The psychology of gender – a tribute to Equal Pay Day

In case you missed it, Equal Pay Day was yesterday.  It has been a nationally recognized holiday since 1996 and despite the fact that President Obama signed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law in 2009, women in the U.S. are still paid 79% of what men make in comparable roles. That’s 79 cents to every dollar that a man makes, and the numbers are even lower for black and Hispanic women.

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State Senator Patricia Jehlen (D) represents the Second Middlesex District in Massachusetts and is a co-sponsor of the state’s Pay Equity Bill that unanimously passed the Senate last January – Photo by Genevieve DiNatale

Patricia Jehlen is a state senator from Massachusetts and is a co-sponsor of the state’s Pay Equity bill.

In addition to ensuring equal pay for equal work, the bill prevents human resources from asking women their pay history in job interviews, which helps women from being discriminated against for their pay history.

It also promotes transparency, allowing women to ask coworkers about their salary without repercussions.

But that’s not all!

She said, “One of the best things is that if a company doesn’t want to be sued for having unequal pay, then they can prevent that by doing a self study and many businesses have found that by looking at their pay practices, they have found inequities that they have then corrected.”


Women in the workforce and in politics are discriminated against in part because the issues ascribed to the gender are not associated with the public sphere – Source:

What’s the psychology behind this?

Gender roles and perceptions of women’s skills have been shown to modify the behavior of otherwise intelligent women in the workforce and academia, limiting earning potential.

This also happens to women in the political arena.

“Social characteristics get connected to these bodily characteristics and so when we look at certain characteristics and we know their gender, we make certain assumptions about how good of a candidate they are, what types of things they are interested in, who they are going to represent and the experiences they have had,” said politics expert Samara Klar.



The psychology of genocide

Genocide has taken place in many countries ranging from Rwanda, Armenia, Yugoslavia, and the Sudan.  And although the definition of genocide is somewhat dubious, the term itself is generally associated with the mass murder of a particular ethnic group (although this could be potentially misleading and perhaps biased in certain contexts).


This hutu man was brutally tortured in a concentration camp during the Rwanda genocide in 1994 – Source:

What causes genocide?  

Politics expert Jennifer Hoewe at the University of Alabama said genocide happens when members of a perceived in group decide to take action against an out group within the same ethnicity.

“People we see as similar to us are in groups and sometimes what we do is look at other people as part of an out group.  If you are not similar to me, you are some kind of other, an out group.  As a member of an out group, I might be more likely to take action against you.”

The “action” that Hoewe mentions may manifest itself as genocide.  This happens when the in group turns outward on itself.  This occurrence is generally attributed to economic hegemony within a specific ethnic group that leads to conflict.

And although the Tutsis and Hutus share a common language, culture and country, the only discernible difference between them is physical.  Tutsis are taller and thinner than Hutus, with some saying their origins lie in Ethiopia.

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Like this artists’ rendition of a man in a box, in group dynamics that become divisive hegemonies within themselves can lead to genocide Photo by Genevieve DiNatale

Political racism in the United States


In political psychology, racism is often attributed to in-group and out group dynamics – Source:

Experts say racism is certainly not a part of the past, even though America’s first black president is finishing up his second term.  And there is a psychological reason for this too.

“All people define their identities based on social cues that they receive throughout their lives.  You and me and everybody have internal identities about the groups that we belong to.  I am a woman, I am white, I am Latina, I go to Stanford, I live in California, etc.” said Samara Klar, a politics professor with a specialty in race relations at the University of Arizona.

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The Civil Rights Movement may have ushered in social change, but racism is not a thing of the past – Photo by Genevieve DiNatale

“Once those identities are formed they give us ideas about our appropriate behaviors and they signal to us what our in-groups are and what our out groups are.  There is some great work by John Turner, a psychologist from many years ago, who showed that with in-group and out group behavior, once those groups are defined, we define the out group as bad.”

And those out groups are often defined by gerrymandering.  In 2011, the Justice Department found that a redistricting map in Texas (signed into law by then presidential candidate Rick Perry) was gerrymandered to prevent minorities from electing the candidate of their choice.

The candidates that minorities choose are often limited to the left of the spectrum, too, as can be seen in the chart below:

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The psychology of populism

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Populist sentiment arises when there is widespread dissatisfaction with the status quo – Photo by Genevieve DiNatale

Populism has taken hold of the Republican Party this primary season through the likes of Donald Trump.  The anti-establishment, but pro-nationalist sentiment expressed by this train of thought can be traced back to Marine Le Pen’s right-wing populist National Front party in France.

UMass politics professor MJ Peterson says that populism can “go off in different directions” one strain can be exclusivist and another can represent the “ordinary forgotten person who wants respect.”

“Populism that becomes exclusive says ‘we need to circle the wagons of the group,’ ‘we need to keep the outsiders out,’ we need to keep the different away and that’s very much what you are getting with Trump,” she said.

“The funny thing is that Trump, for all of his I am going to make Mexico build the wall,


Donald Trump, this presidential primary’s populist – Source:

which is interesting, why should Mexico build the wall?” she said.  “Has not been all that clear in his economic policies.”

Matthew Brench is the Vicar at the Grace Anglican Church in Fitchburg, Massachusetts.  His approach to populism is more behavioral and less political.  He says that populism arises from people’s likelihood to agree with one another when interacting in group settings.

“…people tend to be very community-oriented,” he said. “And that means the more people you put in one conversation, the more likely they’re going to tend to agree with each other. Especially true on the internet where we’re much more able to seek out already-like-minded folks and, for lack of a more charitable phrase, join the herd.”

But why are we experiencing this anti-populist sentiment now and not twenty years ago?  Matthew Schiller a teacher at the Advanced Math and Science Academy in Marlborough, Massachusetts, says it comes down to technology and the ease of information exchange that has been facilitated by the internet.

“People are fed up and this is happening because of technology, Facebook and social media.  If it was in the paper, people truly didn’t know, but now you have Facebook and everything is delivered so fast.  People are more informed, whether the information is correct or not, people are just more informed.  So if you have more information, they are going to be more upset,” he said.

“That’s how I feel.  I have zero faith in our government.”



How the moralities of liberals and conservatives differ


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For liberals and conservatives, morality extends far beyond religion – Photo by Genevieve DiNatale

A recent study conducted by Jonathan Haidt, a professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business, found that there are distinct disparities in the moralities of liberals and conservatives.  As it turns out, liberals value what Haidt calls “harm” or “care” more than conservatives and conservatives value “authority” more than their liberal counterparts.

Furthermore, the role that fatherhood and family plays in conservative politics also creates conservatives too.  Apparently, stricter fathers raise more conservative children than affectionate parents.

But what moral underpinning would make a Republican oppose abortion, but not support prenatal care or welfare?

MJ Peterson, a politics professor from UMass Amherst explains this phenomenon by saying that conservatives are more likely to adhere to and respect roles established by in-group dynamics whereas liberal are more independent.

“In traditional conservatism,” she said, “there is much more of a notion of the group identity, of hierarchies within the group with you in a role that you should stick to, but liberals as a philosophy tend to be more individualistic.”


The psychology of nationalism

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Nationalism is an iteration of social identity – Photo by Genevieve DiNatale

Do you love your country?

Well, nationalism means a lot more than loving your country, according to the latest theories from the burgeoning field of political psychology.

“Nationalism is one way of promoting group identity.  Instead of focusing on an ethnic group, racial group, gender, an occupational group, or religion, it puts the focus on a nation,” said MJ Peterson, a political science professor at UMass Amherst.

These theories are all dependent on how the term nationalism is defined.  And according to Peterson, it can take on two different meanings.  Nationalism can arise from shared ethnicity or shared territory within a nation-state.  The latter arises from living within a shared territory and develops from the way in which citizens identify with the state’s political community.


MJ Peterson, professor of politics at Umass Amherst Source:

Peterson said that nationalism developed in Western Europe during the time of the French Revolution (1789-1799) and was also evident in the Soviet Union.  The rhetoric of the French Revolution included statements like “the children of the father land” and “citizens of the republic,” but the revolution itself was very much bound up in the French as a distinct group.

Meanwhile, the Soviet Union was composed of many different ethnicities, among them Russians, Ukranians, Kazaks, and Chechnians.  The rhetoric of the government, said Peterson, was to say “we are all engaged in a project of socialism.”

“But at the same time,” she said. “The government stamped everyone’s passport with their ethnicity.”

However, on a more basic psychological level, she says that nationalism all relates back to infancy.

“If you think about it, humans do actually like to be in groups.  This goes back to our earliest experience.  When we are a baby we are helpless and we are helpless for a long time.  So there is a certain type of ‘groupiness’ inherent in being human.”






The bandwagon effect


So much for free will in voting decisions, as it turns out, individual opinion is often subconsciously subsumed by the majority’s preference in voting decisions – Source:

People have a tendency to conform to popular opinion when making voting decisions.  Psychologists refers to this as the bandwagon effect, or herding effect, and have observed its influence on the electoral process.

When ambiguity exists, say, in the outcome of an election, polls provide a concrete result form which to gauge a future prediction.  Thus, some who see a candidate leading in a horse race poll may then subconsciously support that person because the majority supports the candidate.

Liz Blaikie is a 30-year-old stay at home mom from Clinton, Massachusetts, who feels that she is most likely subject to the bandwagon effect.  She said, “I am probably more influenced [by majority opinion] than I should be, I don’t really follow politics, e.g.: watch debates, pick sides, etc. So my opinion is based largely on social media, my father talking, or what I know of the candidates.”

Not only do poll results influence candidate support, but studies have found that questionnaire wording in polls are also subject to the bandwagon effect.  For instance, when asking people for a policy preference in a general sense, i.e., “How strongly do you support abortion?”  The overall results are lower than if you ask a question like, “The majority of Americans support abortion.  How strongly do you support abortion?”

This phenomenon has also been observed on social media, where people have a tendency to “like” a post on Facebook more frequently, if it already has a lot of “likes.”

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Have a lot of “likes” on Facebook? Well, every like you get increases your likelihood of getting another according to the bandwagon effect – Photo by Genevieve DiNatale

The bandwagon effect is an extension of the false consensus effect which psychologists have defined as the tendency of people to overestimate the popularity of their personal opinions, attitudes and preferences.





Intragroup dynamics in politics

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Politics professor David Hopkins, Ph.D. in his office at Boston College – Photo by Genevieve DiNatale

Intragroup dynamics give rise to a set of standards, roles, relationships and common goals that characterize group formations such as political parties and associations.

David Hopkins is a professor of political science at Boston College with specialties in political psychology and the electoral process. He thinks that groups dynamics begins with classification and ends with resource acquisition.

“A lot of human behavior is group directed,” he said.  “We intuitively and consciously categorize ourselves into group classifications and we do that almost automatically.”

The groups we subconsciously classify people into are class, race, gender, and other ostensible phenomena that we associate with a larger classification.  But in terms of politics, he says, groups largely form around desired resources.

“In terms of politics, a lot of people view the political arena as various social groups battling each other for control of the state.  Control of the benefits come from control of the state.  They may not even think of politics in terms of philosophy or ideology, but in terms of who gets what.  So my individual interest is tied into my group’s interest and if my group gets more then I benefit.”


Intragroup dynamics may be influencing your political party affiliation, whether you are aware of it or not – Source:

The optimal distinctiveness theory posits, however, that people desire to merge with the group of their choice, while achieving individuality simultaneously.  The balance between these two desires subconsciously contributes to your decision to join a political party or association.

Thus, the delicate balance between self perception, perception of others and group dynamics play a large part in the way in which people participate in politics.

The psychological toll of recession

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Emotional well-being is highly correlated with financial health

Have the blues? 

Has your financial situation turned your radiant smile upside down?

Well, the subconscious mind isn’t the only thing that may be getting you down.  Apparently the state of the economy has about as much of an effect on your state of mind as the unknown trauma you experienced during childhood.

According to a recent Gallup poll, American adults over the age of 18 are worried about financial matters.  Over 50 percent of those surveyed said they were very worried about saving for retirement and paying for medical bills following unexpected accidents or illnesses.


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So pick carefully the next time you enter that ballot box because the politicians who are altering the state of America’s economy are also negatively impacting your emotional well being.

One of the most obvious psychological reactions to a recession is financial anxiety.  And according to Seth Freedman, a 32-year-old building analyst, what’s in your bank account is deeply associated with your sense of self.

During a time of financial crisis, Freedman says that on an individual level, people experience “a loss of a sense of security, the basis of most people’s sense of worth is tied very tightly to their financial standing.”

In the long-run Freedman says that the macro-level implications of a recession is “a country that doesn’t have any confidence in its own ability.”

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Walking a tight-rope of financial anxiety? – Source:

However, it’s not all bad news for those living in a bad economy.  It has been speculated that the publicity of the financial crisis through the media is conducive to collective self awareness that increases overall well being.