Matthew Effect: What It Is And How It Describes Injustices

Matthew Effect

Something that many social scientists have asked themselves is why those people to whom certain material or immaterial benefits are attributed, actually end up receiving said benefits. And the same thing but in reverse: how is it that people who are associated with fewer benefits also have fewer possibilities of accessing them.

There have been many concepts and theories developed to offer answers to the above. These concepts and theories have been thought about and applied from different areas. For example, social psychology, organizational psychology, economics or social policy, among others. One of those that have been used since the middle of the 20th century in psychology and sociology is the Matthew Effect Below we will explain what this effect consists of and how it has been applied to explain different phenomena.

Why is it called the Matthew Effect?

The Matthew Effect is also known as the San Mateo Effect. It is called that because a biblical passage from the Gospel of Matthew has been taken and reread. Specifically it is about verse 13, chapter 19, which says that “to him who has will be given and he will have abundance; But from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away.”

Many interpretations have been given in its rereading. There are those who have used it to justify the inequitable attribution and distribution of material and immaterial benefits; and there are those who have used it in the opposite sense, to denounce said distribution. In the specific case of the scientific field, the passage has been reread to explain the phenomenon in the sociology of science; A question that we will explain in detail towards the end of this text.

You may be interested:  Kibbutz: What They Are, Characteristics and History of These Communities

Dimensions of this social phenomenon

As we have said, different disciplines, both in psychology and related areas, have attempted to explain the process of social distribution of material and immaterial benefits Some of the most popular are, for example, the pygmalion effect, the snowball effect or the cumulative effect, among others.

In its case, the Matthew Effect has made it possible to pay attention not only to decision-making in the selection and distribution of benefits based on categorization criteria (social stratification), but also allows us to think about how this is connected to the structuring of an individual psychological perception, from which we attribute to certain people a series of values ​​that justify the selection and distribution of benefits.

In this sense, the Matthew Effect occurs through two interrelated dimensions: the selection and distribution process; and the individual perception process, related to the activation of our memory and attribution strategies

1. Selection and distribution processes

There are people or groups of people whose qualities are those that we consider necessary to access different benefits. Depending on the context, we can ask ourselves what values ​​are considered relevant for the distribution of material and immaterial benefits? Based on what criteria are different benefits distributed?

In pyramidal structures and meritocratic models This is quite visible, since the power to be a recipient of the benefits is attributed to a person or entity. That person or entity is the one whose actions and values ​​are recognized first, and sometimes only. This also reduces the possibilities that the benefits and their conditions of possibility are distributed equitably.

You may be interested:  How Can Ageism Harm Society?

2. Individual perception processes

Broadly speaking, these are values ​​founded a priori to associate a person or group of people with a material or immaterial benefit. The overvaluation of the parameters is frequent, where even individually We tend to perceive the top of the pyramid as the most valuable and from there we also justify that the distribution is decided for the benefit of some and not others.

Individual perception is influenced by the decision process, and ends up justifying the distribution of benefits among “the best.”

Among other things, the Matthew Effect relates decisions about the distribution of benefits to a social prestige that is attributed a priori to certain people or group of people. In addition The concept has allowed us to think about the gaps in social stratifications that is, how does the above have an impact on reducing the benefits of those who do not correspond to certain values ​​(for example, prestige).

Inequality in sociology of science

The Matthew Effect was used by American sociologist Robert Merton in the 1960s to explain how we attribute credit for scientific research to a single person. even when other people have participated in a greater proportion

In other words, it has served to explain how scientific genius is attributed to some people and not others. And how, from this, certain possibilities of action and knowledge production are determined for some and not for others.

Mario Bunge (2002) tells us that in fact different experiments on the Matthew Effect have been carried out in this context. For example, in the 90s, a group of researchers selected fifty scientific articles, they changed the title and name (to that of an unknown researcher) and sent them for publication to the same journals where they had originally been published. Almost all of them were rejected.

You may be interested:  The 7 Types of Suggestion (and Their Characteristics and Uses)

It is common for our memory to function based on the names of those who already have certain scientific or academic recognition, and not on the names of those who we do not associate with values ​​such as prestige. In the words of the Argentine epistemologist: “If a Nobel Prize winner says something stupid, it appears in all the newspapers, but an obscure researcher has a stroke of genius, the public does not notice” (Bunge, 2002, pp.1).

Thus, the Matthew Effect is one of those that contributes to the social stratification of scientific communities, which may also be visible in other environments. For example, in the same context the term Matilda Effect has been used to analyze the social and gender stratification of science.