A Vanderbilt University study that looked at linguistic associations and unconscious biases, found the average person will associate female faces and names with a word as “assistant”, rather than “leader.” Surveying 407 people in Florida — because the percentage of women holding elected office there is around the national average of 24 percent — the researchers used an “Implicit Association Test (IAT)” to pick up on unconscious sexist biases regarding political leadership, to see whether it would affect voter choice.
When the participants were asked to pair words as assistant or leader to male or female faces, the “mind often balked at accepting a woman as a leader”, Cecilia Hyunjung Mo, assistant professor and author of the study explained. “The average person found it easier to pair words like ‘president’ and ‘executive’ with male names and pictures and words like ‘assistant’ and ‘aide’ with female names.” The bias would also present itself when the participants were asked to choose between two fictional political candidates: “The more difficulty a person had in classifying a woman as a leader, the less likely the person was to vote for a woman.”
The researchers also found, however, that people could “overcome” those biases when they were presented with more information about the women candidates — once again proving that education is key. “People are at this level because they just haven’t seen a lot of female leaders,” Mo concluded.
Read the full story at Wired.