Alva Noë on Gender Equality and “Looping Effects”

August 10, 2011 § 22 Comments

Really a comment on a former post with a nod to a recent science competition and a jab at Larry Summers.


§ 22 Responses to Alva Noë on Gender Equality and “Looping Effects”

  • davidhanaway says:

    I really found the part of the article where the professor from the private university primed questions to the students. The fact that the men who were asked their gender outperformed the males that had to identify with their university is odd. Just because they were asked a different question to start off the test and the section that was primed to identify themselves as males and actually did better is stunning. I would really like to see the actual statistics on the test, I wonder how much of a difference the results were. Also, I can’t believe that the fact that the females were the opposite way. It got the point across that gender really doesn’t play a role in getting grades, its more so who we identify ourselves as. If males identify themselves (males) rather than their university they must think more highly of themselves. Does this give them more confidence or what is the exact reason? Also, the fact that females who identified themselves as being a part of the university rather than a female made me think that women automatically think of themselves as being less smart. I feel like society, more so in the past than now, really set these standards. This is appalling to me that we can be primed to do better or worse just by asking one questions and having a different view of yourself. I believe that over time women will stop thinking lower of themselves just because of their gender, and become equal to males. I hope that the Google contest where all 3 girls won their age divisions is only a small version of what we are going to see in the future.

  • Lan Nguyen says:

    It is interesting to find that human beings associate themselves with all characteristics, attitudes, beliefs, etc which, they believe, could make them into who they want themselves to become. For example, if we want to be a professor, we will want to be knowledgeable and smart. If we want to be the cheerleader, we need to be pretty and flexible.

    But this looping effect is not built up by ourselves, yet our peers and society. As much as we want to be a professor, we hope others view us as one. Therefore, we care about what others expect in us to be more like of a professor. And we “copy” those attributes of a known professor so that people would associate us with the term “professor”.

    Once we are the rule-breaker that even though we want to be a professor, we still believe that professor does not necessarily carry those attributes “knowledgeable and smart”. We can have any attitudes, beliefs, feelings, emotions as we want as long as we finish our responsibilities: delivering knowledge to the students. At first, people will feel strange but still respectful. This is the case of those three girls in the Google science fair. It takes time for the society to cut down on the association of a word. It takes time for the society to finally not feel surprised when a person goes beyond his or her association which was unconsciously laid upon him/her.

    It will come to the stage when people will be indifferent no matter what a woman or a man becomes.

  • jeromiharris says:

    This article by Alva Noë was very surprising to me. The first thing that caught my eye was that test done on male & females. I would have made an educated guess that the group primed private university would perform better that the gender primed group regardless of gender. The reason why is because as humans we were better in groups than we do as individuals in my opinion. So by splitting the group to think, “Oh I’m a girl or I’m a boy” (assuming this is why men did better in this group than women) instead of we are a group with a common goal perplex me. Additionally, after reading this article it made me start to think about the Brown v Education case when the psychologist tested two Barbie (one white & the other black) to a young black girl. The tested centered on how black children see themselves in comparison to white children. That we do place ourselves into unnecessary category, but I think it is due to the factors of our society and culture that make these categories and force us to be a part of them. Lastly, I feel when he said,

    “Human beings don’t just fall under categories. We don’t just happen to be professors, or cheerleaders, Americans or Pakistanis, gay or straight. We think of ourselves as being these kinds of people. And with these thoughts comes a whole matrix of associations, beliefs, attitudes, feelings, interests, anxieties, and expectations”

    is how stereotyping or misconstrued sayings begins. For example, when I hear people say, “Oh he or she is acting black.” I would always ask the person how do you act a color and what it exactly means to be black for them to be acting like one.

    Lastly, I feel the reason people fall into these categories is for comfort from those similar to them and just to fit in somewhere. Since society and culture created these categories, we believe we belong in certain groups for certain reasons. When we choose to leave those categories and all association with it society may ostracized us because we are of society’s grouping. In the case of the three girls, in this modern time those girls may or may not be ostracized for going out of the category of girls should be good at science.

  • Mai Quynh Ta says:

    The cognitive differences of men and women do not affect the performance of one; it is the psychological differences that affect. The experiments between a physics professor vs a cheerleader and gender mark vs university name mark prove it. The article points out a very good point which is you are what you think. It reminds me of the commencement of Meryl Streep at Banard College. During school year, she imagined and acted as a girl who every boys liked and in the end, she lived with her own character and the character become part of her. Here is the link:

    The article of Alva note is just an example of how many men, even the very intellectual one, ie, President of Havard University, still think that there is a huge difference between men and women in terms of cognitive ability. But it is not true and time is proving it. The article of three girls winning first prize in the Science Fair is one example.

    There is only one small point in the article “Gender is Dead” that really triggered me. The researcher asked the volunteers to imagine him and her being a Physics Professor and imagine what HIS life is; and to imagine him and her being a cheer leader and imaging what HER life is. There is a very clear separation here where Physics Professor has to be a man and Cheer Leader has to be a woman. Why did the researchers do that? Why not saying a male/female professor or male/female cheer leader? Would the result of the professor imagination include female volunteer? and if yes, if there is any comparison of a male imaginative professor and a female imaginative professor? And the same question apply to the cheer leader imagination with the little switch on female to male.

  • Tinamarie Rintye says:

    First I must comment that Noë is seems to like comment on subjects that cause many people to react in both positive and negative ways. I personal thought the articles subject was not a big issue to comment on, and I’m not ignorance to that fact woman get pay least then man, it I just never associated my self in to such categories. I’m a female, but I felt it never held me back with pursuit a degree in science and mathematics. The study that reveals that people have pre-decided words and attitudes associate with a position or title that one holds is nothing profound. Most people could come to that conclusion on their own for we associate with others who are the definition of that position and othesr who wavier from it, so mentioning that study really had no effect on the argument for it stems from common sense. Then the study that took this notion a bit further, with priming a person to associate with their sex or to their university then take a test. The data again reveal that man prime to think there the “man” did better than other guys and woman associate with their college did better than the other woman. Ok so the data goes back to the original idea, but a question that arises is how much better did they do to their counter parts. I think this claim could have been stronger if physical numbers were given. Maybe the looping effect is a real provided by the data from the studies, but this effect comes from a person perspectives and how their society build the definitions of a certain title. It has nothing to do with biology or are genes, it has everything do with society. So it seems that it makes more sense to make society least critical of titles.

  • Kathy Wu says:

    The “looping effect” as discussed by Noe reminds me of the previous blog post. Nolan points out that schools feel like prisons for the students and students who are treated like criminals are more likely to be come criminals. This example is something that I’ve been exposed to throughout my life, but the study that showed men did better on exams after identifying their gender, was something that I didn’t think about. Our society has been brought up to believe that males dominate. After being conditioned to believe that for so long, it can become a subconscious thought. It’s not the identification of gender that’s the problem; it’s how the individual views the label given to them. I don’t think gender plays a role in intelligence; therefore if I took the test I don’t believe that I would do worse by identifying my gender.

    I find it hard to believe that people were able to pretend to be professors so well that they scored better. With the gender and criminal situation, people spend their whole life thinking they’re not capable of achieving. They begin to think, “Why bother, if no one will ever take me seriously.” However the professor/cheerleader study was a short-term identification and was not directly related to the individual. Also the fact that people described professors as clever and cheerleaders as gorgeous isn’t a surprise. Professors are paid for their intelligence and cheerleaders are paid for their beauty. That’s not to say that professors are ugly and cheerleaders are dumb, but those attributes aren’t important for the job.

  • Cheng-Hua Wang says:

    From the article on gender, I get the idea that how well we perform is based on our outlook on what we are trying to do. Our outlook seems to be based on pre-existing notions of the quality of what we are. If people who believe themselves to be more capable are in fact more capable and those who are more capable believe themselves to be more capable then providing an environment that promotes a “You can do it” attitude could promote more capable future generations. This could erase perceived mental differences between gender, race, sexual orientations, and other labels people may have for themselves or others. Once these preconceived notions of what we are disappear, I feel that our true potential can come to the surface.

  • rdl37 says:

    The belief that men are more logical then women is very prevalent in our society. The studies provided above demonstrate that this belief is enough to make it true. I find that to be very interesting. I think this concept can be transposed over any stereotype. If someone believes that they fit into a specific stereotype they will subconsciously or consciously behave within those contexts. I would like to see if this study could lead to practical applications. If we could place people in a context that would allow them to perform better in the specific application then this concept could be revolutionary.

    This is based on the assumption that the studies done are accurate. I am curious to know to what confidence level these conclusions were drawn. Also why not compare the women and men directly why compare men to university type, and women to university type? This study does not necessarily lead to the conclusion presented by these authors.

  • prj32 says:

    I found this article particularly interesting because I always find myself thinking about this and wondering what truly shapes us as individuals. I do agree with some of the findings mentioned in the article, however, I think that some the conclusions that were drawn were a little too vague. I do not think that those who performed better in the test did so just because they had identified themselves as professors, but rather because that is who they actually are or are aspiring to be. Also, the fact that they either described themselves as “intelligent” or “gorgeous” depending on their choice between cheerleaders and professors, is only obvious. Overall, I do not think that this particular study supports the conclusion that were drawn.

    When it comes to the looping effect mentioned in the article, I am not completely sure if I solely agree with the following statement, “It is only if you have the relevant concepts, that you can come to think of yourself as classified as this way or that.” I think this is the other way around, in other words, you first have to believe you are “something” and only then can you categorize yourself as being that “something.” In other words, the way we act and our beliefs determine who we are and only then are we able to place ourselves into these categories. Nonetheless, I do concur with Hacking’s thought that we have the ability to construct our identity. Finally, I found the last study to be the most interesting and revealing. I think that this study has more to do with the way society sees the difference in genders rather than being a biological matter. In essence, I think that the finding for this particular study show how men are more encouraged by the fact that they are the dominant gender (according to society), while women attribute their success to their hard work.

  • Steve Ford says:

    “Would you want to free yourself from your self-categories, if you could?” This is a powerful question. Our self-categories define who we are. We could look back in history and see that people are always getting grouped in some category. The categories keep changing and at times get more specific. I would free myself from my self-categories if I could. I don’t think this would change who I am or how people think of me. The Romans might not have had the term heterosexuality, but they were extremely open about sex. Generally, I think Europe is known to be more open about sex then America. Everything has a category and I think it is person specific because one person can think one thing about me, while another person thinks the total opposite about me. The article was certainly a nice read and gave me a new perspective on things. The test results about gender and groups are surprising to me because how can someone become smarter or dumber based on how they perceive a Professor or cheerleader? Nevertheless, the girls’ winning the Google contest is great and gender equality is really shaping up.

  • smb366 says:

    I was a little confused about the part of the article where the professor from the private university primed questions to the students. Men that were asked about their gender prior to the test outperformed males that had to identify their university. What do these two questions have in common and how a man is going to perform on a test? I would also like to know what kind of tests these were as well as some information regarding this matter, like possible statistics? And the fact that this was the opposite case for women, that women who were primed to think of themselves as private university students rather than women did better on the tests? I do not see a correlation between any of these priming questions. I also want to ask, why does it matter? If you are taking a test and are prepared for it, it should not matter how you are “primed” or classifying yourself as a man, woman, or private school student. And why weren’t other questions asked, why did it specifically have to be gender questions? The author mentioned heterosexuals and gay individuals, how come a question was not asked about that. I wonder if a homosexual individual, whether man or woman would have performed better or worse on a test?
    Even at our own university, specifically in the engineering departments, they work extremely hard to recruit young women to study in the fields of engineering. This made me think about the Google article on how three girls recently won a top science fair competition. I do think that women are increasingly moving into this fields but I hope it is for a good reason. I want women to compete in these fields because they want to, not just because some university recruited them and offered them a large scholarship so that they could go there. I hope one day that women will think higher of themselves and be able to be primed for a test and classify themselves as a female and be able to perform higher than they would if they classified themselves as a private college student. It really is scary to think that we can be primed to perform better or worse on an exam just by simple asking a question. I still have many questions about this topic. Will human beings always be put in stereotypes that will determine how we are going to succeed in life? Will there ever be a day that stereotypes will be gone and an individual can succeed simply because they can, instead of because they were a man or woman?

  • It is interesting to think of ourselves as the same when gender is so obvious. It separates us in ways that it is hard to forget. But when I thought about the question that was posed at the beginning to imagine myself as the cheerleader and as the professor. After thinking about for a little while I came to the conclusion that I really did not see myself in any of those roles, and from the results that were discussed I came to the determination that I really do not fall in either of the categories so I guess I do not really know how that works now. The reason I bring this up is because the piece is about gender and it’s role now but this test that they did does not apply to gender it applies to people. Just because you are a woman does not mean you would relate more to the cheerleader. So from the beginning I was unsure of where this piece was going to go. Though later in the piece Noe discusses the difference in thinking between men and women at a private college and this I feel applies more to the piece since it is a comparison. From the last example I realized what the point of the piece was and it was supposed to show how we as people categorize ourselves because we are just built that way and there is nothing we can do about it. And personally if I had to option to free myself from self categories I probably wouldn’t because the categories I belong to our part of my identity.

  • Evan Samlin says:

    I think Mr. Noe raises a very compelling point in his article — we are what we imagine ourselves to be, not what biology says we should be. As a male, I don’t look as females as being any more or less intellectually capable than I am, and I am heartened to see that those three young women did well at the Google Science Fair. The fact that they are female, though, should be secondary to the fact that they are good scientists. After all, I’m sure that’s how they pictured themselves — as scientists — and to congratulate as women seems patronizing.

    As for the results of Cordelia Fine’s study, I found them interesting, but requiring further discussion. I tried to put myself in the shoes of a study participant and to think about the implications of classifying myself by my gender or by my university enrollment. At first, I felt certain that I would perform equally well regardless of how I’d been “primed.” Plus, what exactly is a “marked improvement” — did all males classifying themselves as such perform better than those who classified themselves as Drexel students? Or was it a few that skewed the scores? And was the study performed multiple times, or just the one time? It’s not completely impossible that the differences in performance were just due to statistical variation.

    Then, I realized that as a “male” I think of myself as strong, sharp, and determined — the perfect mindset for taking an exam. In a way, this is how I have always felt, because it is the role I’ve assumed within today’s society. As a Drexel student, I think of myself as one of 10,000 men and women, all competing for academic prestige and the few promising jobs available to us. I wonder, “How are other students going to do on this exam? Are they as worried about it as I am? What will happen to my GPA if I get a ‘C’… will someone else get chosen for that Co-op job?” Clearly, these thoughts can serve as a distraction, even if just a small one, that would affect my performance.

  • annaychin says:

    Ian Hacking’s Looping Effects sound like the concept of ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’. Once you start thinking of yourself a certain way, you begin to act in a manner to reaffirm the way we think of ourselves. And the way we come to think of ourselves is through several factors from what people tell us, what our parents tell us, and what the media tells us. And I think that is what happens when it comes to gender inequalities in America. I know it sounds very feminist, but I think the gender inequality in America comes from the years of gender oppression before the women’s suffrage movement and the civil rights movement. There are successful women in math, science, and business – fields men typically are concerned male career fields. But for every successful working woman, I think there are at least twice if not more, women who use their looks to their advantage, rather than their brains. I don’t think these women are necessarily dumb, but clever in their own right. But the fact of the matter is that they use superficial looks to achieve their means instead of using their brains or intelligence. I think women see this and prefer to take the easier route by relying in their appearance to succeed in life. Also, if there are left over prejudices that are vocalized around a girl, it may make them more likely to think that way of themselves. The media portrays women in a superficial, physical way. Even ‘career’ women on television look like super models. That coupled with people telling a girl, “You’re so pretty,” rather than, “You’re so smart,” can affect the way the girl thinks of herself. They begin to see themselves as physically attractive or unattractive. If society didn’t make it so easy for a girl’s appearance to affect their career, perhaps there would be more women in the scientific field. In essence, if it were a completely equal, objective, and visually blind world.
    I think it was interesting though, the fact that Harvard’s president would make such asinine comments. I would think someone who’s use to making public statements or being in the public light (because there is such a spotlight on Harvard University) he would know how to censor himself from saying such discriminatory comments. I do have to disagree that it all boils down to stereotypes. I think people stereotyping males and females play a part in the gender inequality, but the issue is far deeper than that.

  • taylorlnolan says:

    Alva Noë makes the argument in his article Gender is Dead! Long Live Gender! that the concepts of gender differences do not come from biology, but rather they are defined by society. Noë uses examples of other terms, like homosexuality and heterosexuality, which have only come to be in recent history to show a difference. The question was brought up of what do these terms mean to individuals in society, especially when it comes to gender. The definitions that we have about gender are what individuals try and fit into; there are clear boundaries and these can become limits for people. Noë explains that people will define themselves as male, female, student, or cheerleader in order to fit themselves into those categories. If we don’t use terms that already have stigmatized meanings then we are free to decide for ourselves what we are; we can all work to break down the definitions that are in place so that there is more opportunity to not be have preconceived labels placed upon us.

  • lauracava says:

    I agree that people associate themselves with who they percieve themselves to be and by doing this it affects how one acts and performs. The cheerleader and professor example showed that when someone was to perceive themself to be one of these, the outcomes were different. Describing ourselves in these terms has changed how we think today. I don’t believe that someone calling themself gay makes them act a certain way because people are born gay. Saying you’re a cheerleader is different from saying someone is gay. People have a choice to be a cheerleader or a professor and therefore may act in a certain way, but someone who is called gay is not going to act any differently. I do believe that people may judge someone by what that person calls themselves.

    • lauracava says:

      I thought it was interesting in the study how people who perceived themselves as a professor performed better then those who perceived themselves as a cheerleader. I think people stereotype and by doing this people act the way they think someone should like for example, cheerleaders are thought of as not very smart and those who had to act as though they were cheerleaders performed poorly. People associate themselves to the way they want to be thought of or percieved as.

  • I believe there is certainly a point to be said about individuals determining their own performance, sublimity if you will, by the way they view themselves. However, I did find it fairly weak evidence to provide the example of the Professor and the Cheerleader. Seeing a professor as more intellectual than a cheerleader seems fairly obvious: however, to suggest a man is smarter than a woman seems far more subliminal, even in our popular culture.

    I would also say that the argument seemed to break down and become far weaker as soon as the author attempted to introduce the Ancient Athenian, homosexuality, and identity. The author could’ve chosen far better examples to prove the point yet this particular one was by far the weakest. Overall, the one thing that continuous emerged into my mind was the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis. The argument laid forth seemed to follow more a long those lines: Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis is the idea that one’s language literally changes how you see, perceive, and interact with reality.

    I appreciated the fact that ti came with some different, scientific experiments which surprised me. However, I have a general issue with articles like this: it spends an entire piece discussing the realities of the gender gap as well as social identities…yet little to nothing on how to resolve it. I understand that this was not the thesis of her story however it feels horrifically wasteful to discuss an idea like whether or not gender inequality and identity issues exist (they do) and not work on solutions.

    Identifying a problem is one thing, yet my issue is that this problem has been identified for decades. The experiments were interesting, admittedly, however it’s far more evidence than I need or care for.

    – Cliff

  • This was a very interesting couple of articles. The fact that such a high up person in the secondary education system made this comment kind of makes you wonder if there is some sex bias on the acceptance of girls to prestige level colleges. Surely there is, but this verifies it to a new degree. But this is neither here or there. The purpose of the response article was to give evidence that females are advancing up the ladder in education. While they were completely able to do this all along, no one ever really gave them the chance or choose their male counterpart instead.

    While it may sound a little sexist, women are better at men then some things, and vice verse. But in terms of intelligence, we’re pretty equal. each race has it’s extremes, both high and low, in intelligence. I completely agree with Alva Noë’s response to the original comment: time to look at individuals, not genders

  • Anqi Li says:

    After reading the article, I can only say Alva shocked me so much, by no matter his argument or the “Looping effect”. In the article, Alva said:”…And once you can think of yourself as being a person of a certain kind, you can also…”, this looks more like a kind of day-dreaming, and I’m not agree with this idea.

    Sometimes, I usually encourage me to believe myself, then I can figure out everything. I think this is similar to Alva’s point, they are both a kind of self-hypnosis, however, what I usually do is just want to make myself more powerful, but not try to change myself or pretend to be another unknown guy.

    So, if I imagine I’m a university professor, will I really become him? I spend half hour to do this thing: I imagined I’m a professor, imagined how I teach, how I work, how I ear and drink, and I even imagined how I take a shower. But when I open my eyes, I’m back to reality immediately, I’m still a student who are working on my philosophy hw and I’m just running out of my time. After I test myself, I found even I imagined every single tiny thing in daily life, I’m still not a professor because my imagination are coming from the impression in reality, so as the individuals which mention in the article. Why they think they are more clever or gorgeous? Because they already have a specific definition of a professor or a cheerleader, and when they are imaging, their brains add the definitions to their imagination, so as a result, they think they are more clever or gorgeous, just fit what professors and cheerleaders really look like in daily life. Another example of this is I try to imagine I’m a cheerleader and I found I cannot describe myself as gorgeous, and that is because there were no cheerleaders in my middle and high school, so I don’t know what they present in reality.

    All in all, I believe the Alva’s idea is a good way to encourage people, but it is impossible to say someone can become another guy just by “think of yourself as being a person of a certain guy”, not only because the way of thinking, but also the physical difference between person and person.

  • If I had read this article a few weeks ago my response would probably be very different from right now. Noe asking the question as to whether there were heterosexuals in ancient Rome is the way I viewed race, and sexuality. I knew there where people of other races but it was no different from my knowledge of anything else. Recently however I have seen how everywhere is not like back home and my performance in certain areas has started to drop unconsciously because of my recent gained knowledge of the racial stratification. With regards to gender I would like to observe more closely that study of men performing better when they were primed to answer questions on their gender and women performing worse. A lot of the prejudice about math and science being more of a mans world I have been guilty of many times, and I always wondered why that was. This article provides some interesting insight into the psychology of how what we think affects how well we perform.

  • melvinjboban says:

    In regards to the article on gender, I really feel that in a lot of ways Noe is correct. Gender is not so much biological anymore but rather created by society. The roles of a woman compared to a man, although much different now a days compared to previous generations, still construed many men and women to different society roles to this day.

    I found that the comparison to being a professor and a cheerleader was a little bit of a bad test however. When you look at it, you really cant do either one of those things unless you have a tremendously vivid imagination. In the end of the day you have some part of you that says your still a college student making the best of what you have while in college. You are always in a lot of ways stuck to what you are, and who you are now in comparison to what you can imagine to be. The present outways the potential future or even your imagination. This kind of links itself towards the gender conversation because in the end of the day, each sex does not really know how the other sex things, acts, feel, etc. Thus at the end of the day people are so much more judged and measured by their individuality rather then their sex, as Noe said. I agree with this, because now a days you can go anywhere and you have a measure of what kind of person you are through your accomplishments, and not your sex.

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