Memory Deficits and Memory Surfeits: Differential Cognitive Consequences of Tokenism for Tokens and Observers By Charles G. Lord and Delia S. Saenz

Memory Deficits and Memory Surfeits: Differential Cognitive Consequences of Tokenism for Tokens and Observers By Charles G. Lord and Delia S. Saenz

“Tokens” are:
Underrepresented people who are often the only member of their social category (AKA: outgroup members)
The only people of their kind in an otherwise homogeneous group
Rarely granted equal status to that of majority group members
Usually assigned fewer and less important job responsibilities
Tend to receive lower salaries than non-tokens

Examples of “Tokenism”:
A university making small allowances by admitting a minimum number of minority students
A company hiring one or two women to fill low-level positions

Observers typically view tokens as people who stand out. Therefore, observers may remember more of what tokens do and say (and they may evaluate them based on their own stereotypes and prejudices).

Purpose of Study:
To explore the less frequently researched way that tokens are victimized:
There may be a possible bias in which tokens are evaluated unfairly (possibly due to negative stereotypes about token’s social category)
Tokens tend to attract disproportionate attention and/or receive differential treatment by majority group members
Token status may impair their behavioral and cognitive processing abilities, and cause them to perform below their normal level (even if they are treated no differently than non-tokens)

Example:
Would a woman at meeting where she was the only female have a harder time recalling what people said because she was preoccupied with her self-presentation, rather than what people were saying at the meeting?
Even if the woman was treated no differently than the men, it is possible that the woman would operate below her normal cognitive abilities. (therefore, putting her at a disadvantage)
Also, the simple fact that she is the only woman in the group might result in her imagining that the men are scrutinizing her. (She may be too concerned about what the men in the group think of her, and therefore she does not focus enough attention on the task at hand.)

Hypotheses:
Tokens will pay less attention to the central group task and thus remember its details more poorly, even when they are treated no differently from non-tokens.

It was also predicted that observers (people observing tokens interacting with group members) would remember more of what people said than the tokens would.

Subjects: 48 College Students (24 males/24 females; 24 participants/24 observers)

Method:
Subjects wrote their own opinions about certain topics in a pre-interaction booklet. They were then placed into groups of four people. Each group was either homogenous (ex: 4 males) or heterogeneous (ex: 3 females and 1 male). Subjects were instructed to discuss topics with the other group members. In reality, the three other group members were not live, but they were on videotape (in order to ensure that all subjects were exposed to the same “interaction,” and so that the actors would not give off subtle nonverbal cues to some subjects and not others.) After “interacting” with the group, subjects were asked to recall information from both the pre-interaction booklet and also the interaction with the other people. In addition, the “observer subjects” completed the same booklets, and then viewed videotapes of the 4-person groups. The observers were then asked to recall all booklet and interaction opinions.

The sex composition of the groups was never emphasized or explicitly pointed out.

Results:
Tokenism seems to be mnemonically helpful for observers, but it seems to impair the mnemonic performance of the tokens themselves.
Group composition affected participants differently from observers, as predicted.

Participants:
Token participants remembered fewer of the interaction items than non-token participants did.
Participants remembered 90% of their own opinions, but they only remembered 41% of what the actors said. (“self-generation effect”) This occurred for both tokens and non-tokens.

Observers:
Observers who watched a tape of a token participant remembered more of what the token said than what the 3 actors said.
Observers who watched a tape of a non-token participant remembered an equal amount of opinions from the non-token participants and the 3 actors.

Discussion:
Tokens pay less attention to the central group task than non-tokens do.
May be due to arousal, concerns with self-image, or being the center of attention
If tokens are aroused, they may focus their attention inward and be more self-aware of their own behaviors and opinions, rather than those of other people.
Male tokens experienced the same negative effects as female tokens.
It might have been expected that any cognitive deficits of tokens would diminish over time, since they would become more accustomed to being a token. But, in this study, participants were in token positions in many different trials, and there was no decrease in cognitive deficits. This suggests that tokens in classrooms or work environments may find it very difficult to overcome the harmful effects of tokenism, and that they may never become accustomed to being a token.

Questions to Consider:
1) Do you think that if this study used race as a variable, instead of sex, the results would have been different? If so, how?
2) Think of a situation in which you were the only member from your social category in an otherwise homogenous group. How does it make you feel to be a “token”? Are you more self-conscious and concerned with how others will perceive you than you are in situations where you are not a token?
3) Do you feel there is a “kernel of truth” in the proposition that token women and minorities perform more poorly in situations than they would if they were not the only members of their social category (even if the majority group members do not seem to treat them differently)?
4) When men are tokens in a real-life situation, do you think they suffer the same negative effects that female tokens do?
5) Are there any steps that can be taken to minimize the negative effects of tokenism? If so, what are some suggestions?