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uni'wissen 01-2015

on stereotypical expectations. They rely on gen- eral knowledge about their culture and society.” In a discussion on gender roles, the participants tended to assign feminist statements (“I approve of women who start work again quickly after hav- ing a child.”) to women and more conservative statements (“Married men shouldn’t iron their shirts themselves.”) to men. Basketball Players and Enemy Gangs Klauer’s experiments suggest that the prevailing circumstances play an important role in directing our attention. When social categorizations are at odds with what a person perceives, it is crucial how well a categorization fits a particular situa- tion, explains the psychologist. He succeeded in demonstrating that even a monumental category like ethnicity does not inevitably have to be a decisive factor. “And yet we think of this catego- rization as being as present as one’s own first name.” In this experiment the team again used the “who says what” paradigm: The test subjects saw a discussion between two basketball teams with white and black players. The participants didn’t assign the statements to players on the basis of their skin color but rather the team they played for. At first glance, the results seem to correspond to a common theory from evolutionary psychol- ogy according to which ethnicity is only a crutch. When test subjects are offered alliances and coalitions as a social categorization, aspects like skin color are relegated to the background. Klauer conducted an experiment to test this theory and expand on it: He presented his test sub- jects with a discussion between white and black inmates of two prisons. All of the inmates were familiar with the conditions in both of the institutions and exchanged opinions on them. “But alliances were out of the question. We told the test subjects that all of the inmates were enemies of one another.” The results of this study were clear as well: The test subjects did not take into account skin color but the prison the inmate was incarcerated at. The team used the same method to test the category of gender. “We therefore suspect that this structure could be a general law,” explains Klauer. “When we combine a strong and a weak category, the strong one suffers if the context highlights the weak one. This applies even with unfamiliar categories like what prison an inmate is kept at.” In situations like examinations, job interviews, police interrogations, or court verdicts, prejudiced decision makers can cause a lot of damage. However, “when one knows how prejudices work and when to look out for them, they are easier to prevent,” says Klauer. This conviction makes him optimistic about the results of the studies. After all, many proven methods for fighting racism or sexism proceed according to the same principle: When people in a group are working on a project together, their common task becomes the main focus of attention – differences in skin color and gender become less important. Further Reading Brown, R. (20102 ): Prejudice: its social psychology. Chichester. Klauer, K. C. / Ehrenberg, K. / Wegener, I. (2004): Components of homoge- neity: a multiple-process model of social categorization. In: Yzerbyt, V. / Judd, C. M. / Corneille, O. (Eds.): The psychology of group perception: perceived variability, entitativity, and essentialism. Hove, pp. 147–160. Klauer, K. C. / Hölzenbein, F. / Calanchini, J. / Sherman, J. W. (2014): How malleable is categorization by race? Evidence for competitive category use in social categorization. In: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 107, pp. 21–40. Prof. Dr. Karl Christoph Klauer studied mathematics and psychology at RWTH Aachen University. In 1988 he submitted his dissertation on attitudes to the University of Hamburg. Five years later he completed his habilitation thesis on problem solving at the Free University of Berlin. Following stints in Heidel- berg and Bonn, he accepted an appointment to the chair of social psychology and methodology in Freiburg in 2004. His research interests include social cognition, mathematic modeling, and cognitive psychology. Photo: Patrick Seeger “When people can’t remember something, they fall back on stereotypical expectations.” uni wissen 01 2015 27 uni wissen 01201527