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The Stereotype as a Research Tool

Author(s): Irwin Deutscher

Source: Social Forces, Vol. 37, No. 1 (Oct., 1958), pp. 55-60
Published by: University of North Carolina Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2573780
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Social Forces.


Durkheim held that the division of labor "creates "rights and duties." We have done so in a manner
among men an entire system of rights and duties which, we expect, will lend itself to empirical
which link them together in a durable way."'2 study. We have not concerned ourselves with the
In this paper we have begun to specify some of the methodological aspects involved in the implemen-
social dynamics involved in such a system of tation and testing of the ideas presented. This
12Ibid., p. 406. must await subsequent work.


CommunityStudies Incorporated

J T IS possiblefor symbolswhichevokestereo- THE TRADITIONAL VIEW OF OBJECTIVITY, BIAS,

types to be received through any of the five AND LOADED QUESTIONS
senses: the smell of garlic, the clasp of a The possibility of such exploitation is grudgingly
calloused hand, the taste of curry, the sight of acknowledged by some of the better texts on
excessive make-up, the sound of a familiar phono- methodology, but only after careful and detailed
graph record. On the one hand these may be instruction concerning the efficacy of "objectivity"
highly individualized symbols, operating uniquely and freedom from "bias." Such acknowledgments
on a person as a result of some configurationof his may be made parenthetically:
own past experiences. On the other hand, stereo-
types are often evoked by verbal symbols: a Is the wording biased? Is it emotionally loaded or
whore, an angel of mercy, a Sunday school teacher, slanted toward a particularkind of answer?Does it
a housewife. To the layman, these verbal symbols employ stereotypes?Does it contain prestige-carrying
mobilize a complex of ideas and images in much the names?Does it employ superlativeterms which push
same manner that a sound concept does for the the answerone way or the other?(If such elementsof
scientist. Strong feelings about issues, personal bias are present, are they there intentionally-and
values, attitudes, motives, etc., when internalized does the researchpurposejustify theirinclusion?)2
by an individual, become condensed into some
The expected answer to the rhetorical questions
sort of stereotyped shorthand reference. The social
up to the parenthesisis an emphatic "no." But it is
scientist, who participates in or otherwise under-
the parenthetical question which will be em-
stands the subtleties of a culture, can learn to
phasized in the present paper; it implies a "yes"
identify these stereotypes and the verbal folk-
answer and when such an answer can be given then
symbols which evoke them. Once understood,
a "yes" answer becomes permissible for all the
these stereotypes can be exploited for research
preceding questions. If not parenthetical, the
grudging acknowledgment may be made by foot-
* The research used for illustrative purposes in this note. For example, after stringent warnings against
paper was made possible by a grant to Community "leading questions" in his text, one author buries
Studies, Inc., from the American Nurses' Association. this statement in just such a manner: "Leading
I am especially indebted to my colleagues Howard S. questions may, of course, have value if they are
Becker, Dan C. Lortie, Thomas A. McPartland, Peter
Kong-ming New, Warren A. Peterson, and Julius Roth
for their constructive criticisms of this paper in an Problem," in Robert K. Merton et at. (eds.), Reader in
earlier form. Bureaucarcy (Glencoe, Ill.: The Free Press, 1952), pp.
I For a penetrating analysis of the nature of stereo- 410-418.
types see Maurice N. Richter, Jr., "The Conceptual 2 Arthur Kornhauser, "Constructing Questionnaires

Mechanism of Stereotyping," American SociologicaZ and Interview Schedules," in Marie Jahoda, Morton
Review, 21 (October 1956), pp. 568-571. An example of Deutsch, and Stuart Cook (eds.), Research Methods in
a rewarding functional analysis of a stereotype is pro- Social Relations, Part II, Selected Techniques (New
vided by Alvin W. Gouldner, "Red Tape as a Social York: The Dryden Press, 1951), p. 448.

asked deliberately and the results are treated under this new formulation." Among other things,
accordingly."3 Litwak now asks "For what purpose is each of
The acknowledgment may be neither paren- these questions useful?"
thetical nor in a footnote; it may come as a con-
cession: "A 'loaded' question is not necessarily
undesirable and often has a real place in the As an example of how such a process works when
questionnaire. The problem is to avoid loading if applied empirically, we will examine a study, the
one is looking for an undistorted response."4 purpose of which was to learn something of the
However, if one is looking for a distorted response, nature of public images of the nurse.7 Differences
then loading becomes an advantageous methodo- in evaluations of nurses and nursing by different
logical device. Because stereotypes are by definition publics within a metropolitan area were to be de-
distortions, it should be apparent that purposeful termined quantitatively (by means of a scaling
distortion is necessary in the identification of device) and interpreted with the aid of qualitative
stereotypical images. A final form of grudging analysis of responses to an open-ended question at
acknowledgment of the possibility of research the end of the interview. A probability sample of
value in stereotypes comes in the form of an households in the metropolitan area, in conjunction
afterthought: "Is the question content biased or with a random sample of persons 18 years of age
loaded in one direction-without accompanying and over within the households, resulted in nearly
questions to balance the emphasis?"5In the dis- one thousand complete, personally administered
cussion which follows it will be seen that when a interviews."
careful effort is made to maintain just such a On the basis of informal conversations about
balance in bias or loading, the results can be both nurses, with people at bus stops, parties, cafeterias,
reliable and valid. bars, and the like, and more formal interviews with
Rather than bemoan popular stereotyping and such groups as unemployed laborers loitering
attempt by complicated means to circumvent it, around their union hall and Junior League ladies
the phenomenon can be exploited as an entree to at their monthly meeting, the investigators
the feelings, attitudes, images, and latent re- familiarized themselves with the way in which
sponses, obscured within the respondent. In a people talk about nurses. It was determined that
sense, the principle is the same as that employed in there were four recurrent themes in the evaluative
the use of psychological projective tests, and, like comments about nurses; these themes were em-
projective devices, the common stereotype can be ployed as the major components of an evaluative
especially useful in research concerned with self- scale which was designed to reveal differentials in
conceptions and conceptions of others. In the latter public images of the nurse. In brief, these four
case, if the symbols which evoke the stereotype of components are as follows:
the relevant "others" can be identified, then the (1) A moral evaluiation,e.g., "Nursesare easy makes,"
respondent's attitudes toward and images of those or "Theyare abovereproachand remindme of [Catho-
others can be determined. As Litwak has so lic] sisters; they are like angels in their white uni-
clearly demonstrated, "The purpose of the in- forms."
vestigator defines the bias."6 No question is ever (2) A social-class evaluation, e.g., "They come from
inherently biased. As a result of his arguments, deprived backgrounds-not very good homes-and
Litwak concludes that, "No longer do we say a can't affordto go to college,"or "Nursesare a better
given type of question is 'good' or 'bad.' The class of people who have had good upbringingand
search for the 'perfect' question which is not know how to talk to people."
loaded, double-barreled, or vague becomes trivial
7 Public Images of the Nurse, Part II of A Study of the
I George A Lungberg, Social Research (New York: Registered Nurse in a Metropolitan Community
Longmans, Green, and Co., 1942), p. 193, n. 11. (Kansas City, Mo.: Community Studies, Inc., August
4 Leon Festinger and Daniel Katz, Research Methiods 1955).
in the Behavioral Sciences (New York: The Dryden 8 The size of the selected sample was 1,200 individuals

Press, 1952), p. 347 (italics mine). with an anticipated loss of approximately 20 percent.
5 Kornhauser, op. cit., p. 440. Actual loss was 20.2 percent (the refusal rate was 11.3
6 Eugene Litwak, "A Classification of Biased Ques- percent; the remaining 8.9 percent loss is attributable
tions," American Journal of Sociology, 62 (September to such factors as vacant dwellings and addresses
1956), pp. 182-186. which could not be located).

(3) Evaluations based on self- or family-identification,into selecting one of several value-laden cate-
e.g., "I thinkthat any womanwho triescan findbetter gories. Resistance appeared most frequently
work than that; I certainlywouldn't choose to be a among the best educated and the most poorly
nurse,"or "Thereis nothingI would rathersee than educated groups, although, for the latter group,
to have my daughtergrowup to be a nurse." "resistance" may not be an accurate description.
(4) Evaluative comparisons wuithother women's occupa- The most poorly educated group seemed not so
tions, e.g., "Teachingis a much better job than being much to resist stereotyping as to be unaccustomed
a nurse,"or "Nurseshave made somethingof them- to thought processes involving generalization and
selves;they aren'tsatisfiedwith just clerkingin a store conceptualization. They were unable to cope with
or beingan officeflunkyor somethinglike that." the categories provided; the better educated group
Four arbitraryscales were devised to elicit value- appeared unwilling to do so.10The reaction of some
laden stereotypes of the nurse.9 To get at the respondents who complained that the questions
moral evaluation we asked, "Tell me which of the didn't "make sense" is equally understandable
following you consider closest to your idea of a when we recall that the questions were designed to
nurse? (1) a saint, (2) a Sunday school teacher, (3) get at a stereotype through an associational
a housewife, (4) a waitress, (5) a loose woman." pattern-to trigger a sequence of ideas which
The social-class dimension was included by asking: would lead to the revelation of the respondent's
"Imagine that you could say all Americans are subjective image; the fact that he does not under-
upper class, middle class, or lower class. Tell me stand the purpose of a question may result in its
where you would put most nurses?" The five apparent senselessness to him. Although this
answers provided ranged from (1) upper class to could be avoided by asking only survey-type
(5) lower class. The self- or family-identification questions with an obvious purpose, students of
dimension was obtained by supplying the familiar attitude and opinion are learning that it is not
range of alternatives from (1) I would be very always advantageous for a respondent to be aware
happy, to (5) I would strongly disapprove, for the of their purposes. Experiences with such pro-
question, "If you had a daughter, which one of jective devices as Rorschach, T.A.T., sentence
these most closely approaches the way you would completion, and word-association tests (none of
feel about her being a nurse?" An evaluative com- which "make sense" to the respondents), indicate
parison with other women's occupations was in- that the richest and most meaningful results may
cluded in the following form: "Imagine that you be derived from the application of more subtle
are going to work very close to a person for several tactics.
years. You do not know anything about the We asked "leading" questions and we asked
person except that you have been given a list "loaded" questions, because we were seeking
which tells you the person's past occupation. You neither superficial information nor to test the re-
must select one with only this knowledge. Which spondent's knowledge. We literally desired to
one type would you select to work around?" The "lead" the respondent into revealing his "loaded"
alternative responses are (1) a private secretary to feelings, rather than to obtain simpering cliches or
an executive, (2) a saleslady in a department permit devious evasions into the realm of "don't
know." We asked "what do you feel?" not "what
store, (3) a nurse in a doctor's office, (4) a lady
do you know?" In spite of scattered resistance, a
taxicab driver.
There is no "out" provided for any of these vast majority of the respondents were able to select
questions by a "don't know" alternative. Either one response over the others and in doing so, re-
the respondentanswers the question or he does not. vealed something of their own value systems.
It is true that some people resented being pushed AN EMPIRICAL TEST
9 The somewhat tenuous assumption that the scale One way to test the proposition that stereotypes
items approximate an equal distance from one another can be employed in this manner is to observe the
was made. The use of Analysis of Variance is of course
dependent on the correctness of that assumption. The 10 For a discussion of the kinds of resistance displayed

only vindication for the assumption lies in the fact that by a sample of physicians who received this same ques-
(as is pointed out below) independent techniques not tionnaire by mail, see this writer's "Physicians' Reac-
requiring such an assumption culminate in results which tions to a Mailed Questionnaire: A Study in 'Resisten-
closely approximate those obtained by analyzing the tialism,' " The Public Opinion Quarterly, 20 (Fall
scales. 1956), pp. 599-604.

extent to which the procedure "works" in actual paper, a brief review of findings may interest some
practice. An arbitrary scale is obtained by scoring readers. The analyses revealed that in most in-
each of the four questions described above. Those stances there was a relationship between status per-
four scores were added to provide an over-all index ceptions (regardless of axis) and the images of
of each respondent's evaluation of nurses. The nurses.'3 Thus persons high in the social-class
same four questions were asked in reference to hierarchy perceived nurses as being beneath
teachers and social workers to provide comparative them, and their images were derogatory in con-
data to the nurse-evaluation scores. trast to the respect and admiration expressed by
If it be granted that age, sex, and social-class those low in that hierarchy. Males perceived nurs-
groups contain within themselves some of the ing to be a female type of work and their images
characteristics of subcultures, then it is true that were significantly more derogatory than those of
such groups hold certain values which are different women, who as a group held relatively favorable
from those held by other groups. In other words, images. The two groups which were most negative
young people's values may diverge from those of in their evaluations of nurses were those men who
old people; men's values from those of women; were the fathers of only one daughter and physi-
and upper-classpeople's from those of lower classes. cians as an occupational group.'4 In addition to
It is possible then (although not inevitable) that women and lower-class people, extremely favorable
stereotypes held by these different categories of stereotypes were revealed by those who numbered
people will also vary.1l nurses among their personal acquaintances and
All respondents had rated three occupational those who had experienced professional nursing
groups (nurses, teachers, and social workers) and care. Although some doubt remains as to the
their scores were classified according to age, sex, importance of age, the tendency is for older people
and social class.12 The Analysis of Variance test of to hold more favorable stereotypes of nurses than
homogeneity was then applied. In brief, this test younger ones. Rural-urban origins appeared to
measures the extent to which the scores grouped have no effect on the public images.
within a cell are more like each other than they are Although the preliminary Analysis of Variance
like scores grouped in other cells. If the variance revealed a significant amount of variance attribut-
within the cells is significantly less than the vari- able to the differences in rating the three occupa-
ance among the cells, we can assume that the tions, further analysis indicated that this was due
system of classification is logical in so far as it almost entirely to the low ratings given to social
isolates homogeneous groups of scores from other workers. That occupational group was evaluated
and different homogeneous groups. Using the F significantly poorer than both teachers and nurses.
test of significance it was determined that classi- Teachers rated only slightly higher than nurses.
fication into age-sex-class cells resulted in homo-
geneity at the one percent level. Further variance
analysis revealed differences in evaluation scores It has been demonstrated that people who were
between the sexes and among social-class groups- similar to one another provided evaluation scores
both at the one percent level of significance. In which were similar to one another and which were
addition, a significant amount of variance in the different from those provided by different kinds of
scores was found to be attributable to differences people. There is, then, evidence concerning the
among the ratings of the three occupations, i.e., reliability of responses to loaded questions. Be-
similar groups of people manifested significant 13 For a full report of the study, the reader is referred

shifts in their stereotypes as the occupational to Piblic Images of the Niurse, op. cit.
referent was changed from nurse, to teacher, to 14 A sample of physicians was drawn from the four

social worker. county medical directories. Unlike the larger sample,

Although tangential to the major purpose of this each member of which was contacted and interviewed
personally, the physicians received their questionnaire
is also possible that in some respects they may
11 It in the mail. Important variations appeared within the
coincide. There are some kinds of stereotypes which are physician sample. These are discussed in The Evalua-
nearly universal in our society, regardless of sub-cul- tion of Nurses by Male Physicians, Part I of A Study of
tural identifications within the society. the Registered Nurse in a Metropolitan Community
12The Warner ISC was the index used to approximate (Kansas City, Mo.: Community Studies, Inc., March
class position. 1955).

cause the scores are derived from questions which comments may be illustrated by, "They get hard-
were designed to elicit stereotypes, we might ened to life and to people," "They sure like to love
assume that the differences in scores reflect dif- those doctors in the dark; they love the doctors
ferences in stereotypes. The validity of this and neglect the patients," "They are a hardboiled
assumption is supported by evidence from four lot," and "Some of them are rough, tough, and
independence sources. ornery loose women." As might be expected, many
(1) The main reason for devising such a round- of the comments could not be classifiedas favorable
about means of measuring how people evaluate or unfavorable. Nearly half of those with the
nurses, rather than simply asking them, was the extreme favorable index scores gave neutral,
assumption that some respondents tend to want to evasive, or inconsistent responses to the open-
cooperate with the interviewer-to give "good" ended question, while over half of those with
answers. Therefore, there would be some who, unfavorable index scores gave those kinds of re-
although they would not make explicit negative or sponses. The important point, in terms of valida-
derogatory statements about nurses, would reflect tion, is that almost five times as many respondents
negative or derogatory attitudes in their index in the unfavorable index group made unfavorable
scores. This would appear to be true in so far as or derogatory comments about nurses as did those
index scores tend to be less positive than state- in the favorable index group. At the other extreme,
ments made in response to the open-ended ques- 47 percent of the favorable scorers had clearly
tion, "How do you think nurses, as a whole, are favorable things to say about nurses (most of the
different from most other women?" Although that remainder being neutral), while only 24 percent
question was designed to provide meaning and of the unfavorable extreme scorers made favorable
content to the quantitative scores,'5it also served comments about nurses. The Chi-square of the
as a validating instrument for those scores. distribution is significant at the .05 level, indicating
(2) Although negative comments could not be that there is a significant relationship between the
expected to occur as frequently as negative index kinds of things people say about nurses and the
scores, nevertheless, there should be a high degree scores they achieve in rating nurses on the occupa-
of relationship between the scores and the com- tional evaluation index.
ments. The comments of extreme scorers (both (3) Another independent check on the validity
high and low) were analyzed in order to test this of the index is based on responses to a question not
relationship. Those comments (responses to the used in computing the index. That question asks
open-ended question) were classified as "favor- the respondent to choose from among several
able," "neutral," or "unfavorable."'6 Typical alternatives the one combination of traits which
favorable comments are: "I think they set an he thinks best describes the way nurses are (not
example for the rest of us in patience and self- should be). Choices involving two of those al-
sacrifice,"and "People look up to nurses; they are ternatives are revealing for the present purposes:
wonderful people." Examples of neutral comments one of these is "kind and sympathetic" and the
include, "I don't think there is any difference other is "blundering and incompetent." If it will
between nurses and other women," and "Nurses be granted that persons who choose to describe
have special training to do nursing." Unfavorable nurses as "kind and sympathetic" are favorably
evaluating them while those who select "blunder-
15 The interviewers were instructed to probe for up to
ing and incompetent" are likely to be inclined to an
fifteen minutes on this question, which appeared at the
unfavorable evaluation, it can be expected that
end of the interview. The responses provided clues as to
there will be a real difference in the index scores
why people held favorable or unfavorable images of the
nurse. provided by these two groups. Four hundred and
16 The theoretical range of the index is from 40 to thirty-two respondents selected "kind and sympa-
190. Scores actually ranged from 40 (most favorable) thetic"; their mean index score was 76. Only 37
to 150 (most unfavorable). Thirty respondents gave people chose "blundering and incompetent";
nurses a score of 40. These are our "most favorable" their mean index was 84 (the lower the index, the
extreme. In order to obtain an equivalent sized group
more favorable the evaluation). The t test shows
for the "most unfavorable" extreme, it was necessary
to include all those who had rated nurses from 120-150. the differencebetween these means is significant at
There were 38 of these, 26 of whom rated nurses at the five percent level. Again there is evidence that
120. people whose index scores are unfavorable, are

more likely to be those who make unfavorable tions were made, it was then possible to analyze
comments about nurses-an indication that the the content and meaning of the stereotypes by
index is measuringwhat it is intended to. examining responses to the open-ended question.
(4) Finally, the rank order of the three occupa- We need only turn to W. I. Thomas to grasp the
tions (nursing, teaching, and social work) accord- implications of such stereotypes. They reflect
ing to their mean index scores is the same as the definitions of the situation and, to the extent that
rank order of percentages of respondents who specific segments in our society define an occupa-
checked "blundering and incompetent" for each tional group in a certain manner, those definitions,
occupation. The more favorable the index, the being real to the definers-become real in terms of
smaller the percentage of respondents. Each of their overt behavior in relation to the members of
these four validity checks provides a bit of evidence that occupational group. In the particular case
which, in combination, provide a high degree of used as an example in this paper, there are im-
confidence that the index was, as intended, a re- mediate practical implications to the nursing pro-
flection of stereotypical value judgments. fession concerning such problems as recruitment
and professional education. As Merton so convinc-
CONCLUSIONS ingly stated in his "Self-Fulfilling Prophesy,"'8
There is, then, not only a theoretical basis for the educational and public relationscampaignsare rela-
notion that stereotypes can be exploited as re- tively sterile measures as comparedwith the effec-
search tools, but also a pragmatic basis: It works. tiveness of organizational or structural changes
Value-laden, leading, loaded questions, allowing which can be effected on the basis of a clear under-
an extremely limited range of responses, did evoke standing of the ways in which the situation is de-
stereotypical answers which reflected common fined. The self-fulfilling prophecy can be revised
images held by certain segments or publics within when such knowledge is available.
a metropolitan population. As a result, it was
possible to determine the relative evaluations of an to those who had not and those who numbered nurses
occupational group held by men, by women, by old among their personal friends as compared to those who
people and youngsters, and by persons of different did not. Respondents who were the parents of only one
socio-economic strata.'7 Once these basic distinc- daughter were compared with those who had no
daughters and those with more than one daughter.
17 The data were also reclassified and tested accord- 18 Robert K. Merton, "The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy"

ing to more specifically relevant criteria, e.g., those who in R. K. Merton, Social Theory and Social Structure
had experienced professional nursing care as compared (Glencoe, Ill.: The Free Press, 1949), pp. 179-195.

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