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Suitner, Caterina (2009) Where to place social targets? Stereotyping and Spatial Agency Bias. [Tesi di dottorato]

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Abstract (inglese)

Our experience as human beings is embedded in space, is lived through our bodies moving along spatial coordinates and it is often expressed in visually aided communications where space is conventionally used to simplify the interpretation of a message. Space is therefore an overwhelming aspect of our existence and we take advantage of this spatial foundation to envisage abstract concepts whose mental representation and communication would be almost impossible otherwise. Be this conscious or not, the role spatial schemas in knowledge organization is extensive. We envisage power along the vertical dimension, we point out moral issues that are not physically observable, we wait for a long time and we have high expectations. The spatial schemas in concept representations go beyond their use in metaphorical expressions and affect cognitive processes in various ways. Goal of this research project was to investigate the role of horizontal spatial schemas in social cognition. Although horizontal spatial biases have been studied in various fields, from art history to attention orientation, from neurological and from a cultural perspectives, to our knowledge this is the first time that they are investigated from a social psychological point of view.
The general idea underlying all studies reported here is that agentic targets (i.e. performing an action) are systematically associated with a left position, with recipient targets to their right. The resulting direction of the action is rightward. This idea, initially proposed by Chatterjee (2002) is here applied from a social psychological perspective, with agency interpreted a fundamental characteristic of stereotype contents (Abele, Uchronski, Suitner, & Wojciszke, 2008; Spence, Helmreich, & Stapp, 1974). The association between the rightward spatial vector and agency is linked to the direction of writing/reading that is in fact rightward in western cultures. Cultural factors were therefore taken into account as possible moderators of the bias; specifically writing/reading directions were tested comparing left-to-right and right-to-left readers (Study 1c and 5).
After reviewing the relevant literature on spatial bias in the Introduction, in the first Chapter the specific spatial representations of concepts related to stereotype content are analyzed in the horizontal and vertical spatial domains. The most important results for the goal of this project are that Agency (Study 1a) and dynamism (Study 1b and c) were horizontally represented with a rightward vector. This effect is in line with the hypothesized role of agency proposed by Chatterjee (2002) in horizontal spatial bias (i.e. the Spatial Agency Bias). This bias was absent among right-to-left readers (Arabic participants, Study 1c), confirming the role of writing direction in spatial bias. In Chapter 2 the application of the SAB to gender stereotypes was investigated in 4 studies. The first two consisted in archival researches of Web-Images representing famous couples. The male of the couple tended to be represented to the left of the female (Study 2a), but only when he was perceived as more agentic than her (Study 2b). The relation of SAB and gender stereotypes was further analyzed in the evaluation of left- or right-ward directed single targets in Study 2c, where participants displayed an association between the rightward direction and male targets. These three studies confirmed the use of specific spatial representations to envisage gender differences. The subsequent study (i.e., Study 2d) analyzed the effect of such association showing that the biased decoding of spatial information is associated with congruent attributions of stereotypic characteristics to males and females in general and with ambiguous attitudes toward males and female. Specifically, the more female participants associated male targets with the rightward direction, the more they attributed power to males and communion to females and the more they endorsed an ambiguous attitude toward males and females. This result is particularly relevant as it represents, to our knowledge, the first evidence of the consequences of the bias. Study 2d also investigates the stability of the bias, showing the key role of exposure to direct stimuli. The number of rightward (vs. leftward) male (vs. female) portraits to be categorized had an effect on the bias. When participants were exposed to a large number of rightward male and leftward female profiles, they displayed a standard SAB; when participants were exposed to a large number of leftward male and rightward female profiles, they displayed an opposite bias, namely associating the leftward (vs. rightward) profile to male (vs. female) targets. The role of exposure is further shown in Study 4, where a writing exercise toward right or toward left was respectively strengthening or weakening the SAB and its relation with gender stereotype endorsement. This finding suggests that cultural habits do not exert an inalterable as not chronic influence, but rather that spatial bias is susceptible to behavioural experiences, namely the momentary experience with the “opposite” writing direction. This embodied character of the bias is further analyzed in Chapter 3 focusing on the role of motion by comparing events that were either static (not involving motion) or dynamic (involving motion). Although the direction of the bias was not always in line with predictions, the bias was generally found to be specifically related to moving targets, in line with the simulation processes indicated as responsible of embodied cognition (Barsalou, 2008a; Lakoff, 1992).
The implications of spatial schemas are investigated in Study 5, where the preferences for advertisement layouts were investigated in a cross-cultural study, showing the relevance of cultural background in the selection of a specific layout.
The bias was finally investigated in relation to politics and political stereotypes, showing an association between rightward direction and rightwing political partisanship of single targets (Study 6b and c). However, at the group level, spatial bias was mainly driven by in-group favouritism, namely participants indicated the rightward group as the political group matching their own political affiliation. The in-group bias was intensified by the attribution of competence, providing additional evidence for the key role of agency in the SAB.
Altogether the present research project provides evidence for a subtle but persistent SAB with a wide range of consequences and applications in the field of social cognition and mass communication.

Abstract (italiano)

La nostra esperienza fisica è radicata nello spazio che ci circonda, i nostri vissuti passano attraverso la fisicità dei nostri corpi che si muovono lungo coordinate spaziali. Spesso le nostre esperienze sono espresse attraverso comunicazioni in cui il supporto visivo fa uso dello spazio in modo convenzionale per semplificare il contenuto di un messaggio. Lo spazio è dunque un aspetto pervasivo della nostra esistenza, non solo dal punto di vista fisico ma anche da quello cognitivo, dal momento che viene utilizzato nella rappresentazione di concetti astratti attraverso schemi mentali in cui le conoscenze vengono organizzate in connessione con esperienze fisiche. Consapevole o meno, l’estensione di questo processo è tale da coinvolgere gran parte della elaborazione delle informazioni. Per esempio, il potere è rappresentato in riferimento alla dimensione verticale (e.g., essere subordinato a..), così come utilizziamo metafore spaziali quando indichiamo delle questioni morali, o sveliamo segreti, o aspettiamo a lungo e ancora quando abbiamo alte aspettative. Queste rappresentazioni spaziali vanno ben oltre la loro espressione metaforica e influenzano i processi cognitivi a vari livelli. L’obiettivo di questo progetto di ricerca è esaminare il ruolo degli schemi spaziali legati alla dimensione orizzontale in relazione ai processi di cognizione sociale. Sebbene tali schemi siano stati oggetto di studio in vari campi, dalla storia dell’arte agli studi sull’orientamento dell’attenzione, dalla psicologia cross-culturale alla neurologia, questo progetto rappresenta uno dei primi tentativi di affrontare il tema da una prospettiva psico-sociale.
L’idea su cui si basano tutti gli studi riportati nel presente lavoro prevede che un target responsabile di un’azione, venga rappresentato nel campo visivo alla destra del target che subisce quell’ azione. La traiettoria implicita dell’azione è, di conseguenza, da sinistra verso destra. Questa proposta, inizialmente avanzata da Chatterjee (2002), è qui rivisitata da un punto di vista psico-sociale, in cui la potenzialità d’azione del target (agency) è considerata una caratteristica fondamentale degli stereotipi sociali (Abele, Uchronski, Suitner, & Wojciszke, 2008; Spence, Helmreich, & Stapp, 1974). Il legame tra il vettore spaziale sinistra-destra e il costrutto agency è associato alla direzione di scrittura/lettura, almeno nelle culture occidentali. I fattori culturali sono dunque analizzati come possibili moderatori del bias spaziale attraverso il confronto di partecipanti la cui direzione di scrittura/lettura è sinistra-destra o destra-sinistra (Studio 1c e 5).
Dopo una rassegna della principale letteratura sul bias spaziale nell’introduzione, il primo capitolo indaga le specifiche rappresentazioni spaziali di concetti legati al contenuto degli stereotipi, focalizzandosi sui vettori verticale e orizzontale. Il risultato più importante, per gli obiettivi del presente progetto, è la rappresentazione di agency (Studio 1a) e dinamismo (Studio 1b e c) lungo il vettore sinistra-destra da parte dei partecipanti italiani. Questo risultato è coerente con il ruolo di agency ipotizzato da Chatterjee (2002) nel bias spaziale orizzontale, che per semplicità definiremo SAB (Spatial Agency Bias). A conferma del ruolo della direzionalità della scrittura nel bias, i partecipanti di origini arabe non hanno confermato il pattern mostrato dai partecipanti italiani. Oggetto del secondo capitolo è l’applicazione del SAB agli stereotipi di genere. Nei primi due studi questa applicazione è stata analizzata attraverso ricerche d’archivio su immagini web di coppie famose. In generale, il maschio della coppia è rappresentato alla sinistra della donna (Studio 2a), ma soltanto quando è percepito come più agentic di lei (Studio 2b). La relazione tra il SAB e gli stereotipi di genere è stata ulteriormente indagata nelle valutazioni di immagini di uomini e donne il cui volto è rivolto verso destra oppure verso sinistra. Nello Studio 2c i partecipanti hanno mostrato una preferenza nell’associare il profilo maschile alla direzione verso destra e quello femminile verso sinistra, con un bias che si può definire stereotipico. Nell’insieme, questi ultimi tre studi sostengono l’ipotesi in base alla quale le differenze di genere possano essere definite, nelle rappresentazioni visive, attraverso specifiche informazioni spaziali. Ad ulteriore conferma dell’importanza di caratteristiche spaziali nello schema mentale di uomini e donne, lo Studio 2d mostra che questa associazione non solo è presente anche ad un livello di decodifica, cioè nella categorizzazione di volti maschili e femminili, ma è legata anche ad attribuzioni di caratteristiche stereotipiche nei confronti di uomini e donne e ad atteggiamenti ambivalenti rispetto alle categorie sociali in questione. In particolare, tanto più gli uomini (vs. le donne) sono associati alla direzione sinistra-destra (vs. destra-sinistra), tanto più è alta l’attribuzione di potere agli uomini e calore alle donne e ambiguo l’atteggiamento verso entrambi. Questo dato è di particolare rilevanza, perché rappresenta (a nostra conoscenza) il primo risultato inerente le conseguenze sociali di questi bias. Un secondo aspetto dello Studio 2d, riguarda l’analisi dell’esposizione a stimoli visivi sociali la cui direzione è variata sistematicamente. La proporzione del numero di volti maschili verso destra e di quelli femminili verso sinistra ha un effetto nel bias che emerge dalla loro categorizzazione. L’esposizione ad un numero molto elevato di volti maschili e femminili, rispettivamente orientati verso destra e verso sinistra, era associato ad un bias congruente (quello che abbiamo definito stereotipico). Quando l’orientamento dei volti veniva invertito, i partecipanti mostravano un bias opposto, ovvero contro-stereotipico, categorizzando più facilmente volti maschili orientati verso sinistra e volti femminili orientati verso destra. Il ruolo dell’esposizione a specifiche direzioni è stato ulteriormente indagato nello Studio 4 in cui la direzione (questa volta non di uno stimolo visivo, bensì di un’ azione) veniva promossa attraverso un esercizio di simulazione di scrittura verso destra o verso sinistra, che rispettivamente rafforzava o indeboliva il SAB e il suo legame con le credenze stereotipiche. Questo risultato suggerisce che l’effetto di variabili culturali nella promozione di una direzione non è cronico, piuttosto è suscettibile a condizioni contestuali come le esperienze corporee legate ad azioni contingenti. L’aspetto motorio come fondamento del bias spaziale è oggetto d’indagine nel Capitolo 3, in cui il ruolo dell’azione è valutato comparando il giudizio di eventi rappresentati in modo statico oppure dinamico. Sebbene la direzione del bias non segua sempre le ipotesi, l’andamento generico dei risultati suggerisce che tale bias è specificamente legato a target in movimento, sostenendo la prospettiva dell’embodiment e il processo di simulazione nella rappresentazione cognitiva (e.g., Barsalou, 2008a; Lakoff, 1992).
Il Capitolo 5 è dedicato all’aspetto più applicativo del bias spaziale, analizzato come possibile fattore da tenere in considerazione nelle comunicazioni di massa, con una particolare attenzione al back-ground culturale delle persone a cui è diretta la comunicazione o pubblicità.
Infine, il Capitolo 6 indaga il legame tra le rappresentazioni spaziali e la politica, mostrando che gli stereotipi legati alla politica giocano un ruolo chiave nell’associazione tra il vettore verso destra (vs. sinistra) e l’orientamento politico di destra (vs. sinistra) di target individuali (Studio 6b e c). Nella valutazione di gruppi, il bias spaziale era caratterizzato soprattutto da un favoritismo verso il gruppo congruente con l’orientamento politico del partecipante, cui veniva assegnata la rappresentazione verso destra. Questo bias nei confronti dell’ingroup era rafforzato dall’attribuzione di competenza allo stesso (Studio 6a).
Nell’ insieme, il presente progetto di ricerca accerta il carattere sottile ma persistente del SAB, mostrando l’ampia varietà di conseguenze e applicazioni nei campi della psicologia sociale, cognitiva e delle comunicazioni di massa.

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Tipo di EPrint:Tesi di dottorato
Relatore:Maass, Anne
Dottorato (corsi e scuole):Ciclo 21 > Scuole per il 21simo ciclo > SCIENZE PSICOLOGICHE > SCIENZE COGNITIVE
Data di deposito della tesi:30 Gennaio 2009
Anno di Pubblicazione:Gennaio 2009
Parole chiave (italiano / inglese):spatial bias; gender bias; spatial orientation; agency hypothesis
Settori scientifico-disciplinari MIUR:Area 11 - Scienze storiche, filosofiche, pedagogiche e psicologiche > M-PSI/05 Psicologia sociale
Struttura di riferimento:Dipartimenti > Dipartimento di Psicologia dello Sviluppo e della Socializzazione
Codice ID:1756
Depositato il:30 Gen 2009
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