that there is a component of racism that is picked up on from others, typically in childhood… Which begs the question: if every person “learned” to think ill of others of different races from their parents or other influential adults in their life, didn’t it all have to start somewhere with some legitimate psychological reasons? Isn’t it possible that racism in itself and by definition, not as the very complex term it is today, has roots in caveman culture?

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Milgram Study

I think that the recreation (well, to a degree) of Milgram’s study hypothesizing a difference in behavior due to the participants’ gender is really interesting! The outcome, showing no statistically significant difference when the “learners” were women is quite surprising. It really reinforces people’s tendency to conform to authority, so much so that they completely disregard additional factors (such as gender norms) that are very significant in society in their behavior! Gender norms and “expectations” and disparities between the genders have always been present and can seem so “normal” in everyday behavior. It seems that, in most cases, women are seen as weaker and need to be treated more gently, while men are “expected” to behave towards women in a way that reflects such. The fact that many men and women disregard gender norms that we are all confronted with in everyday society really speaks volumes to the power that authoritatives figures have on subjects. In this way, I can see why researchers would have used this study as a way to better comprehend the Nazis’ allegiance to Hitler, but that is such a complex psychological topic that has to be multi-factorial. I am not smart enough to understand these kinds of concepts. Haha.

So, in a way, are there some evolutionary/early human concepts behind the participants’ behavior in this study? These kinds of connections that can be drawn really make social psychology so interesting! I do know that early on in the course of human existence, people stayed in groups for relied on others for survival  but it certainly would make sense if the same applied when it came to following directions and adhering to the guidance of more “executive” individuals. Maybe early humans were just more comforted by the fact that they had guidance that if they had to fend for themselves. When there are many others in a group, social norms could get established and adhering to those also could bring about a sense of comfort and order to an individual.

As a side note, the Stanford Prison Experiment was..I don’t even know the best descriptive word for it…insane. I’ve seen a few reality shows on the horrors and struggles of prison but the way in which simple role-playing took form really says a lot about the human mind/personality.

All these really famous and telling studies of course unethical, but it seems that the procedures they followed really showed the most about the human psyche (and gave so much to the study of social psychology). For us readers and students, ready about the mental changes (under the right circumstances) of members of our own species may seem unfathomable. But as individuals, whether we want to admit it or not, may very well have acted in the same way. We like to think of ourselves as morally superior and in charge of ourselves at all times, but the research-based science goes way beyond that. The amount of uncertainty there is surrounding our brains, our actions and our quite animal-like behavior is amazing.

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Cognitive Dissonance and Diet

Out of this week’s variety of topics that were discussed, the theory of cognitive dissonance is still on my mind. What’s cool about this course (and social psychology in general) is that I can learn about such relatable and “normal” occurrences in everyday life (such as the discomfort associated with cognitive dissonance) with scientific and intellectual depth. In any case, a personal example is of how cognitive dissonance has impacted my own behavior is related to my health and diet. About a year ago, I adopted an exclusively plant-based diet for health AND ethical reasons. It just didn’t seem right to me that while so many people (myself included) talk about how cute and lovable many animals are, it is okay when a hunk of their flesh is smothered in sauce on a plate it is suddenly no big deal. Ever since I was young, hypocrisy irked me and eating a standard carnivorous diet while also claiming to love all animals seemed like an example of this. This kind of cognitive dissonance regarding my diet was a significant factor in my transition to a vegan diet.

Additionally, upon further research, I learned more about the realities of the inhumane treatment that exploited animals face every day. The labels such as “cage free” and “not treated with rBST hormones” are irrelevant and stupid when one really learns about how the majority of factory farmed animals are treated. When I learned about how these labels really aren’t reflective of any higher quality treatment for the animals, it seemed wrong to believe in this things just because sooth my conscience.

Another component of following a vegan diet, quality of health, was an strong influence in my diet transition. I experienced cognitive dissonance with the fact I read many health reports which highlight the unhealthy realities of consuming animal products yet I live in a society which focuses on diet, weight maintenance and disease prevention more than ever before. If I want to prevent cancer later in my life, not clog my arteries and avoid many other detriments to health, why would I continue to consume foods that are known carcinogens, dense in saturated fat, etc. just because other people eat this way? It didn’t make much sense to me.

On top of all this, it is worth noting that I have been diagnosed with an autoimmune liver disease. While I am not skilled in medicine at this point in my life (but my goal is to attend medical school in the future!), I do know that the liver processes fats and other nutrients for the body to be properly energized and plays a large role in the body in helping the body function as healthy as possible. If my liver is compromised due to a reason I couldn’t control, I DID have control in what food I would force it to process. I wanted to experiment with eating whole, unprocessed, plant-based foods to see if it impacted the health of my liver (with certain blood test markers being the quantitative evidence) and in turn, my overall energy levels. Call it the placebo effect, but I feel the positive impacts of my diet in my body.

This long (and I guess boring!) personal anecdote provides an example of how I recognized my own cognitive dissonance (even while devoid of the limited the social psychology knowledge I now have) and decided to take action to address the unpleasant feelings.

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Internal Attribution…The Root of Society’s Judgmental Tendencies?

The particular topic of Psych13 Week 2 that I find intriguing is the “Internal Attribution Theory”. I understand that people in general, including myself, can be too quick to jump to conclusions about others based on what they observe in a particular environment or quick encounter. Through this course, I have been made aware of a variety of social experiments that support this theory and they really have begun to think about human perception and relationships in a different way. I had previously read about the impact of one’s situational behavior due to their environment and immediate goals on their ability to really focus and multitask in a situation, but I never thought about how these factors can impact opinions and character attributions from outside observers and alter the views of said instinctively judgmental humans.

This internal attribution theory is bringing something to my mind…It is arguably one of the many reason as to why so much prejudice exists. Also, now the saying about “walking a mile in someone else’s shoes” seems to be related to this internal attribution theory. What if you saw a disgruntled person shouting at someone else in a public area over some trivial matter? Perhaps you’d think that they have some sort of mental or personality disorder and that they aren’t mature enough to behave themselves or control their emotions. Those thoughts could certainly come to my mind. But now I think about this hypothetical situation from a different lens. What if this person has a disease that is causing them pain or is being abused at home or dealing with any other kind of unpleasant circumstance in their life at that specific point in time? Those maladies they are facing are just manifesting in their emotions and communication with others. Just because this phantom person in a hypothetical situation was seen acting this way in one particular situation does not really provide any insight into who they really are internally. Similarly, what if there was a young student in an elementary school who gets bullied because he/she is forced to wear dirty, tattered, ill-fitting clothes and such a circumstance leads the bullies to attribute that he/she as an individual is stupid or a freak or incapable of conforming to the social norm of wearing clean, properly fitting clothing out in public? Most likely, those judgments would never be the student’s reason for coming to school like this, as the probably usually is growing up in a household faced with extreme poverty. But the financial status of a young child’s family is completely independent of his/her intelligence, quality of character or, for the case of social psychology, their ability to maintain personal hygiene, showing maturity in their experience or adhering to a social norm regarding clothing, or any other similar trait. In a case like this, a student could be wrongfully judged and ridiculed as if he/she has something mentally or behaviorally wrong about them that would lead them to be out in public looking that way.

Well I guess I am not the most coherent writer out there, but all I mean to say is that, thanks to Psych13, I now see a connection between the internal attribution theory and society’s tendency to rush to judgment about others. I can apply this knowledge in my everyday life so that now I can try to avoid unkind, false assumptions and prejudices (that many of use are inclined to make) about others just because of what I observe at first glance.

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Diffusion of Responsibility

The social psychology concept that most intrigued me this week was “diffusion of responsibility”. I can attest to being one who “diffuses” responsibility to others in many circumstances (from anything to volunteering to do something in class or helping others out in public) and I have been this way for as long as I can remember. When I would take the time to think about this way of behaving, I just attributed it to me being very shy and reserved (which I definitely am!) but sometimes I worried that this side of me meant that I had bad character! Thanks to this class, I have learned that this concept is real and applicable to many people in a wide of variety of circumstances. Phew! Maybe I am just “normal” and don’t need to google “How to save your soul from damnation”?! Thank you, Psych13.

To continue, the Kitty Genovese case was quite surprising to me. I understand that especially in such a traumatic circumstance, diffusion of responsibly and the fight-flight-fear response most likely were at play BUT the fact that as many as 38 (a disputed figure) people did not call the police is astonishing to me. Of course, I was not there as a witness to the crime and it is easy to judge the action (or really inaction) of the true witnesses while sitting here at my desk, but I would be surprised if there was a similar outcome in the present day. I feel like such crimes are taken more seriously today..? It’s not like violence or abuse is any worse in 2017 than it was in 1964, but perhaps there was more tolerance for it back then, especially in the area where Genovese lived? I may sound weird right now, but I just can’t understand why nobody at all intervened. Can’t one remain anonymous when calling 9-1-1? I am not knowledgeable with the law, but isn’t it possible to be the caller and not be legally obligated to testify in court? In any case, couldn’t there have been some sort of other, more primitive, scientifically-explained response within the minds of any of these witnesses, such as simply wanting to protect the member of their same species? I thought that in times of distress such as Kitty’s attack, human behavior tends to revert back to that of our caveman ancestors?

Upon reading about the case on Wikipedia, I found the concept of male/female power relations to be an interesting point. I hope that we learn more about this in the class, because I am sure there would be thought-provoking material to discuss. I suppose that males are viewed as more powerful than woman by many people, but in a circa-1964 civilized society I can’t believe that such brutality would be tolerated for this kind of reason. Sure, there were and still are many instances of there being inequality for women I can’t seem to make the connection of condoning fatal stabbing with men reigning superior.

Overall, of course, I don’t know how I would have reacted i 1964 and be a witness to the crime. It is easy to give my opinion now for the sake of a class, but I still would like to think that my empathy for Kitty would have overpowered my inclination to diffuse the responsibility of calling 9-1-1.

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