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The Effect of Priming Gender Roles on Women's Implicit Gender Beliefs and Career Aspirations

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We investigated the effect of priming gender roles on women’s implicit gender stereotypes, implicit leadership self-concept, and interest in masculine and feminine careers. Women primed with traditional gender roles (e.g., a male surgeon and a female nurse) showed increased automatic gender stereotypes relative to controls; this effect mediated their reduced interest in masculine occupations. By contrast, exposure to nontraditional roles (e.g., a female surgeon and a male nurse) decreased women’s leadership self-concept and lowered their interest in masculine occupations, suggesting that female vanguards (i.e., successful women in male-dominated careers) can provoke upward comparison threat, rather than inspire self-empowerment. Thus, priming either traditional or nontraditional gender roles can threaten progress toward gender equality, albeit through different mechanisms (stereotypes or self-concept, respectively).
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L.A. Rudman & J. E. Phelan: Priming Gender RolesSocial Psychology 2010; Vol. 41(3):192–202© 2010 Hogrefe Publishing
Original Article
The Effect of Priming Gender Roles
on Women’s Implicit Gender Beliefs
and Career Aspirations
Laurie A. Rudman and Julie E. Phelan
Rutgers University, Piscataway, NJ, USA
Abstract. We investigated the effect of priming gender roles on women’s implicit gender stereotypes, implicit leadership self-concept,
and interest in masculine and feminine careers. Women primed with traditional gender roles (e.g., a male surgeon and a female nurse)
showed increased automatic gender stereotypes relative to controls; this effect mediated their reduced interest in masculine occupations.
By contrast, exposure to nontraditional roles (e.g., a female surgeon and a male nurse) decreased women’s leadership self-concept and
lowered their interest in masculine occupations, suggesting that female vanguards (i.e., successful women in male-dominated careers)
can provoke upward comparison threat, rather than inspire self-empowerment. Thus, priming either traditional or nontraditional gender
roles can threaten progress toward gender equality, albeit through different mechanisms (stereotypes or self-concept, respectively).
Keywords: implicit gender stereotypes, implicit self-concept, priming effects, the Implicit Association Test
The second wave of the Women’s Movement dramatically
changed American women’s lives, but the benefits can be
characterized as precarious rather than guaranteed. On the
one hand, a majority of women now participate in the labor
force, more women than men attend college, and they ob-
tain approximately half of advanced degrees in law, busi-
ness, and other high status professions (England, 2006; Va-
lian, 1999). On the other hand, women remain underrepre-
sented in the highest echelons of power, are underpaid for
their equal efforts, and are overburdened with domestic re-
sponsibilities (England, 2006; Ridgeway, 2006; Valian,
1999). Although attitudes toward womens rights and pro-
fessional ambitions have undergone a revolution since the
1960s, stereotypes that differentially attribute agentic qual-
ities to men and communal qualities to women are remark-
ably resistant to change and consistent across cultures
(Deaux & LaFrance, 1998; Williams & Best, 1990).
How will this mix of change and stability affect wom-
en’s future progress? According to social role theory (Eag-
ly, 1987; Eagly, Wood, & Diekman, 2000), gender stereo-
types stem from the traditional roles that men and women
have historically occupied (breadwinner vs. homemaker).
Thus, women’s increasing participation in the workforce
should impact gender stereotypes. Consistent with this
view, research on dynamic stereotypes (i.e., stereotypes
projected into the future) shows that people imagine that
women decades from now will be as agentic as men; how-
ever, sex differences in communality are projected to re-
main steadfast (Diekman & Eagly, 2000; Diekman, Good-
friend, & Goodwin, 2004). Given that perceptions of agen-
cy and communality are tied to high and low status roles,
respectively (Conway, Pizzamiglio, & Mount, 1996; Eagly
& Steffen, 1984; Hoffman & Hurst; 1990), the dynamic
stereotype findings suggest that people expect women to
make further inroads into high-status masculine domains,
whereas they do not expect men to become occupiers of
low-status feminine roles. As a result, women of the future
are envisioned to be both agentic, high-earning breadwin-
ners and communal, primary caregivers, whereas men’s
roles and stereotypes are not expected to change (Diekman
& Eagly, 2000; Diekman et al., 2004). Finally, people asked
to imagine women in the future were favorable toward
women’s increased agency, but reserved their strongest ap-
proval for their stable communal qualities (e.g., nurturant
and kind; Diekman & Goodfriend, 2006). In sum, double
standards for agency may relax over time as women are
propelled into more powerful roles, but insistence on fe-
male nurturance may signal a desire to keep women stoking
the home fires even as they blaze a path to glory in public
spheres.
Implicit Gender Beliefs
Like other forms of knowledge, stereotypes are part of each
individual’s cultural heritage; moreover, they are learned
early in life, often before people have the ability to override
them or reject them (Devine, 1989). As a result, people
DOI: 10.1027/1864-9335/a000027
Social Psychology 2010; Vol. 41(3):192–202 © 2010 Hogrefe Publishing
form implicit gender stereotypes, which automatically as-
sociate men and women with stereotypic traits, abilities,
and roles, even when they disavow these traditional beliefs
(Banaji & Hardin, 1996; Nosek, Banaji, & Greenwald,
2002; Rudman & Goodwin, 2004; Rudman, Greenwald, &
McGhee, 2001). Because implicit gender stereotypes are
so well learned, they can affect perceptions of others with-
out intent or the conscious realization that they have done
so (Greenwald & Banaji, 1995; Rudman & Glick, 2001;
Rudman & Kilianski, 2000).
In addition to implicit stereotypes, people possess im-
plicit self-concepts, which are evidenced by automatic as-
sociations between the self and concepts such as personal-
ity traits (e.g., power vs. warmth; Rudman, Greenwald et
al., 2001), abilities (e.g., science vs. humanities; Nosek et
al., 2002), and roles (e.g., student vs. mother; Devos, Blan-
co, Rico, & Dunn, 2008). The ability to measure implicit
associations relies on reaction time – people’s responses in
milliseconds – to gain insight into the way people automat-
ically think. Such implicit measures (Fazio & Olson, 2003)
have the advantage of avoiding people’s tendency to censor
or control “politically incorrect” responses. Moreover,
even when people are truthful, they can only report what
they think they believe, which relies on people’s ability to
introspect accurately. In other words, people may not be
willing or able to accurately report their stereotypes and
self-concept. Implicit measures bypass the “willing and
able” problem to provide information that cannot be ob-
tained through self-report (explicit) measures.
The Malleability of Implicit Beliefs
Although implicit associations were once thought to be
more stable than explicit beliefs, it has now been estab-
lished that they are sensitive to priming effects and other
situational cues (for reviews, see Blair, 2002, Fazio & Ol-
son, 2003; Gawronski & Bodenhausen, 2006). For exam-
ple, women who vividly imagined strong, Amazonian
women showed decreased automatic associations between
male-strong and female-weak, relative to a condition in
which they imagined a Caribbean vacation (Blair, Ma, &
Lenton, 2001). Similarly, Dasgupta and Asgari (2004)
found that priming women with famous female leaders
(e.g., Madeline Albright, Ruth Bader Ginsberg) reduced
women’s male-leader and female-supporter automatic as-
sociations, relative to unprimed controls. Further, priming
women with stereotypic television ads exacerbated their
implicit female stereotypes (e.g., irrational, emotional, in-
decisive, weak) on a lexical decision task, which account-
ed for their reduced enthusiasm for a leadership role
(Davies, Spencer, & Steele, 2005). Thus, Davies et al.
showed that implicit gender stereotypes can influence
womens ability to imagine themselves as successful in
masculine roles.
To date, researchers examining the malleability of im-
plicit associations have predominantly focused on racial
stereotypes, not gender beliefs. In fact, a recent meta-
analysis of the malleability of implicit gender stereotypes
found only six published studies (Lenton, Bruder, & Se-
dikides, 2008). With respect to modifying women’s im-
plicit self-concept, there is even less extant research. In
one study, Haines and Kray (2005) found that women as-
signed to high power groups showed stronger self-power
automatic associations, compared with women assigned
to low power groups. In a second study, they found that
women who were designated leaders of a group (and who
controlled their peers’ outcomes) showed greater auto-
matic association between self and masculinity, com-
pared with their subordinate peers.
1
However, the effect
of modifying the implicit self-concept on women’s sub-
sequent decisions (e.g., career aspirations) has yet to be
examined. Moreover, few studies have tested whether
modifying implicit stereotypes influences women’s sub-
sequent decisions (for an exception, see Davies et al.,
2005). Thus, there is a clear need for more research tar-
geting the consequences of modifying women’s implicit
associations.
Therefore, the principal aim of the present research
was to investigate the effect of priming women with tra-
ditional or nontraditional gender roles on their automatic
power-warmth stereotypes (implicit associations shown
to be robust for both genders; Rudman, Greenwald et al.,
2001), and their implicit leadership self-concept. In ad-
dition, we assessed women’s interest in both masculine
and feminine occupations as a means of investigating the
consequences of modifying automatic gender stereotypes
and self-concept. Past research suggests that women who
possess implicit gender stereotypes are less likely to be-
lieve they can succeed as a leader (Dasgupta & Asgari,
2004) and they report low interest in graduate work in
mathematics (Keifer & Sekaquaptewa, 2007a; for related
findings, see Davies, Spencer, Quinn, & Gerhardstein,
2002; Keifer & Sekaquaptewa, 2007b; Nosek et al.,
2002). But to date, the literature has focused mainly on
math-related outcomes rather than broader interest in tra-
ditionally masculine occupations. It has also centered
more on stereotypes than self-concept, and comparing
the two as predictors of career aspirations would be help-
ful. If researchers are interested in empowering women
to occupy male-dominated domains, including leadership
roles, then it is important to determine whether targeting
implicit stereotypes or self-concept (or both) would be
most effective.
L. A. Rudman & J. E. Phelan: Priming Gender Roles 193
© 2010 Hogrefe Publishing Social Psychology 2010; Vol. 41(3):192–202
1 The fact that only two studies have examined the malleability of women’s implicit self-concept is not meant to overlook the evidence that
men’s implicit leadership self-concept can be modified (by threatening them with a subordinate role; McCall & Dasgupta, 2007) or that
implicit self-esteem is malleable for both genders (e.g., Rudman, Dohn, & Fairchild, 2007; for a review, see Gawronski & Bodenhausen,
2006).
Assimilation Versus Contrast Effects
As described above, past research has shown assimilation
effects of primes on women’s implicit gender stereotypes,
with traditional primes (sexist ads) increasing negative fe-
male stereotypes (Davies et al., 2005) and nontraditional
primes (famous women leaders) decreasing male-leader
stereotypes (Dasgupta & Asgari, 2004). As a result, we pre-
dicted that traditional primes (e.g., a male surgeon and a
female nurse) would increase implicit gender stereotypes
and possibly decrease implicit self-leader concept. Further,
in the sole investigation of the malleability of women’s
self-concept, participants assigned to a powerful role
showed increased self-power associations (Haines & Kray,
2005). Thus, we might also expect assimilation effects on
women’s implicit associations following exposure to tradi-
tional and nontraditional primes. In that event, nontradi-
tional primes (e.g., a female surgeon and a male nurse)
would be expected to increase self-leader associations (and
possibly decrease implicit gender stereotypes), relative to
controls.
However, another interesting possibility is a contrast ef-
fect on womens self-concept, such that exposure to suc-
cessful women in male-dominated occupations might re-
duce women’s self-leader associations. Such a contrast ef-
fect is suggested by recent research showing that exposure
to a successful female executive decreased women’s per-
ceptions of their own competence (Parks-Stamm, Heilman,
& Hearns, 2008). Parks-Stamm and colleagues’ goal was
to illuminate why women are just as likely as men to pe-
nalize female vanguards by viewing them as socially unat-
tractive a phenomenon termed backlash effects (Rudman,
1998; see also Heilman, Wallen, Fuchs, & Tamkins, 2004;
Phelan, Moss-Racussin, & Rudman, 2008; Rudman &
Glick, 1999, 2001; Rudman & Phelan, 2008). The authors
suspected that a successful female executive might provoke
upward social comparison for women and thus threaten
their own perceived competence, rather than inspire admi-
ration (Festinger, 1954). If so, a contrast effect would be
revealed (e.g., “I’m not as competent as she is”; see also
Dijksterhuis et al., 1998). Parks-Stamm et al. found this
contrast effect using explicit measures (i.e., womens self-
ratings of skillful, competent, and capable), in support of
their hypothesis. Interestingly, the effect was eliminated
when women were allowed to administer backlash, sug-
gesting that backlash functions to protect women’s own
sense of competency. Although men similarly administered
backlash, their self-competency was unaffected by the fe-
male executive, likely because they did not use her as a
standard for comparison (Brown, Novick, Lord, & Rich-
ards, 1992).
When targets are self-relevant, social comparison is an
automatic process (i.e., engaged in even when not intended;
Gilbert, Giesler, & Morris, 1995) and therefore, an implicit
measure should be an effective assessment strategy. As not-
ed, implicit measures also have the advantage of disrupting
the ability to control responses, which could weaken the
power to find social comparison effects on women’s self-
competence. We used the Implicit Association Test (IAT)
to measure both stereotypes and self-concept because its
sensitivity to context effects and predictive utility is well
established (Blair, 2002; Greenwald, Poehlman, Uhlmann,
& Banaji, 2009), and it is relatively free from social desir-
ability bias and other types of distortion (Banse, Seise, &
Zerbes, 2001; Egloff & Schmukle, 2002; Foroni & Mayr,
2005; Kim, 2003).
Overview of the Present Research and
Hypotheses
Our primary goal was to ascertain the effects of priming
women with traditional or nontraditional gender roles on
their power-warmth stereotypes and their leadership self-
concept. A control condition used animals as primes. In all
conditions, people were told to study the information for a
memory test, and they had their memory tested twice (to
reinforce the salience of the information). In a departure
from Dasgupta and Asgari (2004), we included primes of
both genders (crossed on gender roles) because the stereo-
type IAT is a relative instrument (i.e., men and women are
categorized with power and warmth). By presenting both
genders in communal and leadership roles, we provided
information pertinent to both sets of contrasts in the gender
stereotype IAT.
In the traditional (hereafter, typical) priming condition,
primes consisted of men who occupied traditionally male
roles (e.g., Stanford business school professor, chief trans-
plant surgeon, and business executive), and women who
occupied traditionally female roles (e.g., elementary school
teacher, nurse, and homemaker). This condition was ex-
pected to exacerbate gender stereotypes and reduce wom-
en’s interest in masculine jobs, relative to controls. Further,
we expected implicit gender stereotypes to mediate the ef-
fect of the primes on women’s interest in masculine jobs.
These findings would replicate and extend Davies et al.
(2005) research using a different implicit measure, stereo-
types, primes, and outcome variables.
In the nontraditional (hereafter, atypical) priming condi-
tion, we reversed the gender of the role occupant so that
women occupied the traditionally male roles, and men oc-
cupied the traditionally female roles. If upward social com-
parison leads to a self-related contrast effect, exposure to
female vanguards should reduce women’s implicit leader-
ship self-concept and their interest in masculine jobs, rela-
tive to controls. By using multiple female vanguards (as
opposed to just one) and relying on the IAT (to obviate
edited responses), we provided a stronger test of whether
nontraditional, successful women can threaten, rather than
inspire, other women (Parks-Stamm et al., 2008).
Finally, it was unclear what to expect regarding the ef-
fects of the (1) typical primes on women’s leadership self-
194 L. A. Rudman & J. E. Phelan: Priming Gender Roles
Social Psychology 2010; Vol. 41(3):192–202 © 2010 Hogrefe Publishing
concept and (2) atypical primes on women’s power-warmth
stereotypes because past research has not investigated
modifying implicit stereotypes and self-concept in tandem.
Thus, although primes have shown assimilation effects on
women’s gender stereotypes (Dasgupta & Asgari, 2004;
Davies et al., 2005), their effect on self-concept is un-
known. And while the painful effect of upward social com-
parison on self-concept is well established (Brickman &
Bulman, 1977; Gilbert et al., 1995), there is no theoretical
reason (or evidence) to suggest that it should influence
group-based stereotypes. Thus, the present study affords a
test of whether implicit stereotypes and self-concept would
be independently or similarly affected by the primes, and
whether self-related and group-related associations would
reflect distinct or correlated dependent variables.
Method
Participants
A student sample (N = 175 women; M age = 19) participat-
ed in exchange for partial research credit toward their In-
troductory Psychology requirement. Four women were ex-
cluded for failing to follow directions on the IAT (i.e., their
error rates exceeded 25%), yielding a sample size of 171.
Of these, the majority (89%) reported being White.
Materials and Procedure
Priming Manipulation
Thirty black-and-white photos of White men and women
(approximately 30 years old) were pretested (N = 120, 75
women), yielding a set of 6 photos of each gender viewed
as similar in age and attractiveness. The typical priming
condition presented biographical information that de-
scribed the targets’ occupation as traditional for their gen-
der. For example, John Kerr was described as a Stanford
business school professor, whereas Karen Adams was de-
scribed as an elementary school teacher. The remaining
men were described as chief of transplant surgery at a ma-
jor hospital, a commercial pilot, a police officer, and a busi-
ness executive. The remaining women were portrayed as a
nurse, a flight attendant, a stay-at-home dad, a social work-
er, and a hairstylist.
The atypical priming condition consisted of reversing
the gender for these same roles, so that the targets’ occu-
pation was nontraditional for their gender. That is, the
women occupied the traditionally masculine roles, whereas
the men occupied the traditionally feminine roles. See the
Appendix for examples of atypical stimuli. Finally, in the
control condition, information (with accompanying pho-
tos) described 12 animals (e.g., gazelles, pumas, and ko-
alas). For example, gazelles were described as “small but
graceful antelopes who live in herds on the grassy plains
of Africa.” Participants were allowed to study the informa-
tion for as long as they liked in preparation for a subsequent
memory test.
The Memory Test
The memory test in the typical and atypical conditions re-
quired participants to choose which of two names (accom-
panied by photos) matched the displayed occupation. If
participants chose the wrong person, they were provided
with error feedback by the computer program. Controls
were told to choose which of two animals matched the pro-
vided behavioral information (e.g., whether koalas or pu-
mas were known to be nocturnal). The purpose of the mem-
ory test was to increase the primes’ salience and familiarity.
Analyses showed the expected ceiling effect (M = 11.64,
Respond left Respond right
Block 1 20 trials POWER WARMTH
Block 2 20 trials MALE FEMALE
Block 3 60 trials MALE+ POWER FEMALE + WARMTH
Block 4 20 trials FEMALE MALE
Block 5 60 trials FEMALE + POWER MALE + WARMTH
Figure 1. Illustration of the power-warmth stereotype IAT. The IAT takes 5 minutes to complete and starts by familiarizing
participants with the four categories used in the task. Individual stimuli are randomly presented on a computer screen. In
Block 1, participants are asked to respond “left” to power words and “right” to warmth words (e.g., by using the “A” and
number pad “5” keys). In Block 2, they respond “left” to male names and “right” to female names. The IAT effect is
obtained by comparing response latencies in Block 3 (in which male names and power words are assigned to “left” and
female names and warmth words are assigned to “right”), to response latencies in Block 5 (in which female and power
are assigned to “left” and male and warmth are assigned to “right”). The order in which these tasks are performed is
counterbalanced (i.e., half of the respondents perform Block 5 before Block 3), a procedural factor that has little bearing
on results. If the participant responds more rapidly when men and power share a response compared with when female
and power share a response (i.e., if they show a positive IAT effect), this indicates implicit power-warmth gender stereo-
types.
L. A. Rudman & J. E. Phelan: Priming Gender Roles 195
© 2010 Hogrefe Publishing Social Psychology 2010; Vol. 41(3):192–202
SD = 1.10) that did not reliably differ across priming con-
ditions, F(2, 294) = 2.30, p = .10.
The Gender Stereotype IAT
The gender-stereotype IAT used “Power” and “Warmth” as
the attribute labels, represented by stimuli that were
matched on positive valence in prior research (Rudman et
al., 2001[which one???]). The power words were power,
strong, confident, dominant, command, assert, and power-
ful. The warm words were warmth, nurture, caring, gentle,
kind, nice, and warm. Target constructs (“Male” and “Fe-
male”) were represented by first names common to each
gender (e.g., Mark, David, John; Linda, Susan, Debra).
This IAT obliges people to categorize male and female with
either power or warmth (see Figure 1). Response latencies
(in ms) for performing the incompatible task (Female +
Power or Male + Warmth) are subtracted from response
latencies for performing the compatible tasks (Male +
Power or Female + Warmth), so that high scores reflect
implicit stereotyping (i.e., associating male more with pow-
er and female more with warmth). To compute the recom-
mended D statistic, we divided the mean differences in la-
tencies by participants’ standard deviation, resulting in an
effect size similar to Cohen’s d (Greenwald, Nosek, & Ba-
naji, 2003). Small, medium, and large D scores correspond
to .15, .30, and .60, respectively (Nosek, Greenwald, & Ba-
naji, 2007).
The Self-Concept IAT
The self-concept IAT contrasted “Self” (I, me, my, mine,
myself) versus “Others” (others, they, them, their, theirs)
as the target constructs. It used “Leader” and “Follower”
as the attribute labels, and stimuli slightly modified from
past research (Haines & Kray, 2005). The leadership words
were leader, bold, confident, successful, assertive, ambi-
tious, and competent. The follower words were follower,
meek, uncertain, failure, indecisive, confused, and loser.
After computing the D statistic, high scores on this measure
indicated association of self with leader more than follow-
er. Both IATs were administered exactly as in prior research
(for details, see Rudman, Greenwald et al., 2001). Finally,
the correlation between the IATs was negligible, r(169) =
–.09, ns, and remained weakly negative when examined
within each priming condition, suggesting distinct depend-
ent variables.
Job Preferences
Participants indicated their liking for each occupation rep-
resented in the two priming conditions (six masculine, six
feminine) using scales ranging from 1 (not at all interested)
to 5 (very interested). Reliabilities were acceptable for the
masculine jobs (α = .69) and the feminine jobs (α = .68).
They were therefore averaged within each set to form sep-
arate indexes. The two indexes were correlated, r(169) =
.32, p < .05. Because the IAT is a relative instrument (and
it correlates best with relative explicit measures; Hofmann,
Gawronski, Gschwendner, Le, & Schmitt, 2005), a differ-
ence score was computed to form the job preference index,
such that high scores would reflect greater interest in mas-
culine, compared with feminine, occupations.
Procedure
Participants were recruited for a project ostensibly “con-
cerned with human memory.” They were told that depend-
ing on random assignment, they would either learn about
people or animals. The experimenter started a computer
program that randomly assigned participants to a priming
condition. The program presented the primes in random
order. After exposure to the primes, participants performed
the memory tests. Following this, they performed the self-
concept IAT and the gender stereotype IAT (in counterbal-
anced order, a procedural variable that did not influence
results). They then indicated their interest in the 12 mascu-
line and feminine jobs (presented in random order). Partic-
ipants were subsequently debriefed and compensated.
Results
Effects of the Priming Manipulation
One-way analyses of variance (ANOVAs) tested our predic-
tions. Table 1 shows the means and standard deviations. Re-
sults revealed a main effect of priming condition on the ste-
reotype IAT, F(2, 168) = 3.11, p < .05. As predicted, women
in the typical priming condition scored reliably higher on the
power-warmth stereotype than controls, t(110) = 2.21, p <
.05, d = .44. They also scored marginally higher than women
in the atypical prime condition, t(118) = 1.98, p = .05, d =.36.
Women in the atypical priming condition did not differ from
controls, t(108) < 1.00, ns (d =.08).
We also found a main effect for prime on the self-con-
cept IAT, F(2, 168) = 4.72, p < .01. Women in the atypical
priming condition showed reliably lower scores on the self-
concept IAT compared with controls, t(108) = 3.30, p <
.01, d = –.56, supporting the expected contrast effect
(Parks-Stamm et al., 2008). This suggests that female van-
guards represent an upward social comparison threat that
may reduce, rather than enhance, women’s ability to asso-
ciate self with leadership, ambition, and success. By con-
trast, women in the typical priming condition did not differ
from controls, t(110) = 1.51, p = .13, d = –.24, or from the
atypical priming group, t(118) = 1.56, p =.11(d = .32).
In sum, the typical primes reliably influenced women’s
gender stereotypes and career aspirations, but their effect
196 L. A. Rudman & J. E. Phelan: Priming Gender Roles
Social Psychology 2010; Vol. 41(3):192–202 © 2010 Hogrefe Publishing
on leadership self-concept was weak. By contrast, the atyp-
ical primes influenced women’s self-leader associations
and career aspirations, but their effect on gender stereo-
types was negligible.
For the job preference index, a main effect for prime also
emerged, F(2, 168) = 5.91, p < .01. As predicted, women
in the typical priming condition scored lower on the job
preference index (indicating less interest in masculine than
feminine jobs), compared with controls, t(110) = 2.10, p <
.05, d = –.44. Further, women in the atypical priming con-
dition also scored lower on this measure, relative to con-
trols, t(108) = 3.14, p < .01, d = –.63. However, women in
the gender role priming conditions did not significantly dif-
fer, t(118) = 1.37, p = .17, d = –.19. Analyzing the separate
components of the job index revealed that, compared with
controls, women in the typical priming condition showed
less interest on the masculine job index (d = –.53), but not
on the feminine job index (d = .11). Similarly, women in
the atypical priming condition showed less interest in mas-
culine jobs (d = –.67), but not feminine jobs (d = .25), rel-
ative to controls. Thus, the effect of the primes was to spe-
cifically dampen enthusiasm for masculine-typed jobs,
whether gender roles were traditional or nontraditional.
Effects of Implicit Stereotypes and
Self-Concept on Job Preferences
Compared with controls, priming gender roles increased
women’s gender stereotypes (in the typical condition) and
decreased leadership self-concept (in the atypical condi-
tion), but would the IATs predict women’s career aspira-
tions? Table 2 shows the relevant correlations as a function
of priming condition.
In the typical priming condition, the power-warmth ste-
reotype IAT negatively covaried with the job preference
index, as well as interest in masculine jobs; the correlation
with feminine jobs was reliably positive. Thus, in this con-
dition, the predictive power of gender stereotypes was sig-
nificant, whereas these relationships were in the same di-
rection but nonsignificant for women in the atypical prim-
ing condition and for controls. Tests of the difference
between correlations were nonsignificant, all z values <
1.65, ns. This suggests that implicit associations linking
men to power and women to warmth generally depress in-
terest in masculine jobs.
In the atypical priming condition, the leadership self-
concept IAT was negatively linked to the job preference
Table 1. Means and standard deviations as a function of priming condition
Priming condition
Measure Typical Atypical Control
MSDMSDMSD
Stereotype IAT .41
a
.26 .32
b
.24 .30
b
.24
Self-Concept IAT .64
a
.37 .53
b
.36 .72
a
.35
Job Preference –.69
a
1.12 –.94
a
.89 –.09
b
1.85
Masculine Jobs 2.34
a
.81 2.22
a
.76 2.82
b
2.91
Feminine Jobs 3.02
a
1.05 3.16
a
.89 2.90
a
1.18
Note. Means not sharing a subscript differ at (at least) the p = .05 level. Ns for each condition = 61 (typical), 59 (atypical), and 55 (control).
IAT effects are shown in D statistic form. Small, medium, and large Ds correspond to .15, .35, and .60, respectively. Job preference is the
difference between interest in masculine and feminine jobs (high score = prefers masculine over feminine jobs).
Table 2. Correlations as a function of priming condition
Stereotype IAT Self-Concept IAT Job Preference Masculine Jobs
Typical primes
Job Preference –.42** .22
+
Masculine Jobs –.26* .14 .45***
Feminine Jobs .27* –.13 –.72*** .29*
Atypical primes
Job Preference –.14 –.52***
Masculine Jobs –.16 –.14 .42**
Feminine Jobs .11 .45*** –.64*** .43**
Control primes
Job Preference –.25
+
.57***
Masculine Jobs –.22 .43** .80***
Feminine Jobs .18 –.51*** –.84*** .34*
Note.
+
p < .10. *p < .05. **p < .01. ***p < .001.
L. A. Rudman & J. E. Phelan: Priming Gender Roles 197
© 2010 Hogrefe Publishing Social Psychology 2010; Vol. 41(3):192–202
index (i.e., the higher the leadership self-concept, the great-
er the interest in feminine rather than masculine jobs). This
relationship is clarified by examining the components of
the job preference index separately: The self-concept IAT
positively predicted interest in feminine jobs but was not
significantly related to interest in masculine jobs. Although
counterintuitive, the pattern suggests that women high on
self-empowerment may gravitate toward feminine jobs as
a means of satisfying their ambitions, rather than risk being
thwarted in male-dominated domains, in the wake of up-
ward social comparison threat.
This pattern stands in stark contrast to the control con-
dition, in which the self-concept IAT was positively linked
to the job preference index and interest in masculine jobs,
but negatively linked to interest in feminine jobs. Thus,
when unprimed, the leadership self-concept IAT performed
as one might expect, predicting a smaller gap in preference
for masculine over feminine jobs. In the typical priming
condition, the relationship between self-concept and job
preferences was also in the expected positive direction, al-
beit marginally significant.
Tests of whether the correlations between the self-con-
cept IAT and the job preference index differed as a function
of priming condition revealed a significant difference be-
tween the atypical and typical priming conditions, z = 4.16,
p < .001, and between the atypical priming condition and
controls, z = 6.28, p < .001.
Mediation Analysis
In Davies et al.’s (2005) research, priming women with
gender-stereotypical commercials increased their automat-
ic sex stereotypes (using a lexical decision task), which ac-
counted for their lower interest in a leadership role, relative
to controls primed with gender-neutral commercials. The
present research allowed us to extend this finding using
traditional gender roles as primes, the power-warmth IAT
as the implicit stereotype measure, and career aspirations
as the dependent variable. To do so, variables were con-
verted to z scores and the job preference index was hierar-
chically regressed on dummy-coded prime conditions (0 =
control, 1 = typical) in Step 1, followed by the stereotype
IAT in Step 2 (Baron & Kenny, 1986). Results showed that
the main effect of prime in Step 1, β = .20, p < .05, was
reduced to nonsignificance in Step 2, β = .13, p = .15,
whereas the stereotype IAT remained a reliable predictor,
β = –.31, p = .001. A Sobel test (one-tailed) indicated suc-
cessful mediation, Z = 1.62, p = .05. These results are con-
sistent with the hypothesis that women primed with typical
gender roles showed gender-conforming career aspirations
because the primes increased their automatic power-
warmth stereotypes.
2
Discussion
The present research reveals that priming gender roles can
influence women’s implicit gender stereotypes, self-con-
cept, and career aspirations in (sometimes) surprising
ways: Traditional primes yielded increased implicit gender
stereotypes and nontraditional primes yielded decreased
self-leader associations, and both types of primes resulted
in low enthusiasm for masculine occupations. Specifically,
extending past research (Davies et al., 2005), exposure to
men and women who occupied traditional roles (e.g., a
male surgeon and a female nurse) increased women’s im-
plicit power-warmth stereotypes and, as a result, reduced
their interest in masculine occupations, relative to controls.
In fact, mediation analyses suggested that it was because
typical gender roles increased automatic gender stereo-
types that the primes influenced career aspirations. These
findings add much needed evidence that modifying implic-
it gender stereotypes can have downstream consequences
that impact gender equality. Although the primes, the im-
plicit measure, the stereotypes, and the dependent variable
deviated from Davies et al.’s (2005) research, remarkably
similar effects occurred.
By contrast, nontraditional primes (e.g., a female sur-
geon and a male nurse) did not influence gender stereo-
types. Instead, learning about successful, atypical women
decreased women’s implicit leadership self-concept, rela-
tive to controls. These findings cohere with Parks-Stamm
et al. (2008) and further support the hypothesis that female
vanguards can threaten women through upward social
comparison processes. Moreover, exposure to atypical gen-
der roles significantly decreased women’s interest in mas-
culine jobs. Unexpectedly, high scores on the self-concept
IAT predicted greater interest in feminine jobs, while hav-
ing no effect on masculine job interest, but only in the atyp-
ical priming condition. This counterintuitive finding sug-
gests that exposure to female vanguards can steer women
toward greater interest in female-dominated jobs if they
implicitly view themselves as smart and ambitious, perhaps
because they feel these domains are those in which they
will be most likely to succeed. For example, female van-
guards may call to mind the backlash women themselves
may expect if they follow a nontraditional path (Rudman
& Phelan, 2008); if so, a feminine path to leadership might
be more attractive to avoid social rejection.
Finally, the control condition revealed weak evidence
that automatic gender stereotypes influence women’s ca-
reer aspirations, but strong evidence for the leadership self-
concept IAT as a predictor. Therefore, intervention strate-
gies might best target women’s implicit self-empowerment
as a means of encouraging them to become female van-
guards. How best to achieve that effect requires future re-
198 L. A. Rudman & J. E. Phelan: Priming Gender Roles
Social Psychology 2010; Vol. 41(3):192–202 © 2010 Hogrefe Publishing
2 A similar analysis was not possible, substituting the self-concept IAT for the stereotype IAT and the atypical for the typical prime condition,
because the influence of the self-concept IAT on job preferences was negative for the atypical prime group, but positive for the control
group. This resulted in a missing link between self-concept and job preferences when the two priming conditions were combined.
search. Because exposing women to successful female role
models can backfire, discovering how to protect women
from upward social comparison threat will be necessary. In
Parks-Stamm et al.’s (2008) research, they found that giv-
ing women bogus feedback on a management aptitude test
(indicating that they, too, could succeed as a manager)
eliminated the diminishing effect of a successful, atypical
woman on their explicit self-efficacy. Whether this strategy
would be effective for buffering women’s implicit self-con-
cept is unknown and may be problematic because it re-
quires deception. Nonetheless, it does suggest that self-af-
firmation might play a role in future interventions. Given
that self-affirmation is easily administered without decep-
tion (e.g., by having people affirm their values; Steele,
1988), and is an effective threat-protection strategy for im-
plicit self-esteem (Rudman et al., 2007), it may also prove
to be a buffer for women’s leadership self-concept. Finally,
it would be helpful to build on the findings of Haines and
Kray (2005), who found that placing women in powerful
roles increased their implicit self-leader associations.
Whether this effect would translate to their career aspira-
tions is worthy of further investigation, but the present find-
ings for control women suggest that it should.
Limitations and Future Directions
Because the present research investigated women, the ef-
fect of the manipulations on men remains to be seen. Past
research found that stereotypical commercials increased
automatic sex stereotypes for both genders, but only wom-
en’s subsequent behaviors were influenced (Davies et al.,
2002, 2005). However, the commercials Davies and col-
leagues used did not include men, whereas the primes in
the present research did. Because men are not in transition
with respect to their roles at least, not to the extent that
women are – men may be less likely to use the male primes
as standards for comparison. However, this remains an em-
pirical question; past research suggests that men are also
prone to assimilation and contrast effects in the wake of
primes (Dijksterhuis et al., 1998).
Future research should also investigate the implications
of the present findings for backlash effects. Although
Parks-Stamm et al. (2008) found that a successful female
executive reduced women’s explicit self-competence and
evoked backlash, they did not explore whether the blow to
self-competence predicted backlash. As a result, it remains
to be tested whether diminished self-competence (either
implicit or explicit) carries over to backlash effects for
women.
Finally, the likelihood that forming relationships with
female vanguards will increase women’s implicit leader-
ship self-concept should be investigated. Simply learning
about successful women is undoubtedly not as inspiring as
when they serve as real-life role models (see Dasgupta &
Asgari, 2004, Study 2, and Rudman, Ashmore, & Gary,
2001, for the positive effects of real-life role models on
implicit gender and racial stereotypes, respectively).
Therefore, the present results should not be misinterpreted
as a sign that successful women are generally threatening
to young women’s implicit leadership self-concept; the op-
posite effect is expected to occur when they serve as gen-
uine role models people whom women admire and with
whom they can form emotional bonds.
Conclusion
The present research focused on college-aged women who
are in the process of deciding on their future careers. They
are therefore a critical population for investigators interest-
ed in furthering progress toward gender equality. The find-
ings suggest that exposure to traditional women can reduce
women’s interest in becoming female vanguards, but so can
exposure to nontraditional women, reflecting a double
threat. Because atypical women reduced, rather than in-
creased, womens self-leader associations, it cannot be as-
sumed that learning about successful women will always
inspire them. In other words, “seeing is not always believ-
ing” in oneself, but can, instead, provoke upward social
comparison threat that can lead to contrast, rather than as-
similation effects (Dijksterhuis et al., 1998; Parks-Stamm
et al., 2008). This pattern should change over time, as wom-
en become more established in traditionally masculine do-
mains. At present, mere exposure to female vanguards may
threaten young adult womens implicit leadership self-con-
cept, so that finding ways of ameliorating this influence is
essential for ensuring women’s progress.
Acknowledgments
This research was partially supported by National Science
Foundation Grant BCS-0443342.
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Tel. +1 732 985-0304
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E-mail rudman@rci.rutgers.edu
Appendix
Examples of Female and Male Atypical
Primes
Female Primes
Karen Adams: After receiving her MBA from Harvard,
Karen took a position as an assistant professor at North-
western University. She is now a tenured professor at Stan-
ford Business School. She is the current editor of the Jour-
nal of Organizational Behavior. Hobbies: tennis, scuba div-
ing.
Holly Brewer: During her residency at the University of
Pittsburgh, Holly specialized in organ transplantation and
was subsequently hired to head the Transplant Center at the
University of Minnesota. Hobbies: serving on the Minne-
apolis City Council.
Susan Anderton: After graduating from United States
Air Force Academy, Susan served as an Air Force officer,
flying the F-15 fighter jet. She is currently a commercial
pilot for Continental. Hobbies: rock-climbing.
Debra Stangor: After graduating from the Police Acad-
emy, Debra was assigned to a SWAT team in Columbus,
Ohio. Having spent 4 years with the SWAT unit, Debra is
looking forward to her upcoming promotion to detective.
Hobbies: amateur boxing.
Ellen Nichols: With a degree in business from the Uni-
L. A. Rudman & J. E. Phelan: Priming Gender Roles 201
© 2010 Hogrefe Publishing Social Psychology 2010; Vol. 41(3):192–202
versity of Texas, Ellen started out as a marketing intern at
American Express. After 8 years of hard work and steady
promotions, Ellen has risen to the upper ranks of the com-
pany and is currently president of the Global Financial Ser-
vices division. Hobbies: golf, surfing the Internet.
Male Primes
John Kerr: After receiving a K-6 teaching certificate at the
University of Wisconsin, John taught 1st grade for the
Madison school system for 4 years, where he won the state
“Teacher of the Year” award. He now teaches 2nd grade in
Cranbury, New Jersey. Hobbies: acting in local community
theater.
Warren Fiske: After spending three years as a Certified
Nurse’s Assistant, Warren earned his degree in nursing at
DePaul University in Chicago. He is currently a registered
nurse at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and specializes
in home health care. Hobbies: community gardening, Yoga.
Paul Hoffman: Paul is a stay-at-home dad with two chil-
dren. When not chaperoning one of his children’s class
fieldtrips or leading his son’s Boy Scout troop, Paul helps
raise funds for the local Red Cross. Hobbies: restoring an-
tique furniture.
James Arnett: After high school, James channeled his
love of traveling into a career. He started as a customer
service representative for American Airlines and became a
flight attendant 3 years later. Based in Dallas, he flies to
South America often. Hobbies: volunteer work, collecting
souvenirs from his travels.
Daniel Reed: While working toward his B. A. in social
work at Arizona State University, Daniel volunteered in a
soup kitchen to help feed homeless families. He’s now a
case manager with Save the Family, a transitional living
program for the homeless in Mesa, Arizona. Hobbies: read-
ing, being a volunteer Big Brother.
202 L. A. Rudman & J. E. Phelan: Priming Gender Roles
Social Psychology 2010; Vol. 41(3):192–202 © 2010 Hogrefe Publishing
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