Counterfactual and Contrastive Reasoning in Explanations for Performance: Implications for Gender Bias
Ann L. McGill Jill G. Klein Northwestern University
Our purpose in this chapter is to examine causal explanations for performance. We focus especially on explanations for the poor performance of women as compared to men in traditionally male-oriented employment such as engineering and fire fighting. Gender-based explanations for performance, for example, "Sally did poorly because she is a woman," may have important business and social implications. These explanations may shape employment policies, judgments of job candidates, promotions, salary levels, and opportunities for further training and education. Further, these explanations may affect women's sense of themselves (e.g., "I'm just not meant to be good at such things"), their willingness to persevere through adversity (e.g., "This job is simply not suited to someone like me. Maybe I should give up and focus on having kids"), and their chance to dream (e.g., "Wanting to be a firefighter is just silly for someone like me").
In this chapter we therefore consider how people form explanations for performance and identify conditions that may bias these judgments through incomplete use of information. These biases may involve attributions to gender for which no relationship between gender and performance is indicated in the data, or attributions to gender for women's poor performance (e.g., "Mary failed because she is a woman") but attributions to individual traits for men's poor performance (e.g., "Tom failed because he is lazy"). In particular, we examine two distinct forms of reasoning in explanations for performance, counterfactual reasoning