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Publications

Atir S. & Ferguson, M. J. (2018). How Gender Determines the Way We Speak About Professionals. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 115, 7278-7283.

Gender inequality persists in many professions, particularly in high-status fields such as Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). We report evidence of a new form of gender bias that may contribute to this state: gender influences the way people speak about professionals. When discussing professionals or their work, it is common to refer to them by surname alone (e.g., Darwin developed the theory of evolution). We present evidence that people are more likely to refer to male than female professionals in this way. This gender bias emerges in archival data across domains; students reviewing professors online and pundits discussing politicians on the radio are more likely to use surname when speaking about a man (vs. a woman). Participants’ self-reported references also indicate a preference for using surname when speaking about male (vs. female) scientists, authors, and others. Finally, experimental evidence provides convergent evidence: participants writing about a fictional male scientist are more likely to refer to him by surname than participants writing about an otherwise-identical female scientist. We find that, on average, people are over twice as likely to refer to male than female professionals by surname. Critically, we identified consequences of this gender bias in speaking about professionals. Those referred to by surname are judged as more famous and eminent. They are consequently seen as higher-status and more deserving of eminence-related benefits and awards. For instance, scientists referred to by surname were seen as 14% more deserving of a National Science Foundation career award.

Atir, S., & Ferguson, M. J. (August 13, 2018). Do you use someone's first name or last?  The answer speaks volumes. Wall Street Journal.

Swallow, K. M., & Atir, S. (in press). The Role of Value in the Attentional Boost Effect. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology.

Focusing attention on one item typically interferes with the ability to process other information. Yet, target detection can both facilitate memory for items paired with the target (the attentional boost effect) and increase the perceived value of those items (cued approach). Because long-term memory is better for valuable items than for neutral items, we asked whether the attentional boost effect is due to changes in the perceived value of items that are paired with targets. In three experiments participants memorised a series of briefly presented images that depicted valuable (e.g., food) or neutral (e.g., toys) items. Whenever an item appeared, a square flashed in its center. Participants pressed a button if the square was a target color but not if it was a distractor color. Consistent with previous research, target-paired items were remembered better than distractor-paired items and were rated as more valuable. Importantly, if memory for target-paired items is enhanced because they increased in perceived value, then valuable items should have been better remembered than neutral items. However, we found no evidence that value enhanced memory for the items in this task. Thus, it is unlikely that the attentional boost effect is due to changes in perceived value.

Atir S., Rosenzweig, E., & Dunning D. A. (2015). When Knowledge Knows No Bounds: Self-Perceived Expertise Predicts Claiming of Impossible Knowledge. Psychological Science, 26, 1295-1303.

People overestimate their own knowledge, erring at times by claiming knowledge of concepts, events, and people that do not exist and cannot be known, a phenomenon called overclaiming. Why and when do people claim such impossible knowledge? We proposed that people overclaim to the extent they perceive their expertise as high rather than low. Supporting this hypothesis, in Study 1, self-perceived knowledge in personal finance positively predicted claiming knowledge of nonexistent financial concepts. Study 2 demonstrated that self-perceived knowledge within specific domains (e.g., biology) was associated specifically with overclaiming within those domains. In Study 3, warning participants that some concepts did not exist did not reduce the relationship between self-perceived knowledge and overclaiming, suggesting that the relationship is not driven by self-presentational concerns. Finally, in Study 4, boosting self-perceived expertise in geography prompted assertions of familiarity with nonexistent places, supporting a causal role for self-perceived expertise in claiming impossible knowledge.

In Prep

Atir S., Rosenzweig, E., & Dunning D. A. (in preparation). Experts Know What They Don’t Know: Genuine Knowledge Associated with Less Overclaiming.

Does expertise make it easier or harder to assess one’s knowledge? People sometimes mistakenly believe they have knowledge of nonexistent terms that were invented for the study, a phenomenon called overclaiming. One hypothesis is that genuinely knowledgeable people are more prone to overclaiming within their domain of knowledge because they have more information with which to construct meaning for nonexistent terms. Alternatively, genuine knowledge may aid in the instinctive detection of ignorance. In 4 studies, we find support for the latter. Doctors and medical students were less likely than premedical students to overclaim knowledge of invented medical terms (Study1). Participants who knew more about science and U.S. civics were less likely to overclaim knowledge within those domains, holding constant self-perceived knowledge (Studies 2-4). The negative relationship between genuine knowledge and overclaiming was mediated by a larger gap between the number of associations knowledgeable people generated about the real and bogus terms (Study 3). Finally, people with more knowledge used a more automatic (vs. deliberative) thinking process when judging their knowledge of specific terms, which in turn predicted less overclaiming (Study 4).

Rosenzweig, E, Atir S., & Dunning D. A. (in preparation). The Influence of Context on Overclaiming: When and Why Do People Claim to Know The Unknowable?

True knowledge requires not only identifying what one knows but also what one does not. Yet research has demonstrated that people often fail at this latter task, claiming knowledge of people, places, and concepts they cannot possibly know because those things do not exist, a phenomenon called overclaiming. Although overclaiming has heretofore been studied as an individual difference variable, we provide evidence that overclaiming is contextually dependent. Specifically, we present four studies designed to answer whether surrounding bogus concepts with familiar ones, relative to those more unfamiliar, prompts more overclaiming (assimilation) or less (contrast). We find evidence for a robust assimilation effect, such that people claim more knowledge of nonexistent concepts in a familiar than an unfamiliar context, and shed light on one inferential process that underlies it. We close by discussing how our work both connects to research on memory, self-knowledge, and attitudes, while opening new avenues for exploration in these areas.