The concept of shifting standards is defined as the idea that our judgements are based on something we hold to be standard, and these standards may shift depending on multiple factors. For example, we all have the ability to judge that another person is tall, yet how do we define...
The concept of shifting standards is defined as the idea that our judgements are based on something we hold to be standard, and these standards may shift depending on multiple factors. For example, we all have the ability to judge that another person is tall, yet how do we define tall? Our perception of tallness changes, or shifts, based on if we are judging a man or a woman. Scholars Monica Biernat and Melvin Manis (1994) give us the example that a woman measuring 5'9" might be considered "very tall," but the same height would not be considered tall for a man ("Shifting Standards and Stereotype-Based Judgements," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 6, no. 1).
Stereotypes often produce shifts in standards. To prove the existence of shifting standards, researchers have designed studies in which they compare participants' subjective judgements with objective judgements. In their article, Biernat and Manis refer to an earlier study done by Biernat, Manis, and Nelson (1991), published in the article titled "Stereotypes and Standards of Judgement," found in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, in which participants were given photographs to view and asked to make judgements based on units of measure, which would be objective judgements, and to make judgements based on adjectives, which would be subjective judgements (as cited in (Biernat & Manis, 1994). In their study, participants were asked to judge how much money the participants thought men and women in photographs earned and were also asked to judge how financially successful the men and women were. Because of the stereotype that men earn more than women, the candidates judged the men in the photographs as earning a higher income in dollars per year than the women, which is an objective judgement. Yet, since, based on the stereotype, women earn less than men, participants' standards shifted when subjectively judging the women based on financial success. Candidates showed they believed that a woman who earned fewer dollars per year than a man could be considered more financially successful than a man, relative to the stereotypical success standard of women. Therefore, though candidates judged a woman as earning $9,000 less than a man in a photo, their standards shifted as they judged the woman to be more financially successful than the man.
Solomon Asch's work on conformity in the 1950s goes hand in hand with studies on shifting standards. Solomon's work shows that people tend to conform with a group they see as peers, which means a person will shift his or her own standard of judgement to conform with a group's judgement. In one experiment, participants were separated into a group of confederates who were told how to reply to the test questions and one true test subject. Participants were shown a card with one vertical line used as a standard measure. Participants were then shown a second card with three vertical lines of different lengths and asked to judge which line on the second card was closest in length to the standard line on the first card. During the first two trials, all participants gave the correct answer. Starting with the third trial, all confederates gave the wrong answer, leaving the true test subject to choose the correct answer on his or her own. As the trials progressed, the true test subject gave into peer pressure more and more by giving the same incorrect answer given by the confederates ("Solomon Asch," New World Encyclopedia). Not only does Asch's work show that people have a tendency to conform when feeling pressured by peers, people will also shift their standards in order to conform.