That's the feeling that I get from the new video all over my Facebook feed (and with over 7 million views in 4 days) titled "Dove Real Beauty Sketches." If you haven't seen it, here you go. (I summarize it below.)
The associated website calls this "a social experiment." But it's a terrible example of experimentation.
We are invited to draw the conclusion that women see themselves as less attractive than others do. I don't know the self-perception literature well, but I'm pretty sure this conclusion is right. But this experiment is a terrible way to illustrate that.
- The artist should be blind to condition. He knows when he's basing the drawing on the description of the subject vs. the stranger, and so could unconsciously bias the result
- The descriptions are not based on perception, they are based on memory. If you want to claim that it's about how women see themselves, not how they remember themselves, then each person should do their best to describe the woman based on the same photograph
- A the end the sketch artist tells each woman the source of each sketch. What would have happened if he had asked her to say which looks more like her, and to say which she thought was based on her description? If women's perception is really distorted, then the woman should see sketch based on her description as being more like her. An alternative hypothesis is that women more or less know what they look like, but talk about themselves in negative terms.
- The foregoing point raises another issue: social conformity. If the result is not due to perception but to people conforming to social norms, the difference in the sketches might be due to the women's reluctance to seem vain in their self-descriptions, and to the stranger feeling that he or she ought to describe the woman nicely.
That's why I draw the analogy to grammar, punctuation, and spelling in a written message. If Dove had published a print ad full of grammatical and spelling errors, I expect someone would have called them out on it.
Dove presents this as an experiment, but it's a terrible experiment. It would not have been hard to do a video making the same point with a better experiment. Any graduate student of social psychology could have improved this ten-fold.
I would have given the video 9/10 (subtracting one point for scientific sloppiness) if not for the statement made here in the video:
I should be more grateful of my natural beauty. It impacts the choices in the friends that we make, the jobs we apply for, how we treat our children, it impacts everything. It couldn’t be more critical to your happiness.
But I can't expect everything from a company selling beauty products. 8 out of 10, Dove.