Wednesday, March 29, 2006

It is now the 20th anniversary of Mel Manis's graduate seminar on stereotypes research, which was offered in the Winter 1986 semester (see Mel, now an emeritus professor, in this group photo of the UM social psych faculty). For this write-up, I shared my recollections of the seminar, in advance, with everyone whom I recalled being in it (including Mel), to see if my memories might trigger additional ones from them. I've now heard back from a few people, and am thus including their reflections in this essay.

A good starting point is to list who was in the seminar. Based on our best recollections, the following people were students in the class (with links to their current professional homepages, where available):

Monica Biernat

Lee Jussim

Janet Landman

Chris Langston

Linda Nyquist (a post-doc at the time)

Starting with Mel, our leader, he replied to my request for reflections with the following, very kind, statement:

My main memory about the stereotypes seminar was my pleasure in meeting with such a bright, interested group. One of the (many) pleasures of the academic life.

Monica and Lee each cited the seminar as an impetus to conducting research on stereotypes with Mel. Wrote Monica in a reply to my inquiry:

I'm afraid my memory is iffy other than that I really liked the course -- it made me want to work with Mel and got me doing stereotyping research. It's frightening to me that 20 years have passed!

Lee really was able to pinpoint specific aspects of the seminar that spurred certain directions in his research:

1. I think [Mel] had some required paper. I always hated doing papers for no reason. So, I asked him if he wanted to do a study. He, being the kind of guy he was, readily agreed, even tho we did not really have an idea.

So, we met and met and just talked. For months. And then it hit us -- all the cognitive business had forgotten affect! And we guessed that affect was at least as strong, maybe stronger than cognition, in its effects on judging individuals. So, that led to a series of studies titled "Prejudice vs. Stereotypes" as sources of labeling bias in person perception, which was eventually pubbed in JPSP. Not bad for a class.

[Note, the reference is: Jussim, L., Nelson, T.E., Manis, M., & Soffin, S.(1995). Prejudice, stereotypes, and labeling effects: Sources of bias in person perception. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 68, 228-246.]

2. It was in Mel's class that I first read McCauley, Stitt & Segal (1980). That paper seemed to me to be one of the most clear-headed things on stereotypes I had read up to that time. It has influenced my thinking about stereotypes in particular and expectancies in general, and was a major contributor to my thinking about accuracy.

[Reference: McCauley, C., Stitt, C., & Segal, M. (1980). Stereotyping: from prejudice to prediction. Psychological Bulletin, 87, 195-208.]

It partially inspired my '91 Psych Review, and it definitely led to my collaboration with McCauley on our '95 book. And it more than partially inspired me to go down the path that has led to the talk I am giving at EPA (they concocted the title out of thin air, the actual title is "The Unbearable Accuracy of Stereotypes").

[To see a summary of Lee's appearance at the 2006 Eastern Psychological Association conference, click here and then scroll down to the second page displayed.]

I, of course, have a few recollections of my own.

We read some chapters from Gordon Allport's The Nature of Prejudice, and I remember being amazed at the degree to which this book (from 1954) presaged the cognitive approach to stereotyping that became very popular in the 1980s.

David Letterman's show (then on NBC) was at a high point in popularity, and references to it permeated our seminar. For example, when writing article summaries to hand out, Janet would title them "Late Night Thoughts on..." Also, in discussing ways (hypothetically) to observe unobtrusively the degree to which kids at school interacted with kids of the other gender, other racial-ethnic groups, etc., the idea of using a "skycam" (a staple of Letterman shows) came up. According to this list of Letterman milestones, the skycam debuted on September 30, 1985, thus making it a salient novelty in early '86.

[Update 4/4/06: Janet sent me a nice e-mail, in which she noted that she never watched David Letterman, and received the inspiration for the term "Late Night Thoughts..." from some other source.]

In discussing intervention studies based on the Contact Hypothesis, a robust finding appeared to be that such interventions worked only if the actual intergroup meetings were accompanied by a "little lecture" by an authority figure, stating why prejudice was wrong. Monica confirmed this latter recollection:

I also remember the "little lecture" theme, and the studies by Stuart Cook in particular.

[Some links on Cook and his research are available here and here.]

To me (and probably the others, too), Mel's represented the ideal of what a graduate-school seminar could be: a small group, in a warm, supportive environment, getting together to discuss ideas and trends in the field, and generating research ideas, plus a few memorable anecdotes!