Show Summary Details

Page of

Printed from Oxford Research Encyclopedias, Psychology. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a single article for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 26 November 2020

Gender in a Social Psychology Contextfree

  • Thekla MorgenrothThekla MorgenrothDepartment of Psychology, University of Exeter
  •  and Michelle K. RyanMichelle K. RyanDean of Postgraduate Research and Director of the Doctoral College, University of Exeter


Understanding gender and gender differences is a prevalent aim in many psychological subdisciplines. Social psychology has tended to employ a binary understanding of gender and has focused on understanding key gender stereotypes and their impact. While women are seen as warm and communal, men are seen as agentic and competent. These stereotypes are shaped by, and respond to, social contexts, and are both descriptive and prescriptive in nature. The most influential theories argue that these stereotypes develop in response to societal structures, including the roles women and men occupy in society, and status differences between the sexes. Importantly, research clearly demonstrates that these stereotypes have a myriad of effects on individuals’ cognitions, attitudes, and behaviors and contribute to sexism and gender inequality in a range of domains, from the workplace to romantic relationships.


Gender is omnipresent—it is one of the first categories children learn, and the categorization of people into men and women1 affects almost every aspect of our lives. Gender is a key determinant of our self-concept and our perceptions of others. It shapes our mental health, our career paths, and our most intimate relationships. It is therefore unsurprising that psychologists invest a great deal of time in understanding gender as a concept, with social psychologists being no exception. However, this has not always been the case. This article begins with “A Brief History of Gender in Psychology,” which gives an overview about gender within psychology more broadly. The remaining sections discuss how gender is examined within social psychology more specifically, with particular attention to how gender stereotypes form and how they affect our sense of self and our evaluations of others.

A Brief History of Gender in Psychology

During the early years of psychology in general, and social psychology in particular, the topic gender was largely absent from psychology, as indeed were women. Male researchers made claims about human nature based on findings that were restricted to a small portion of the population, namely, white, young, able-bodied, middle-class, heterosexual men [see Etaugh, 2016; a phenomenon that has been termed androcentrism (Hegarty, & Buechel, 2006)]. If women and girls were mentioned at all, they were usually seen as inferior to men and boys (e.g., Hall, 1904).

This invisibility of women within psychology changed with a rise of the second wave of feminism in the 1960s. Here, more women entered psychology, demanded to be seen, and pushed back against the narrative of women as inferior. They argued that psychology’s androcentrism, and the sexist views of psychologists, had not only biased psychological theory and research, but also contributed to and reinforced gender inequality in society. For example, Weisstein (1968) argued that most claims about women made by prominent psychologists, such as Freud and Erikson, lacked an evidential grounding and were instead based on these men’s fantasies of what women were like rather than empirical data. A few years later, Maccoby and Jacklin (1974) published their seminal work, The Psychology of Sex Differences, which synthesized the literature on sex differences and concluded that there were few (but some) sex differences. This led to a growth of interest in the social origins of sex differences, with a shift away from a psychology of sex (i.e., biologically determined male vs. female) and toward a psychology of gender (i.e., socially constructed masculine vs. feminine).

Since then, the psychology of gender has become a respected and widely represented subdiscipline within psychology. In a fascinating analysis of the history of feminism and psychology, Eagly, Eaton, Rose, Riger, and McHugh (2012) examined publications on sex differences, gender, and women from 1960 to 2009. In those 50 years, the number of annual publications rose from close to zero to over 6,500. As a proportion of all psychology articles, one can also see a marked rise in popularity in gender articles from 1960 to 2009, with peak years of interest in the late 1970s and 1990s. In line with the aforementioned shift from sex differences to gender differences, the largest proportion of these articles fall into the topic of “social processes and social issues,” which includes research on gender roles, masculinity, and femininity.

However, as interest in the area has grown, the ways in which gender is studied, and the political views of those studying it, have become more diverse. Eagly and colleagues note:

we believe that this research gained from feminist ideology but has escaped its boundaries. In this garden, many flowers have bloomed, including some flowers not widely admired by some feminist psychologists. (p. 225)

Here, they allude to the fact that some research has shifted away from societal explanations, which feminist psychologists have generally favored, to more complex views of gender difference. Some of these acknowledge the fact that nature and nurture are deeply intertwined, with both biological and social variables being used to understand gender and gender differences (e.g., Wood & Eagly, 2002). Others, such as evolutionary approaches (e.g., Baumeister, 2013; Buss, 2016) and neuroscientific approaches (see Fine, 2010), focus more heavily on the biological bases of gender differences, often causing chagrin among feminists. Nevertheless, much of the research in social psychology has, unsurprisingly, focused on social factors and, in particular, on gender stereotypes. Where do they come from and what are their effects?

Origins and Effects of Gender Stereotypes

A stereotype can be defined as a “widely shared and simplified evaluative image of a social group and its members” (Vaughan & Hogg, 2011, p. 51) and has both descriptive and prescriptive aspects. In other words, gender stereotypes tell us what women and men are like, but also what they should be like (Heilman, 2001). Gender stereotypes are not only widely shared, but they are also stubbornly resistant to change (Haines, Deaux, & Lofaro, 2016). Both the origin and the consequences of these stereotypes have received much attention in social psychology. So how do stereotypes form? The most widely cited theories on stereotype formation—social role theory (SRT; Eagly, 1987; Eagly, Wood, & Diekman, 2000) and the stereotype content model (SCM; Fiske, Cuddy, Glick, & Xu, J., 2002)—answer this question. Both of these models focus on gender as a binary concept (i.e., men and women), as does most psychological research on gender, although they could potentially also be applied to other gender groups. Both theories are considered in turn.

Social Role Theory: Gender Stereotypes Are Determined by Roles

SRT argues that gender stereotypes stem from the distribution of men and women into distinct roles within a given society (Eagly, 1987; Eagly et al., 2000). The authors note the stability of gender stereotypes across cultures and describe two core dimensions: agency, including traits such as independence, aggression, and assertiveness, and communion, including traits such as caring, altruism, and politeness. While men are generally seen to be high in agency and low in communion, women are generally perceived to be high in communion but low in agency.

According to SRT, these gender stereotypes stem from the fact that women and men are over- and underrepresented in different roles in society. In most societies, even those with higher levels of gender equality, men perform less domestic work compared to women, including childcare, and spend more time in paid employment. Additionally, men disproportionately occupy leadership roles in the workforce (e.g., in politics and management) and are underrepresented in caretaking roles within the workforce (e.g., in elementary education and nursing; see Eagly et al., 2000). Eagly and colleagues argue that this gendered division of labor leads to the formation of gender roles and associated stereotypes. More specifically, they propose that different behaviors are seen as necessary to fulfil these social roles, and different skills, abilities, and traits are seen as necessary to execute these behaviors. For example, elementary school teachers are seen to need to care for and interact with children, which is seen to require social skills, empathy, and a caring nature. In contrast, such communal attributes might be seen to be less important—or even detrimental—for a military leader.

To the extent that women and men are differentially represented and visible in certain roles—such as elementary school teachers or military leaders—the behaviors and traits necessary for these roles become part of each respective gender role. In other words, the behaviors and attributes associated with people in caretaking roles, communion, become part of the female gender role, while the behaviors and attributes associated with people in leadership roles, agency, become part of the male gender role.

Building on SRT, Wood and Eagly (2002) developed a biosocial model of the origins of sex differences which explains the stability of gendered social roles across cultures. The authors argue that, in the past, physical differences between men and women meant that they were better able to perform certain tasks, contributing to the formation of gender roles. More specifically, women had to bear children and nurse them, while men were generally taller and had more upper body strength. In turn, tasks that required upper body strength and long stretches of uninterrupted time (e.g., hunting) were more often carried out by men, while tasks that could be interrupted more easily and be carried out while pregnant or looking after children (e.g., foraging) were more often carried out by women.

Eagly and colleagues further propose that the exact tasks more easily carried out by each sex depended on social and ecological conditions as well as technological and cultural advances. For example, it was only in more advanced, complex societies that the greater size and strength of men led to a division of labor in which men were preferred for activities such as warfare, which also came with higher status and access to resources. Similarly, the development of plough technology led to shifts from hunter–gatherer societies to agricultural societies. This change was often accompanied by a new division of labor in which men owned, farmed, and inherited land while women carried out more domestic tasks. The social structures that arose from these processes in specific contexts in turn affected more proximal causes of gender differences, including gender stereotypes.

It is important to note that this theory focuses on physical differences between the genders, not psychological ones. In other words, the authors do not argue that women and men are inherently different when it comes to their minds, nor that men evolved to be more agentic while women evolved to be more communal.

Stereotype Content Model: Gender Stereotypes Are Determined by Group Relations

The SCM, formulated by Fiske and colleagues (2002), was not developed specifically for gender, but as an explanation of how stereotypes form more generally. Similar to SRT, the SCM argues that gender stereotypes arise from societal structures. More specifically, the authors suggest that status differences and cooperation versus competition determine group stereotypes—among them, gender stereotypes. This model also suggests two main dimensions to stereotypes, namely, warmth and competence. The concept of warmth is similar to that of communion, previously described, in that it refers to being kind, nice, and caring. Competence refers to attributes such as being intelligent, efficient, and skillful and is thus different from the agency dimension of SRT.

The SCM argues that the dimensions of warmth and competence originate from two fundamental dimensions—status and competition—which characterize the relationships between groups in every culture and society. The degree to which another group is perceived to be warm is determined by whether the group is in cooperation or in competition with one’s own group, which is in turn associated with perceived intentions to help or to harm one’s own group, respectively. While members of cooperating groups are stereotyped as warm, members of competing groups are stereotyped as cold. Evidence suggests that these two dimensions are indeed universal and can be found in many cultures, including collectivist cultures (Cuddy et al., 2009). Perceptions of competence, however, are affected by the status and power of the group, which go hand-in-hand with the group’s ability to harm one’s own group. Those groups with high status and power are stereotyped as competent, while those that lack status and power are stereotyped as incompetent.

Groups can thus fall into one of four quadrants of this model. Members of high status groups who cooperate with one’s own group are seen as unequivocally positive—as warm and competent—while those of low status who compete with one’s own group are seen as unequivocally negative—cold and incompetent. More interesting are the two groups that fall into the more ambivalent quadrants—those who are perceived as either warm but incompetent or competent but cold. Applied to gender, this model suggests—and research shows—that typical men are stereotyped as competent but cold, the envious stereotype, while typical women are stereotyped as warm but incompetent, the paternalistic stereotype.

However, these stereotypes do not apply equally to all women and men. Rather, subgroups of men and women come with their own stereotypes. Research demonstrates, for example, that the paternalistic stereotype most strongly applies to traditional women such as housewives, while less traditional women such as feminists and career women are stereotyped as high in competence and low in warmth. For men, there are similar levels of variation—the envious stereotype applies most strongly to men in traditional roles such as managers and career men, while other men are perceived as warm but incompetent (e.g., senior citizens), as cold and incompetent (e.g., punks), or as warm and competent (e.g., professors; Eckes, 2002). The section “Gender Stereotypes Affect Emotions, Behavior, and Sexism” discusses the consequences of these stereotypes in more detail.

The Effects of Gender Stereotypes

SRT and the SCM explain how gender stereotypes form. A large body of work in social psychology has focused on the consequences of these stereotypes. These include effects on the gendered perceptions and evaluations of others, as well as effects on the self and one’s own self-image, behavior, and goals.

Gendered Perceptions and Evaluations of Others

Our group-based stereotypes affect how we see members of these groups and how we judge those who do or do not conform to these stereotypes. Gender differs from many other group memberships in several ways (see Fiske & Stevens, 1993), which in turn affects consequences of these stereotypes. First, argue Fiske and Stevens, gender stereotypes tend to be more prescriptive than other stereotypes. For example, men may often be told to “man up,” to be tough and dominant, while women may be told to smile, to be nice, and to be sexy (but not too sexy). While stereotypes of other groups also have prescriptive elements, it is probably less common to hear Asians be told to be better at math or African Americans to be told to be more musical. The consequences of these gendered prescriptions are discussed in the section “Gender Stereotypes Affect the Evaluation of Women and Men.” Second, relationships between women and men are characterized by an unusual combination of power differences and close and frequent contact as well as mutual dependence for reproduction and close relationships. The section “Gender Stereotypes Affect Emotions, Behavior, and Sexism” discusses the effects of these factors.

Gender Stereotypes Affect the Evaluation of Women and Men

The evaluation of women and men is affected by both descriptive and prescriptive gender stereotypes. Research on these effects has predominantly focused on those who occupy counterstereotypical roles such as women in leadership or stay-at-home fathers.

Descriptive stereotypes affect the perception and evaluation of women and men in several ways. First, descriptive stereotypes create biased perceptions through expectancy confirming processes (see Fiske, 2000) such that individuals, particularly those holding strong stereotypes, seek out information that confirms their stereotypes. This is evident in their tendency to neglect or dismiss ambiguous information and to ask stereotype-confirming questions (Leyens, Yzerbyt, & Schadron, 1994; Macrae, Milne, & Bodenhausen, 1994). Moreover, people are more likely to recall stereotypical information compared to counterstereotypical information (Rojahn & Pettigrew, 1992) Second, descriptive gender stereotypes also bias the extent to which men and women are seen as suitable for different roles, as described in Heilman’s lack of fit model (1983, 1995) and Eagly and Karau’s role congruity theory (2002). These approaches both suggest that the degree of fit between a person’s attributes and the attributes associated with a specific role is positively related to expectations about how successful a person will be in said role. For example, the traits associated with successful managers are generally more similar to those associated with men than those associated with women (Schein, 1973; see also Ryan, Haslam, Hersby, & Bongiorno, 2011). Thus, all else being equal, a man will be seen as a better fit for a managerial position and in turn as more likely to be a successful manager. These biased evaluations in turn lead to biased decisions, such as in hiring and promotion (see Heilman, 2001).

Prescriptive gender stereotypes also affect evaluations, albeit in different ways. They prescribe how women and men should behave, and also how they should not behave. The “shoulds” generally mirror descriptive stereotypes, while the “should nots” often include behaviors associated with the opposite gender. Thus, what is seen as positive and desirable for one gender is often seen as undesirable for the other and can lead to backlash in the form of social and economic penalties (Rudman, 1998). For example, women who are seen as agentic are punished with social sanctions because they violate the prescriptive stereotype that women should be nice, even in the absence of information indicating that they are not nice (Rudman & Glick, 2001). These processes are particularly problematic in combination with the effects of descriptive stereotypes, as individuals may face a double bind—if women behave in line with gender stereotypes, they lack fit with leadership positions that require agency, but if they behave agentically, they violate gender norms and face backlash in the form of dislike and discrimination (Rudman & Glick, 2001). Similar effects have been found for men who violate prescriptive masculine stereotypes, for example, by being modest (Moss-Racusin, Phelan, & Rudman, 2010) or by requesting family leave (Rudman & Mescher, 2013). Interestingly, however, being communal by itself does not lead to backlash for men (Moss-Racusin et al., 2010). In other words, while men can be perceived as highly agentic and highly communal, this is not true for women, who are perceived as lacking communion when being perceived as agentic and as lacking agency when being perceived as communal.

Gender Stereotypes Affect Emotions, Behavior, and Sexism

Stereotypes not only affect how individuals evaluate others, but also their feelings and behaviors toward them. The Behavior from Intergroup Affect and Stereotypes (BIAS) map (Cuddy, Fiske, & Glick, 2007), which extends the SCM, describes the relationship between perceptions of warmth and competence of certain groups, emotions directed toward these groups, and behaviors toward them. Cuddy and colleagues argue that bias is comprised of three elements: cognitions (i.e., stereotypes), affect (i.e., emotional prejudice), and behavior (i.e., discrimination), and these are closely linked. Groups perceived as warm and competent elicit admiration while groups perceived as cold and incompetent elicit contempt. Of particular interest to understanding gender are the two ambivalent combinations of warmth and competence: Those perceived as warm, but incompetent—such as typical women—elicit pity, while those perceived as competent, but cold—such as typical men—elicit envy.

Similarly, perceptions of warmth and competence are associated with behavior. Cuddy and colleagues (2007) argue that the warmth dimension affects behavioral reactions more strongly than competence because it stems from perceptions that a group will help or harm the ingroup. This leads to active facilitation (e.g., helping) when a group is perceived as warm, or active harm (e.g., harassing) when a group is perceived as cold. Competence, however, leads to passive facilitation (e.g., cooperation when it benefits oneself or one’s own group) when the group is perceived as competent, and passive harm (e.g., neglecting to help) when the group is perceived as incompetent.

How these emotional and behavioral reactions affect women and men has received much attention in the literature on ambivalent sexism and ambivalent attitudes toward men (Glick & Fiske, 1996, 1999, 2001). According to ambivalent sexism theory (AST), sexism is not a uniform, negative attitude toward women or men. Rather, it is comprised of hostile and benevolent elements, which arises from status differences between, and intimate interdependence of, the two genders. While men possess more economic, political, and social power, they depend on women as their mothers and (for heterosexual men) as romantic partners. Thus, while they are likely to be motivated to keep their power, they also need to find ways to foster positive relations with women.

Hostile sexism combines the beliefs that (a) women are inferior to men, (b) men should have more power in society, and (c) women’s sexuality poses a threat to men’s status and power. This form of sexism is mostly directed toward nontraditional women who directly threaten men’s status (e.g., feminists or career women), and women who threaten the heterosexual interdependence of men and women (e.g., lesbians)—in other words, toward women perceived to be competent but cold.

Benevolent sexism is a subtler form of sexism and refers to (a) complementary gender differentiation, the belief that (traditional) women are ultimately the better gender, (b) protective paternalism, where men need to cherish, protect, and provide for women, and (c) heterosexual intimacy, the belief that men and women complement each other such that no man is truly complete without a woman. This form of sexism is directed mainly toward traditional women.

While benevolent sexism may seem less harmful than its hostile counterpart, it ultimately provides an alternative mechanism for the persistence of gender inequality by “keeping women in their place” and discouraging them from seeking out nontraditional roles (see Glick & Fiske, 2001). Exposure to benevolent sexism is associated with women’s increased self-stereotyping (Barreto, Ellemers, Piebinga, & Moya, 2010), decreased cognitive performance (Dardenne, Dumont, & Bollier, 2007), and reduced willingness to take collective action (Becker & Wright, 2011), thus reinforcing the status quo.

With perceptions of men, Glick and Fiske (1999) argue that attitudes are equally ambivalent. Hostile attitudes toward men include (a) resentment of paternalism, stemming from perceptions of unfairness of the disproportionate amounts of power men hold, (b) compensatory gender differentiation, which refers to the application of negative stereotypes to men (e.g., arrogant, unrefined) so that women can positively distinguish themselves from them, and (c) heterosexual hostility, stemming from male sexual aggressiveness and interpersonal dominance. Benevolent attitudes toward men include maternalism, that is, the belief that men are helpless and need to be taken care of at home. Interestingly, while such attitudes portray women as competent in some ways, it still reinforces gender inequality by legitimizing women’s disproportionate amount of domestic work. Benevolent attitudes toward men also include complementary gender differentiation, the belief that men are indeed more competent, and heterosexual attraction, the belief that a woman can only be truly happy when in a romantic relationship with a man.

Cross-cultural research (Glick et al., 2000, 2004) suggests that ambivalent sexism and ambivalent attitudes toward men are similar in many ways and can be found in most cultures. For both constructs, the benevolent and hostile aspects are distinct but positively related, illustrating that attitudes toward women and men are indeed ambivalent, as the mixed nature of stereotypes would suggest. Moreover, ambivalence toward women and men are correlated and national averages of both aspects of sexism and ambivalence toward men are associated with lower gender equality across nations, lending support to the idea that they reinforce the status quo.

Gender Stereotypes Affect the Self

Gender stereotypes not only affect individuals’ reactions toward others, they also play an important part in self-construal, motivation, achievement, and behavior, often without explicit endorsement of the stereotype. This section discusses how gender stereotypes affect observable gender differences and then describes the subtle and insidious effects gender stereotypes can have on performance and achievement through the inducement of stereotype threat (Steele & Aronson, 1995).

Gender Stereotypes Affect Gender Differences

Gender stereotypes are a powerful influence on the self-concept, goals, and behaviors. Eagly and colleagues (2000) argue that girls and boys observe the roles that women and men occupy in society and accommodate accordingly, seeking out different activities and acquiring different skills. They propose two main mechanisms by which gender differences form. First, women and men adjust their behavior to confirm others’ gender-stereotypical expectations. Others communicate their gendered expectations in many, often nonverbal and subtle ways and react positively when expectations are confirmed and negatively when they are not. This subtle communication of expectations reinforces gender-stereotypical behavior as people generally try to elicit positive, and avoid negative, reactions from others. Importantly, the interacting partners need not be aware of these expectations for them to take effect.

The second process by which gender stereotypes translate into gender differences is the self-regulation of behavior based on identity processes and the internalization of stereotypes (e.g., Bem, 1981; Markus, 1977). Most people form their gender identity based on self-categorization as male or female and subsequently incorporate attributes associated with the respective category into their self-concept (Guimond, Chatard, Martinot, Crisp, & Redersdorff, 2006). These gendered differences in the self-concepts of women and men then translate into gender-stereotypical behaviors. The extent to which the self-concept is affected by gender stereotypes—and in turn the extent to which gendered patterns of behavior are displayed—depends on the strength and the salience of this social identity (Hogg & Turner, 1987; Onorato & Turner, 2004). For example, individuals may be more likely to display gender-stereotypical behavior when they identify more strongly with their gender (e.g., Lorenzi‐Cioldi, 1991) or when their gender is more likely to be salient, which is more likely to be the case for women (Cadinu & Galdi, 2012).

However, many different subcategories of women exist—housewives, feminists, lesbians—and thus what it means to identify as a woman, and behave like a woman, is likely to be complex and multifaceted (e.g., Fiske et al., 2002; van Breen, Spears, Kuppens, & de Lemus, 2017). Moreover, research demonstrates that the salience of gender in any given context also determined the degree to which an individual displays gender-stereotypical behavior (e.g., Ryan & David, 2003; Ryan, David, & Reynolds, 2004). For example, Ryan and colleagues demonstrate that while women and men act in line with gender stereotypes when gender and gender difference are salient, these differences in attitudes and behavior disappear when alternative identities, such as those based on being a student or being an individual, are made salient.

Gender Stereotypes Affect Performance and Achievement

The consequences of stereotypes go beyond the self-concept and behavior. Research in stereotype threat describes the detrimental effects that negative stereotypes can have on performance and achievement. Stereotype threat refers to the phenomenon whereby the awareness of the negative stereotyping of one’s group in a certain domain, and the fear of confirming such stereotypes, can have negative effects on performance, even when the stereotype is not endorsed. The phenomenon was first described by Steele and Aronson (1995) in the context of African Americans’ intellectual test performance, but has since been found to affect women’s performance and motivation in counterstereotypical domains such as math (Nguyen & Ryan, 2008) and leadership (Davies, Spencer, & Steele, 2005). This affect holds true even when minority group members’ prior performance and interest in the domain are the same as those of majority group members (Spencer, Steele, & Quinn, 1999). Moreover, the effect is particularly pronounced when the minority member’s desire to belong is strong and identity-based devaluation is likely (Steele, Spencer, & Aronson, 2002).

Different mechanisms for the effect of stereotype threat have been proposed. Schmader, Johns, and Forbes (2008) suggest that the inconsistency between one’s self-image as competent and the cultural stereotype about one’s group’s lack of competence leads to a physiological stress response that directly impairs working memory. For example, when made aware of the widely held stereotype that women are bad at math, a female math student is likely to experience an inconsistency. This inconsistency, the authors argue, is not only distressing in itself, but induces uncertainty: Am I actually good at math or am I bad at math as the stereotype would lead me to believe? In an effort to resolve this uncertainty, she is likely to monitor her performance more than others—and more than in a situation in which stereotype threat is absent. This monitoring leads to more conscious, less efficient processing of information—for example, when performing calculations that she would otherwise do more or less automatically—and a stronger focus on detecting potential failure, taking cognitive resources away from the actual task. Moreover, individuals under stereotype threat are more likely to experience negative thoughts and emotions such as fear of failure. In order to avoid the interference of these thoughts, they actively try to suppress them. This suppression, however, takes effort. All of these mechanisms, the authors argue, take working memory space away from the task in question, thereby impairing performance.


The aim of this article is to give an overview of gender research in social psychology, which has focused predominantly on gender stereotypes, their origins, and their consequences, and these are all connected and reinforce each other. Social psychology has produced many fascinating findings regarding gender, and this article has only just touched on these findings. While research into gender has seen a great growth in the past 50 years and has provided us with an unprecedented understanding of women and men and the differences (and similarities) between them, there is still much work to be done.

There are a number of issues that remain largely absent from mainstream social psychological research on gender. First, an interest and acknowledgment of intersectional identities has emerged, such as how gender intersects with race or sexuality. It is thus important to note that many of the theories discussed in this article cannot necessarily be applied directly across intersecting identities (e.g., to women of color or to lesbian women), and indeed the attitudes and behaviors of such women continue to be largely ignored within the field.

Second, almost all social psychological research into gender is conducted using an overly simplistic binary definition of gender in terms of women and men. Social psychological theories and explanations are, for the most part, not taking more complex or more fluid definitions of gender into account and thus are unable to explain gendered attitudes and behavior outside of the gender binary.

Finally, individual perceptions and cognitions are influenced by gendered stereotypes and expectations, and social psychologists are not immune to this influence. How we, as psychologists, ask research questions and how we interpret empirical findings are influenced by gender stereotypes (e.g., Hegarty & Buechel, 2006), and we must remain vigilant that we do not inadvertently seek to reinforce our own gendered expectations and reify the gender status quo.


  • Barreto, M., Ellemers, N., Piebinga, L., & Moya, M. (2010). How nice of us and how dumb of me: The effect of exposure to benevolent sexism on women’s task and relational self-descriptions. Sex Roles, 62, 532–544.
  • Baumeister, R. F. (2013) Gender differences in motivation shape social interaction patterns, sexual relationships, social inequality, and cultural history. In M. K. Ryan & N. R. Branscombe (Eds.), The SAGE handbook of gender and psychology. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE
  • Becker, J. C., & Wright, S. C. (2011). Yet another dark side of chivalry: Benevolent sexism undermines and hostile sexism motivates collective action for social change. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101, 62–77.
  • Bem, S. L. (1981). Gender schema theory: A cognitive account of sex typing. Psychological Review, 88, 354–364
  • Buss, D. M. (2016). The evolution of desire. In T. K. Shackelford & V. A. Weekes-Shackelford (Eds.), Encyclopedia of evolutionary psychological science. Cham, SZ: Springer.
  • Cadinu, M., & Galdi, S. (2012). Gender differences in implicit gender self‐categorization lead to stronger gender self‐stereotyping by women than by men. European Journal of Social Psychology, 42, 546–551.
  • Cuddy, A. J. C., Fiske, S. T., & Glick, P. (2007). The BIAS map: Behaviors from intergroup affect and stereotypes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92, 631–648.
  • Cuddy, A. J. C., Fiske, S. T., Kwan, V. S. Y., Glick, P., Demoulin, S., Leyens, J.-P., . . . & Ziegler, R. (2009). Stereotype content model across cultures: Towards universal similarities and some differences. British Journal of Social Psychology, 48, 1–33.
  • Dardenne, B., Dumont, M., & Bollier, T. (2007). Insidious dangers of benevolent sexism: Consequences for women’s performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 93, 764–779.
  • Davies, P. G., Spencer, S. J., & Steele, C. M. (2005). Clearing the air: Identity safety moderates the effects of stereotype threat on women’s leadership aspirations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 88, 276–287.
  • Deaux, K., & Major, B. (1987) Putting gender into context: An interactive model of gender-related behavior. Psychological Review, 94, 369–389.
  • Eagly, A. H. (1987). Sex differences in social behavior: A social role interpretation. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
  • Eagly, A. H., Eaton, A., Rose, S., Riger, S., & McHugh, M. (2012). Feminism and psychology: Analysis of a half-century of research on women and gender. American Psychologist, 67, 211–230.
  • Eagly, A. H., & Karau, S. J. (2002). Role congruity theory of prejudice towards female leaders. Psychological Review, 109, 573–598.
  • Eagly, A. H., Wood, W., & Diekman, A. B. (2000). Social role theory of sex differences and similarities: A current appraisal. In T. Eckes & H. M. Trautner (Eds.), The developmental social psychology of gender (pp. 123–174). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
  • Eckes, T. (2002). Paternalistic and envious gender stereotypes: Testing predictions from the stereotype content model. Sex Roles, 47, 99–114.
  • Etaugh, C. (2016). Psychology of gender: History and development of the field. In N. Naples, R. C. Hoogland, M. Wickramasinghe, & W. C. A. Wong (Eds.), The Wiley Blackwell encyclopedia of gender and sexuality studies, (pp. 1–12). Hoboken, (NJ): John Wiley & Sons.
  • Fine, C. (2010). Delusions of gender: How our minds, society, and neurosexism create difference. New York: Norton.
  • Fiske, S. T. (2000). Stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination at the seam between the centuries: Evolution, culture, mind, and brain. European Journal of Social Psychology, 30, 299–322.
  • Fiske, S. T., Cuddy, A. J. C., Glick, P., & Xu, J. (2002). A model of (often mixed) stereotype content: Competence and warmth respectively follow from perceived status and competition. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82, 878–902.
  • Fiske, S. T., & Stevens, L. E. (1993). What’s so special about sex? Gender stereotyping and discrimination. In S. Oskamp & M. Costanzo (Eds.), Gender issues in contemporary society (pp. 173–196). Newbury Park, CA: SAGE.
  • Glick, P., & Fiske, S. T. (1996). The Ambivalent Sexism Inventory: Differentiating hostile and benevolent sexism. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70, 491–512.
  • Glick, P., & Fiske, S. T. (1999). The Ambivalence toward Men Inventory: Differentiating hostile and benevolent beliefs about men. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 23, 519–536.
  • Glick, P., & Fiske, S. T. (2001). An ambivalent alliance: Hostile and benevolent sexism as complementary justifications of gender inequality. American Psychologist, 56, 109–118.
  • Glick, P., Fiske, S. T., Mladinic, A., Saiz, J. L., Abrams, D., Masser, B., . . . & López, W. L. (2000). Beyond prejudice as simple antipathy: Hostile and benevolent sexism across cultures. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79(5), 763–775.
  • Glick, P., Lameiras, M., Fiske, S. T., Eckes, T., Masser, B., Volpato, C., . . . & Wells, R. (2004). Bad but bold: Ambivalent attitudes toward men predict gender inequality in 16 nations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 86(5), 713–728.
  • Guimond, S., Chatard, A., Martinot, D., Crisp, R. J., & Redersdorff, S. (2006). Social comparison, self-stereotyping, and gender differences in self-construals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 90, 221.
  • Haines, E. L., Deaux, K., & Lofaro, N. (2016). The times they are a-changing . . . or are they not? A comparison of gender stereotypes, 1983–2014. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 40(3), 1–11.
  • Hall, G. S. (1904). Adolescence: Its psychology and its relations to physiology, anthropology, sociology, sex, crime, religion, and education. New York: D. Appleton.
  • Hegarty, P., & Buechel, C. (2006). Androcentric reporting of gender differences in APA journals: 1965–2004. Review of General Psychology, 10(4), 377.
  • Heilman, M. E. (1983). Sex bias in work settings: The lack of fit model. In B. Staw & L. Cummings (Eds.), Research in organizational behavior (Vol. 5). Greenwich, CT: JAI.
  • Heilman, M. E. (1995). Sex stereotypes and their effects in the workplace: What we know and what we don’t know. Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, 10, 3–26.
  • Heilman, M. E. (2001). Description and prescription: How gender stereotypes prevent women’s ascent up the organizational ladder. Journal of Social Issues, 57, 657–674.
  • Hogg, M., & Turner, J. C. (1987). Intergroup behaviour, self-stereotyping and the salience of social categories. British Journal of Social Psychology, 26, 325–340.
  • Leyens, J-Ph., Yzerbyt, V., & Schadron, G. (1994). Stereotypes, social cognition, and social explanation. London: SAGE.
  • Lorenzi-Cioldi, F. (1991). Self‐stereotyping and self‐enhancement in gender groups. European Journal of Social Psychology, 21(5), 403–417.
  • Maccoby, E. E., & Jacklin, C. N. (1974). The psychology of sex differences. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press.
  • Macrae, C. N., Milne, A. B., & Bodenhausen, G. V. (1994). Stereotypes as energy-saving devices: A peek inside the cognitive toolbox. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 66, 37–47.
  • Markus, H. R. (1977). Self-schemata and processing information about the self. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 35, 63–78.
  • Moss-Racusin, C. A., Phelan, J. E., & Rudman, L. A. (2010). When men break the gender rules: Status incongruity and backlash toward modest men. Psychology of Men and Masculinity, 11, 140–151.
  • Nguyen, H. D., & Ryan, A. M. (2008). Does stereotype threat affect test performance of minorities and women? A meta-analysis of experimental evidence. Journal of Applied Psychology, 93, 1314–1334.
  • Onorato, R. S., & Turner, J. C. (2004). Fluidity in the self‐concept: the shift from personal to social identity. European Journal of Social Psychology, 34, 257–278.
  • Rojahn, K., & Pettigrew, T. F. (1992). Memory for schema-relevant information: A meta-analytic resolution. British Journal of Social Psychology, 31, 81–109.
  • Rudman, L. A. (1998). Self-promotion as a risk factor for women: The costs and benefits of counterstereotypical impression management. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, 629–645.
  • Rudman, L. A., & Glick, P. (2001). Prescriptive gender stereotypes and backlash toward agentic women. Journal of Social Issues, 57, 743–762.
  • Rudman, L.A., & Mescher, K. (2013). Penalizing men who request a family leave: Is flexibility stigma a femininity stigma? Journal of Social Issues, 69, 322–340.
  • Ryan, M. K., & David, B. (2003). Gender differences in ways of knowing: The context dependence of The Attitudes Toward Thinking and Learning Survey. Sex Roles, 49, 693–699.
  • Ryan, M. K., David, B., & Reynolds, K. J. (2004). Who cares?: The effect of context on self-concept and moral reasoning. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 28, 246–255.
  • Ryan, M. K., Haslam, S. A., Hersby, M. D., & Bongiorno, R. (2011). Think crisis—think female: The glass cliff and contextual variation in the think manager—think male stereotype. Journal of Applied Psychology, 96, 470–484.
  • Schein, V. E. (1973). The relationship between sex-role stereotypes and requisite management characteristics. Journal of Applied Psychology, 57, 95–100.
  • Schmader, T., Johns, M., & Forbes, C. (2008). An integrated process model of stereotype threat effects on performance. Psychological Review, 115, 336–356.
  • Spencer, S. J., Steele, C. M., & Quinn, D. M. (1999). Stereotype threat and women’s math performance. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 35, 4–28.
  • Steele, C. M., & Aronson, J. (1995). Stereotype threat and the intellectual test performance of African Americans. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69, 797–811.
  • Steele, C. M., Spencer, S. J., & Aronson, J. (2002). Contending with group image: The psychology of stereotype and social identity threat. In M. P. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 34, pp. 379–440). San Diego, CA: Academic Press
  • Van Breen, J. A., Spears, R., Kuppens, T., & de Lemus, S. (2017). A multiple identity approach to gender: Identification with women, identification with feminists, and their interaction. Frontiers in Psychology, 8, 1019.
  • Vaughan, G. M., & Hogg, M. A., (2011). Introduction to Social Psychology (6th ed.). Sydney: Pearson Australia.
  • Weisstein, N. (1968). “Kinder, kuche, kirche” as scientific law: Psychology constructs the female. Boston, MA: New England Free Press.
  • Wood, W., & Eagly, A. H. (2002). A cross-cultural analysis of the behavior of women and men: Implications for the origins of sex differences. Psychological Bulletin, 128, 699–727.


  • 1. Psychology largely conceptualizes gender as binary. While this is problematic in a number of ways, which we touch upon in the Conclusion section, we largely follow these binary conventions throughout this article, as it is representative of the social psychological literature as a whole.