Fighting Sioux Part 2: The Science

In American Indian College Fund, fighting sioux, mascots, psychological research, stephanie fryburg by Adrienne K.9 Comments

Part II:
So, still unconvinced after my Part I emotional plea? You can refute my “feelings” all you want. But how about a real, peer-reviewed scientific study? You can’t mess with a one-two punch of emotions AND science, right?

In a 2008 study published in the Journal of Basic and Applied Psychology, Dr. Stephanie Fryburg (Stanford Almuna and one of my professor idols) took the mascot issue head-on. The paper can be read, in full, here.

Her article, “Of Warrior Chiefs and Indian Princesses: The Psychological Consequences of American Indian Mascots”, consisted of 4 studies, using Native youth from an Arizona reservation as her subjects.

Study 1: Students are given images of Pocahontas, Chief Wahoo, and a list of negative stereotypes. Afterward, they are asked to generate a list of word associations. For Pocahontas and Chief Wahoo, ~80% of their word associations were positive. (I know, that’s backwards, right?) for the negative stereotype list, only ~8% were positive (about what you’d expect). But before you get on my case about proving mascots aren’t bad…

Study 2: Students are primed with the same images or stereotypes list, but instead of word association, their self-esteem is measured. Students show depressed self-esteem in all 3 conditions, and their self-esteem was lower in the image conditions, versus the list. This means that even when the students are saying the mascots aren’t bothering them, or they are associating positive things with them, they are still exhibiting depressed self-esteem. Whoa.

Study 3: The same procedure as 1&2 was followed, but students were asked about community worth at the end of the conditions (“I respect people in my community”). Students primed with the images and the stereotypes exhibited decreased feelings of community worth, following the same pattern as above. So looking at a mascot makes students de-value their community.

Then, the kicker:

Study 4: College students were shown images of Chief Wahoo (“bad image”), Chief Illiniwek, and the Haskell Indian Nations University Indian (“good” images), as well as an image from AIGC’s campaign (an actual good image), and then asked to generate “possible selves”–looking forward to the future and how they see themselves. Those primed with the mascot images (even the good ones), generated far less acheivement-related possible selves than those with the control or AIGC image. Basically, looking at a mascot limits the way Native students see themselves succeeding.

…and a horrible follow-up, Fryburg did another study that compared white students, and in all the areas where Native students’ self esteem, community worth, and possible selves went down, white students went up. No active oppression in American society, right? White students directly benefit from racism against Native students.

In sum: Scientific research shows that mascots and Indian stereotypes, regardless of if they are “good” images (Pocahontas, The Fighting Sioux) or “bad” images (Chief Wahoo), they cause depressed self esteem, decreased community worth, and decreased possible selves–even when students say the images don’t bother them. And images are worse than words.

So still want to tell me how the Fighting Sioux are no big deal and I should get over it?

  • GAR

    I read that study in a class on Native American history last year and I LOVED it. I want to print it out and give it to every person who gives me grief when I criticize the use of native mascots.

  • I wonder why the white students felt more self-esteem looking at the pictures etc… I mean, what where the thought processes? “Yay, I’m not an Indian!”? Even if confronted with the “good” stereotypes? Or maybe something like “I appreciate Indians! I am not racist! I am a good person!”? Either way, it’s mighty fucked up.
    (I guess my self-esteem would go up because I would be proud about realizing these stereotypes are racist, which seems kind of bad too.)

    • Haidagurl

      Perhaps it relieves feelings of white guilt and reinforces illusions about the great American melting pot to see images of Indians used so casually and for such a “fun” purposes – like, “see it’s all cool now. I’m so not racist I’ve got on Indian on my flag.”

      In any case, I suspect an aversion to dealing with feelings of white guilt is why so many mascot fans are quick to write Natives off as overly sensitive or seeking special treatment. Our continuing existence and voices are an uncomfortable reminder of the way this nation was built.

  • I always cite the Fryburg studies. Kick ass from the start. I also love to cite Rob Williams’ Like a Loaded Weapon, where he argues that negative stereotypes of Indian savagery and cultural inferiority have functioned ‘like a loaded weapon’ in the Supreme Court’s law decisions that affect Native people on a daily basis. Rock out Adrienne.

  • Dr. Michael Watson

    I grew up under the shadow of Chief Illini, playing cowboys and Indians. My dad loved sports and supported the local teams. My parents hated cowboys and Indians, of course, but refused to explain why. (We were passing after all.) It was, to say the least, a confusing situation. Not good. I am frequently saddened and angered by the refusal of the dominant culture to acknowledge the harm being done by stereotyping. As a clinician, I see a lot of Native young adults (mostly relatively affluent professionals) who are grappling with the paradoxes of Native life. (So are the relatively few Native students I teach.) They are confused, too. And hurting.

  • Guest

    Correlation does not imply causation.

    • Leopold

      That would be a relevant criticism if the study had measured exposure to images and self-esteem, then correlated them. But it takes similar, randomly assigned subjects, and shows them images. Any difference in their self-esteem after that has to be caused by the image. That’s how you usually test for causation.

  • If you don’t mind me asking this, what do you consider to be the sort of artwork that contributes to awareness and education about Native Americans and minority groups in general?

    One of the things that I see a lot is people acting as if we have to have some form of “image” associated with every group and thus treating “good” representations as being the lesser form of evil. Society seems to need a “short hand” as it were for all groups. Somehow I think we’re nowhere near getting rid of that particular issue.

    A lot of minority groups face these same bad/good hurtful stereotype issues sadly. Some days I think the best outcome is going to be a stereotype we can live with until people in general grow out of their need to label everyone.

  • Kay

    Is it awful or awesome that each time I saw the name Fryburg, all I could read it as was Frybread?