Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Blame allocation in morally ambiguous situations survey

Hey guys! If you are reading this it's probably because you took our survey, 'blame allocation in morally ambiguous situations'. First of all, I want to thank everyone who participated.  Distributing surveys online isn't an easy task and thanks to our participants we exceeded our goal of a 93% confidence interval and made it to a 95% confidence interval. We have 550+ completed surveys and our original goal was 300. This largely due to the contribution of several Facebook groups in the last week who let us post our survey and our group members who kept asking and working to get the survey out there. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Since we reached our goal and people were starting to discuss the survey online, on the advice of our professor we decided to close early. Online research is tricky, we want people to participate and we love it when our topic creates dialog but we also don't want dialog to create bias that could affect our results. In the next few weeks we will start the painstaking task of importing, cleaning, and analyzing our collected data. It's too early to know anything but I'd like to give everyone who is interested an explanation of the research and why we think it's important.

This research project was conducted through FU Berlin's research placement program for MA students. Our MA is focused on data analysis. Our particular placement is in the 'experimental research program'. That means you all participated in a sociological experiment! Fun, right?

Previous research has shown that when women break social norms such as having a dirty house, many sexual partners or being obese they are judged more harshly than men who exhibit the same behavior. Other research has shown that in the case of violent crime men are given longer prison sentences than women. However there is little to no research on how men and women are judged in situations where there is no clear social norm or where social norms may vary greatly due to different worldviews.

Our research idea was simple.

We conducted a vignette study attempting to assess how blame is attributed according to attitudes concerning gender. This means we asked people to judge the same situations, but in 50% of the cases the gender was male and in 50% the gender was female. This study attempted to gauge attitudes, not actions, regarding gender. Respondents were asked to read several vignettes and then make judgments on the allocation of blame. These judgments should in theory reflect their attitudes towards men and women in different roles according to life rolls: single young adult, student, employee, romantic partner, parent, and spouse. These roles were combined with morally ambiguous real life situations such as: an assault on an intoxicated individual, possible discrimination in the workforce against foreigners, domestic violence, loss of a child, distribution of private personal photos and possible wrongful termination of employment.  The experiment was conducted as a survey, with 50% the male control group and 50% the female treatment group. Surveys were online via social media. The age, nationality and gender of respondents was controlled for. 

According to researchers (Christine Barter and Emma Renold) vignettes may be used for three main purposes in social research: to allow actions in context to be explored; to clarify people’s judgments; and to provide a less personal and therefore less threatening way of exploring sensitive topics. In qualitative research, vignettes enable participants to define the situation in their own terms. 

Hypothesis: - In some rolls women or men will be judged differently, for example they may be judged differently in the role of parents than the roll of students. 

Our theoretical background is extensive, ranging from theories such as victim blaming, internalized gender stereotypes, the motherhood mandate and intersectionality. 

Why is this research important?

We believe our research is important because individual views on gender and blame allocation create the greater social environment in which people are judged both in the legal system and by their peers. It is indeed often said that the macro is made up of the micro. This Daily Beast article (which conveniently popped up in my Facebook news feed this morning) gives a good example of social problems that can result from blame allocation. The article describes a situation where a mother whoes child died of SIDS is charged and convicted of negligent homicide for the sole reason that she let her child sleep on its stomach. As students of sociological research we ask the question, in the same situation would a father also have been charged with a crime? And what does society gain by charging a parent who lost their child with a crime?

In addition, I know some people expressed distress at the inclusion of a murder child in our research. I want to explain that this was included because as a parent I was deeply upset when a child went missing over the summer very near to where I live. I only know this child was missing because the police put up posters around our neighborhood, it was not reported in the national news. I felt more affected than I would have in the USA where child abductions are more frequently covered by the media. I was also interested to hear people express the view that the mother of the child was to blame. If you are interested in this case there is a link. Indeed, all our research situations were cases that our group felt impacted us in a personal manner.

Thanks again for your participation, I hope this answers most of the questions people had about our research.