From: Karrie Karahalios <>
Cultural models in language and thought: Prestige and intimacy

The goal of this paper was to describe the common understanding of a group of women in this study toward male/female relationships. It addresses what women assume is implicit in a shared cultural model and how it is represented. A series of studies were performed: A, B, and C. Each of these studies is in effect, an exercise in classification.

Study A-1: There were 42 interviews with males and females of primarily white, southern, middle-class background. Their task was to list types of members of the opposite gender and describe them.

There are already several problems with this approach. Firstly, it is extremely difficult to make a linear mapping when the subjects all use different adjectives and terminology. Also, some of the descriptions were not merely descriptive, but also attached a behavioral component to the label. In describing scenarios such as this, it is difficult to extract the relevant or meaningful data. The descriptions also did not encompass the emotions of the subjects involved. It would be interesting to see the some of the uncommon classifications of this 42 person sample set.

Study A-2: This study asked the same subjects to compare and contrast 41 males and female types (selected from the classifications in Study A-1) based on personal criteria. A multi-dimensional scaling was used to graph the labels in a visual form. The problem is a difficult one. It is essentially to try and find a basis set for these labels that allows for the coherent clustering of this unsupervised data.Determining these axes seems somewhat subjective based on the compare and contrast descriptions. When two dimensions were used for the sorting, the data was distorted. With three dimensions, it was acceptable. It would be difficult to visualize four dimensions, but it would be reassuring if the data could not sort well.

From this classification three features for males and three for females were inferred. The paper acknowledged that this was not a perfect scheme, but claimed it did provide some key behaviors and groupings of problematic types.

Studies B and C: These studies occured two years later with primarily young, unmarried women in the same age group. (One must consider that the results may be a factor of this age group. If they are too young, they may still be learning about their social group and themselves.) I don't think the 2 year time-span will affect the social groupings too much, although if the studies were done at two different universities, that may play a role.

The goal of these studies was to uncover a new basis set by taking advantage of the scenario structure from the interviews. That is, what are the underlying assumptions that women have in their social groups? The study format consisted of participant observation and 1-2 hour interviews over a years time.

Study B had 23 members. They averaged 8 interviews in a talking diary format. They would continue talking about their encounters with males where they left off the previous time.

Study C had 10 members (average 5 interviews). They related first and then subsequent memories of someone in a long-term relationship. They were then asked personal questions about it.

In both of these studies, it may be difficult to get honest, unbiased data. Certain aspects of a relationship can be very personal and, therefore, it may be difficult to be objective and completely open.

The conclusion from Studies B and C is a taken-for-granted cultural model from the female perspective. It is summarized as follows: The male earns admiration and affection by treating the female well. The result is intimacy. The female allows herself to be closer with someone who tries to win her affections and who she finds attractive. Because of treating her well and trying to gain her affection, her attractiveness is established and she gains prestige within her social group. He in turn gains prestige within his social group through the affection and intimacy he has gained.

In this two-dimensional model, the axes being, prestige and intimacy, there evolves this classification of four types of males. It also describes relationships as a series of negotiations where the members of the relationship are ``priced'' not by the self, but by the social group.

There also seems to be a big difference between thinking a person is a certain type and saying it if front of a social group. This implies a peer pressure from the social group to conform. Therefore, there is an understood model, but it may not be the preferred one. Another issue is that there exist subcultures (by family, religion, ethnicity, safety) within university culture, so there may be conflicting signals about prestige.

The paper also states one example of problematic males is the type that is unattractive and insensitive (resulting in low prestige and low intimacy). If a person were attractive and insensitive, that would cause his prestige level to increase.

There are some problems other with the data in these studies. For example, in the manner that the scenes or scenarios are related, it might be helpful to take into account the personality of the storyteller. A ``mean'' storyteller may make the male personalities ``mean'' as well.

It would also have been nice to hear some of the male's scenarios. The resulting model from these studies is from the female perspective. If the resulting male model is inconsistent with the female model, then the model will break in many situations.

Finally, prestige and intimacy work well for simplistic scenarios.They are not necessarily the only factors involved. In a more coplex long-term relationship, I believe there would also be other dominant influences.