What is Locker Room Talk and How Can We Use Insights from Psychology to Reduce It?

Awards

catalyst-for-change-prize goa-citation

 

The Problem:

Inappropriate sexual behaviors and sexual assault are ever prevalent in our world. 6 out of 7 students report seeing others make light of sexual assault and sexual assualt is the most underreported violent crime in the United States. One of the reasons sexual assault is the most underreported crimes is because of the environment created around the topic. It may seem like sexual assault is beyond the realm of highschool, however, this is not true. According to the US department of justice and RAINN.org, teens 16-19 years old are four times more likely to be victims of sexual assault. 42.2% of female victims are raped before the age of 18 (Sexual Assault Statistics) and 11% of girls get raped in highschool. These statistics go hand in hand with the ever apparent locker room talk that takes place on campus. The objectification of women and “locker room talk” creates an environment that normalizes sexual assault and makes it increasingly harder to speak out. Dr. Pamela B Paresky stated “Even if men don’t consciously think they have less respect for women as a result of engaging in or hearing these kinds of conversations, below the level of awareness, their brains are making associations,” (Pamela B Paresky).

Our high school is unfortunately not immune to the derogatory and sexist comments that normalize violence against women. Current student Oliver Brown noted, “In 8th grade I would say 75% of my class would make jokes about rape cases and in 9th grade I would say 90% of my class was making these jokes.” He said that in middle school the “boys will be boys” mentality was used a lot and the teachers made excuses for student’s inappropriate behavior instead of reprimanding them. This leads to a larger issue as these boys begin to feel “untouchable” with the power that comes with being able to say or do whatever you want without facing consequences. In an anonymous student interview, when asked about speaking up, the student said, “the vast majority of people choose to ignore it, it’s frowned upon if it’s brought up. Nobody feels comfortable talking about it.” Through our data it is apparent that this toxic culture exists within our high school and it would be plausible to assume that it exists in most other high schools as well. Many students shared that they wished they had been better equipped with the skills to combat this repulsive language and to implement change on campus.

Underlying the Psychology Behind This Behavior:

One reason high school students participate in locker room talk is because they see other students participating as well. In other words, students might simply conform to what the group of people around them is doing. Conformity may seem like a small issue, however, conforming creates an atmosphere that could encourage students to continue participating in this behavior. 

Conformity refers to the tendency to align our beliefs, values, and behaviors with the people around us. There are a few reasons people conform. (Simplypsychology.org).

  • Compliance is also referred to as group acceptance. This occurs when an individual accepts influence because he hopes to achieve a favorable reaction from the group. In simpler terms it is when someone conforms to the majority without actually agreeing with them. This was highlighted in Asch’s line experiment as people would conform to the majority while knowing they were incorrect, so as to not stand out.
  • Internalization is also known as the genuine acceptance of group norms. This occurs when an individual accepts influence because the content of the induced behavior is intrinsically rewarding. They adopt the induced behavior because it aligns with their value system. This is when someone agrees with the group publicly and privately. This is the deepest type of conformity because the beliefs of the group becomes the beliefs of the individual
  • Identification or group membership, is when an individual accepts influence because they want to establish or maintain a relationship to another person or group. It’s usually when people conform to the expectations of a social role. 
  • Ingratiational is when an individual conforms to gain favor or acceptance from other people. This is typically for individuals that are driven by social reward rather than the threat of rejection.

 

The psychology of conformity is rooted deep within our genetics. During our evolution as humans, going against one’s group could be a costly mistake. The submissive nature of the individual is directly correlated to this evolutionary trait. One of the reasons we conform is part of a reward response. When other people agree with us, the part of our brain responsible for reward has higher activity (psychologicalscience.org). People would rather conform to ideas they do not necessarily agree with to avoid a confrontation and make them feel uncomfortable or upset.

There is also the issue of the “punishment threat”. When people violate social norms, activity in areas of the brain related to threat processing increases. Some may argue that conformity can be easily combated. However, according to Psychology Today, “People learn social skills at an early age by observing and copying the behavior of others. As an individual grows older, the social pressure to conform with group norms becomes stronger. Established group members may use a variety of tactics to persuade outsiders to conform, including praising, criticizing, bullying, or modeling “correct” behavior.“. Since conformity is deeply rooted in human behavior from a young age, it becomes a trickier problem to solve. If CK wants to reduce objectifying locker room talk, we will need to be thoughtful and intentional about diminishing the power conformity has over student athletes, athletes who may not want to engage in locker room talk, but feel compelled to do so to be accepted by the group

Our Intervention to Reduce Locker Room Talk:

In 1951 a man named Solomon Asch held an experiment that set out to determine how much social pressure a person could endure before conforming. The experiment was set up as a vision test with 8 participants. Out of the 8 participants only 1 person was the actual subject, the rest were actors. The experiment had all the actors verbally give an obviously incorrect answer to see if the subject would conform. In the results of the experiment it showed that ⅓ of participants conformed to the rest of the group. Over 12 trials it showed that 75% of the participants conformed at least once. When participants were alone, only 1% of the participants gave the incorrect answer. An alternate type of this experiment was when the participants had one actor to break conformity. When the participants had one “ally” conformity dropped as much as 80%.

Asch’s Conformity experiment simplified.

One way we can reduce the temptation to conform to locker room talk is by having at least one person on each sports team agree to stand up to this objectifying language. As Solomon Asch showed, just one person standing up to a group reduces the power groups hold allowing more people to stand up as well.

Our proposed intervention is having the captains and any other influential senior athletes meet once a month with an advisor to talk about these issues. The advisor will guide them through open conversations regarding language they have heard and teach them techniques on how to properly stand up against this kind of behavior. In our survey results, we learned that most students have the skills to stand up to friends and teammates but find it difficult to go against a group. In other words, the temptation to conform in large groups is too great and intimidating for most students. Before the first meeting we would meet with the chosen advisor to go over the topics, techniques, and general idea of how the meetings should be conducted. One or more of us will also sit in on the first of the meetings to see how the response is and to analyze if any changes need to be made. By focusing on ways to break conformity, the athletes will gain confidence and learn skills that they can not only pass on to their teammates but also use if they hear this type of language in everyday settings. The topic of the first meeting will be conformity and a video showing the Solomon Asch experiment will be shown. In his experiment, Asch showed that if one person in a group refuses to conform, the temptation for others to conform dramatically reduces. This will set the stage for pushing the importance of the breaking of conformity and that other people are more willing to speak up if they see somebody else do it first.

The second meeting will be all about the personal experiences the athletes have had with this type of language and analyzing the specific situations to see what could be done better if it happened again in the future.

The third meeting will consist of simulations of possible encounters the students could be exposed to and they will act through them with the optional help of the advisor. By having students practice standing up against locker room talk in a safe environment, they are more likely to use these skills and gain the confidence to do so in the real world. 

Because of the positive feedback received by both students and administrators, we believe that meetings like these implemented in schools across the country will be beneficial towards the diminishment of locker room talk. 

Questions to Reflect On:

  • Who holds the social power at your school? How can you get them to engage in behaviors to stop locker room talk?
  • How can we ensure that athletes follow through once they receive this training?
  • How can we expand this intervention program beyond our athletes? How can we incorporate this topic into our school curriculum?

Works Cited: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1LPXQAfAalgcnJIuRcLAGzGLP9t0DLqRI-rn_8N0rPcg/edit

 

 

9 Comments

9 comments

  1. Hello Madison!
    I love how you are bringing light on this issue as I feel it is definitely something we have not talked about in my school. I love how you provided the experiment as an example. It gave actual feedback on how people conform to what others say. I think if one person stands up, then the rest would follow. Having these meetings would be very important in bringing awareness to the issue and especially since its captains and other influential people, the younger groups would most likely be willing to listen. Great idea!

  2. Thank you for doing such thoughtful work on this topic, Madison. This is such an important part of school cultures and it deserves closer consideration at every school!

  3. Hey Madison, this was a super-powerful read and I wanted to thank you for putting a spotlight on this behavior that is very unacceptable. The examples you used backed up your topic and were common enough that people can relate to them. This was very well done and I agree with Jason above on his statement about how “this deserves closer consideration in every school” because this is a culture every school has the ‘lockerroom’ jock-talk and the rape jokes which both need to come to an end.

  4. Hi Madison!

    AMAZING project! I could tell from your video how much you care about this topic and truly want to make a change. You provided great information on many aspects of this topic. I love that you took a topic that needs to be addressed more both in high schools and in society as a whole and looked at it through the lens of psychology, specifically conformity and the Asch conformity test. I learned about conformity last year in a Social Psychology class, and when learning about it we often don’t think we would be affected by others that much because we like to think of ourselves as independent, but as your project shows, conformity is very much real and leads to very real events and crimes such as sexual assault.

    I am so glad you decided to shed light on this topic while informing people about this unconscious thinking that is going on inside their heads. Conformity, I don’t think, is something we can ever completely rid the human race of, but understanding it and acknowledging it are the first steps towards bettering ourselves and our world.

    Thanks for sharing your project!

  5. Hi Madison,
    This project was great. As a female who has never been in a boy’s locker room, I have only ever understood “locker room talk” in the abstract, something only real in movies. I really enjoyed the structure of your project where you opened with an explanation of locker room talk and broke up the text with the interesting TED Talk. I also liked reading about the study. Although I understood the need for conformity in theory and have even felt it myself, I hadn’t known the lengths people would go to conform.

  6. Hi Madison! I absolutely loved your project! This is such an important topic that needs to be addressed in our society, and you did it amazingly. As someone who has witnessed “locker room talk” with having been hanging out with a majority of boys when one of them made a rape joke. Though I know most of the people disagreed with the making of this joke, if I hadn’t said something, it was going to be brushed off as okay. One way to ensure athletes follow through with this training is to have fellow athletes check up on each other monthly. We could have both boy and girl captains meet up to have discussions and give examples of when they stopped locker room talk. A girl presence in the room, I feel, would increase the guys to take it more seriously and have to actually show that they have been following through with their training.

  7. Hi! Your project is well-researched and very interesting. The data you shared was really shocking and the personal stories people have shared about the objectification of women are even more. I think that we should educate boys and empower them to speak against their friends that are participating in locker room talk. Good job on your project!

  8. Hi Madison! I really enjoyed your project. My question for you is how might we encourage buy in from administration in terms of funding and endorsing the training that you mentioned athletes would go through? I think that sounds like a strong intervention.

  9. Hi Madison!
    I think the reasons of why people conform was especially insightful when looking at why there are no up standers in “locker room conversations.” I also agree that education could help stop this and promote people to speak up and call out misogyny.

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