On Sunday, October 13, 2013, I will be participating in a panel presentation entitled, “Ethical Duties of Eliminating Bias in the Legal Profession” as part of the California State Bar’s Eighty Sixth Annual Meeting in San Jose, California. The focus of our discussion will be hidden/implicit biases-those biases that exist within us, subconsciously, if not unconsciously.

In my quest for interesting research to use, I found an article entitled, Men Feel Threatened When Girlfriends Succeed by Megan Gannon dated August 29, 2013 published on LiveScience (http://www.livescience.com/39288-men-feel-threatened-when-girlfriends-succeed.html ). The study itself is being published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

According to Ms. Gannon:

Men may subconsciously suffer a bruised ego when their wives or girlfriends excel, regardless of whether it’s in the academic or social realm and regardless of whether the couple is in direct competition, a new study suggests.

Psychology researchers found that men had lower self-esteem when their romantic partner succeeded than when their partner failed. Women, meanwhile, were unruffled by the performance of their husbands or boyfriends, the study showed. (Id.)

Lead study author Kate Ratliff of the University of Florida along with her colleague Shigehiro Oishi of the University of Virginia conducted five experiments to determine “…how self-esteem may be affected by the success or failure of a romantic partner in heterosexual Americans and Dutch couples.” (Id.)

To conduct the experiments, they recruited undergraduate couples from the University of Virginia and gave each participant a “test” on social intelligence. The students were told that each question did have a correct answer.

The tests were not actually graded. Instead, each participant was “… told that their partner scored either in the top or bottom 12 percent of all university students.” (Id.)

While hearing their partner’s scores did not seem to shake the participant’s explicit self-esteem, it did shake the participant’s subconscious self-esteem. This finding was revealed by giving the partner an Implicit Association Test “…which gauges attitudes and feelings that people may not want to report through rapid word associations on a computer screen.” (Id)

The researchers found:

Compared with men who believed their partner scored in the bottom 12 percent, men who were told their partner had ranked in the top 12 percent showed lower implicit self-esteem. There was not much difference in the implicit self-esteem of women who thought their partner scored high and women who believed their partner scored low, the experiment found.

…Why the disparity? The researchers write that one possibility is that men are typically more competitive than women and thus may be more likely to see a partner’s success as their own failure. Gender stereotypes may compound this effect.

“There is an idea that women are allowed to bask in the reflected glory of her male partner and to be the ‘woman behind the successful man,’ but the reverse is not true for men,” the researchers write. (Id.)( Emphasis original.)

So… is this an implicit bias at work? Has our cultural mores and upbringing inculcated us to be implicitly biased by accepting and agreeing with the notion that the male of our species should always be more successful than the female? Why should a male suffer a bruised ego if his female partner does better than he does? Will his ego be as equally bruised if he suffers defeat at the hands of another male? Is there a gender bias at work here?

Why is it, as the researchers found, that we accept the notion that a female should bask in the glory of her male partner and be ever “the woman behind the successful man”; yet, as many of us believe, intuitively, that often times, if the woman outdoes the male, the male is viewed as a failure (either by himself and/or others), not as basking in her glory and definitely not as “the man behind the successful woman”.

Implicit biases are an interesting notion… and truly are all around us… even when and where we are not looking!

…. Just something to think about.

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