Memory Deficits and Memory Surfeits. Differential Cognitive Consequences of Tokenism for Tokens and Observers

Charles G. Lord, Delia S. Saenz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

143 Scopus citations


Historically, women and minority group members have been underrepresented in the professions and in better paying, high-status jobs. Even when they have been admitted to such positions, these underrepresented persons often have been the only member of their social category: a token. Previous field and laboratory research has shown that "tokens" attract disproportionate attention and are either evaluated unfairly or evaluated on the basis of their normal reactions to differential treatment by majority group members. We tested the possibilities of whether tokens might suffer more cognitive deficits than would nontokens, and whether they do so even when they are treated no differently. College students were led to believe that they were sharing their views on everday topics with three other students (actually videotaped confederates), who were either all of the student's own sex or all of the opposite sex. In a later memory test, token participants remembered fewer of the opinions that they and the three other students had expressed than did nontokens. Observers, in contrast, remembered more of what token subjects said than what the three other students said. Theoretical and public policy implications are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)918-926
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Personality and Social Psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1985
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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