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Study: Gender stereotypes can decrease performance on cognitive tasks

Jill Allen
Jill Allen, assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience

Cultural stereotypes about women and money may carry tangible and unconscious psychological consequences, according to a recent study conducted by Drake University Assistant Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience Jill Allen.

The study, co-led by University of Nebraska-Lincoln Associate Professor of Psychology Sarah Gervais, suggests gender stereotypes about money can negatively impact women’s cognitive functioning. The research findings were published recently in Psychology of Women Quarterly and discussed in an article by the psychology and neuroscience news website PsyPost.

As summarized by PsyPost:

An initial survey of 395 female college students found that women who more strongly identified with their gender and women who endorsed benevolent sexism were more likely to report money–gender stereotypes.

Two follow-up experiments with a total of 179 college women found evidence that priming the concepts of money and femininity undermined their performance on a test of cognitive functioning.

For their cognitive experiments, Allen and Gervais split women into groups. One group was shown images of products that are stereotypically associated with femininity (e.g., ballet slippers), while the other groups were shown products that are typically seen as masculine (e.g., football) or gender-neutral (e.g., tennis racquet). The researchers then “cognitively activated” the concept of money in the minds of participants (or not) by having them handle a stack of $1, $5, and $10 bills.

Ultimately, Allen and Gervais found that the group that viewed feminine-oriented products and were reminded of money tended to have the impaired performance on a cognitive test, (e.g., slower reaction time on a Stroop test), especially compared to those viewing masculine or gender-neutral products with the same money reminder.

Allen said the study points to the value of helping women feel more empowered when it comes to managing their finances—and resisting cultural stereotypes, including those that suggest women are inferior negotiators, that men should handle the family finances and pay for big-ticket items, and that men should be a family’s primary breadwinners in heterosexual relationships. She said subsequent research could look at female investment bankers, female accountants, and other women who work closely with money, to help researchers understand how these women overcome the subtle and harmful influence of money-based gender stereotypes.