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Assessing and Blocking Double Standards for Competence

Advances in Group Processes

ISBN: 978-1-83867-504-2, eISBN: 978-1-83867-503-5

Publication date: 2 September 2019


Many everyday situations involve the performance of a task and the inference of competence from the results. Here, we focus on situations in which two or more persons who differ on status (e.g., sex category, skin tone) perform a valued task with equivalent, objectively judged results, and yet are not granted equal competence. We examine the conditions under which such a conclusion derives from the use of different standards for each status level.

We review and assess the findings of all the 17 social psychological experiments completed to date and designed to investigate the hypothesis that the lower a person’s social status is perceived to be, the stricter the competence standard applied to him or her.

We find substantial support for this hypothesis, but there are also factors that either moderate (e.g., qualifications level) or even reverse (e.g., participant’s sex category) such link. Of particular interest among those factors is whether competence is measured directly or indirectly. For example, we found overall that the specific question about competence often restrains the use of double standards, whereas the wider questions (e.g., about suitability) are more likely to allow that practice to emerge.

We also identify and expand interventions from three different research traditions designed to deter bias, and propose ways of applying them to block double standards in the assessment of equivalent performances. The interventions involve (1) increasing assessor’s accountability, (2) increasing similarity across the performers, and (3) disrupting the often taken-for-granted association between higher status and good performance – as well as the corresponding link between lower status and poor performance.



Foschi, M., Ndobo, A. and Faure, A. (2019), "Assessing and Blocking Double Standards for Competence", Advances in Group Processes (Advances in Group Processes, Vol. 36), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 19-45.



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