Sex Roles

, Volume 50, Issue 7–8, pp 445–453 | Cite as

The Differences That Norms Make: Empiricism, Social Constructionism, and the Interpretation of Group Differences

  • Peter HegartyEmail author
  • Felicia Pratto


We offer norm theory as a framework for developing some common ground within both feminist psychology and lesbian and gay psychology about the meaning of empirical differences between social groups. Norm theory is a social cognitive theory that predicts that empirical differences will be consistently explained by taking more typical groups (e.g., men, straight people) as implicit norms for comparison and by attributing differences to less typical groups (e.g., women, lesbians, and gay men). Results of an experiment (N = 114) are presented to show that norms shape interpretations of empirical differences between lesbian/gay and straight persons by (1) leading explanations to focus on attributes of lesbian/gay persons, and (2) leading to judgments that straight persons have less mutable attributes. Stereotypes also affected interpretations; stereotype-consistent results led to more essentialistic explanations and, when targets were female, to higher ratings of the results' importance and fundamentality. We highlight how experiments can be used to understand the process of constructing the meaning of scientific data, and make recommendations for empiricists' interpretive practices and constructionist theories in feminist psychology and lesbian and gay psychology.

essentialism social constructionism sexual orientation norm stereotype 


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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of SurreyGuildford, SurreyUnited Kingdom
  2. 2.University of ConnecticutStorrs-Mansfield

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