Imagine an average, typical person walking down the street. Imagine them speaking on their mobile phone as they walk and waving to a friend who rides past on a bike.
Well done! Good imagining!! Now, what is the gender of your imaginary person? Were you thinking of a man or a woman? My guess is that it is a man rather than a woman! Why? Well, there is some evidence that people tend to perceive men as having a higher status than women and, in a recent research study, I found that people tend to perceive high status groups as being more typical of their overarching categories (in this case “people”) than low status groups.
In my study, I asked 139 undergraduates students to consider six novel, lab-based social groups that were named using colours: Yellow, Blue, Red, White, Orange, and Green. Students were told that the Yellow and Blue groups had a high social status, the Red and White groups had an average status, and the Orange and Green groups had a low status. The students then rated which of the groups they thought were the most typical (“representative” and “good examples”) of the six groups. Participants rated the two high status groups to be significantly more typical than the two low status groups. I believe that this difference occurred because participants placed a positive value on the overarching category of “research study groups”, and they perceived the Yellow and Blue groups to be the most representative of this category because these high status groups possessed the most positive features. In general then, I’m suggesting that the more positive a social group is perceived to be, the more representative it is perceived to be of positively-valued superordinate categories.
So, when asked to think about a typical person, you might think of a man rather than a woman because men tend to be perceived as having a higher status than women and, consequently, they are perceived to be more typical than women of the positively-valued superordinate category of “people”.
For more information about this research study, please see: Rubin, M. (2012). Group Status is Related to Group Prototypicality in the Absence of Social Identity Concerns The Journal of Social Psychology, 152 (3), 386-389 DOI: 10.1080/00224545.2011.614648