We like to think that we are very congruent, logical and sensible people, but many times our beliefs and preconceptions shape prejudices that push us to apply a double standard. Sometimes, without realizing it, we judge people differently based on our stereotypes. Other times, it is the people who judge us unfairly using that double standard.
What is double standard? Most common examples in everyday life
Double standards implies applying different norms and principles to assess situations that, at least initially, are the same or quite similar. In practice, it consists of applying a double standard to things that are the same. Double standards occur when we value, treat, and respond differently to individuals, groups, or organizations that are quite similar.
A long-standing example of double standards has been applied to men and women regarding sexuality. In fact, a study carried out at the University of British Columbia found that there is a double standard between men and women regarding dating, virginity, marriage and, in a general sense, all matters related to sex.
Not even the law escapes double standards. In modern jurisprudence, for example, there is a rule that all people are equal before the law. However, when some groups receive more protection or legal representation than others, there is a double standard. It also occurs when people are rejected for their ethnic origin or religious beliefs when those characteristics are not a determining factor for the role they must perform.
Another fairly common example of double standard is when parents punish their children’s behaviors differently. However, perhaps the most paradigmatic example of double standard occurs when we are involved in some way in the situation: it refers to our tendency to treat ourselves with greater benevolence than others, resorting to contextual factors to explain our mistakes, errors and defects.
How does the double standard originate?
Different factors influence the formation of double standards, from cognitive biases to prejudices, the desire to be right or the tendency to see ourselves in a more favorable light. In any case, double standards generally involve the belief that a group of people is inferior for some reason, either because we have been educated this way or because we have made wrong generalizations throughout our lives.
It has been appreciated that it is easier for us to apply double standards to characteristics such as social status, gender, ethnicity and socioeconomic class. The funny thing is that this double standard does not facilitate empathy, but leads us to apply stricter standards to people who we perceive as having lower status. In other words, instead of being more kind or compassionate, we tend to become more rigid judges.
In this sense, an interesting study carried out at the universities of Columbia and Yale revealed that in the financial markets men were usually given more of the benefit of the doubt than women, who used to be more penalized by the judgment of the others about their performance.
How to differentiate personalization from double standards?
In human relationships there is a contradiction: we all deserve to be treated in the same way since we are equal but, at the same time, each of us is unique, so we must also take into account differentiation.
Therefore, to identify double standards, we must first ask ourselves whether, indeed, we treat two people or two groups differently. If so, we must look for the cause, a valid reason that explains this difference in treatment.
We must remember that double standards occur when there is unequal treatment that is not properly justified. Generally, it is a phenomenon that occurs automatically, without reflection, because it is based on prejudices and stereotypes. Instead, the act of taking individual differences into account is usually a conscious process.
How to disable double standards?
Double standards are a learned behavior based on inherited beliefs and stereotypes, often in the early years of life. If the adults around us applied a double standard, it is likely that this behavioral conditioning accompanies us without our being aware of its influence.
Lack of awareness is the ground where double standards flourish. Therefore, we only have to increase our level of consciousness. We must ask ourselves the reasons for our judgments and behaviors. And answer honestly. In this way we can identify and deactivate that double standard that introduces imbalances and discomfort in our relationships.
On the other hand, if we believe that we are victims of a double standard, the solution is the same: increase the awareness. We should ask that person why he treats and values us differently. And make him notice, without reproaches, that we consider his behavior to be unfair. That person is likely to become aware of his bias and correct his way of addressing us.
Botelho, T. L. & Abraham, M. (2017) Pursuing Quality: How Search Costs and Uncertainty Magnify Gender-based Double Standards in a Multistage Evaluation Process. Administrative Science Quarterly; 62(4): 698-730.
Foschi, M. (2000) Double Standards for Competence: Theory and Research. Annual Review of Sociology; 26:21-42.
Foschi, M. (1996) Double Standards in the Evaluation of Men and Women. Social Psychology Quarterly; 59(3): 237-254.