Perceiving gender differences as natural or learned has important implications for the self. Here it was hypothesized that, compared to thinking of gender as learned (i.e., a social constructivist theory), thinking of gender as natural (i.e., an essentialist theory) would lead to a more external locus of control, less perceived ability and persistence, and stronger stereotypical associations of men with science and women with the liberal arts. Participants were randomly assigned to read an article that primed either a social constructivist or an essentialist theory. Participant gender moderated how the prime affected locus of control, perceived ability, and implicit associations. After being primed to think of gender as natural, men had more external locus of control and less perceived ability than after being primed to think of gender as learned. In contrast, after being primed to think of gender as natural, women had less external locus of control and greater perceived ability than after being primed to think of gender as learned. These results are discussed through the lens of the Self-Serving Attributional Bias (SSAB) and Worldview Verification Theory. Through the SSAB, men would prefer to think of gender differences as learned because this worldview allows them to think of gender disparities in power (that are often in their favor) as due to somewhat controllable factors. Women would prefer to think of gender as learned because this worldview allows them to instead frame gender disparities in power (that are often not in their favor) as due to uncontrollable factors. Combined with Worldview Verification Theory (i.e., people react with emotional distress when they encounter information that contradicts their worldviews), these results indicate that people may have had more external locus of control, less perceived ability, and been slower to make stereotypical associations after being primed with the lay theory that contradicted their preferred worldviews.
Lamer, Sarah, "The Power of Perspective: Implications of Seeing Gender as Natural or Nurtured" (2013). Psychology Honors Papers. 37.
The views expressed in this paper are solely those of the author.