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Gender roles and the categorization of gender-relevant behavior


Biological sex has been assumed to be a basic category that importantly influences perceptions people have of others. However, it has recently been proposed that there are individual differences in this presumed generic propensity to use sex in person perception — that some people have schemas with regard to sex and gender, whereas others do not. Prior attempts to demonstrate these differences have frequently operationalized their variables in such a way that activation of hypothesized elaborate and dense gender schemas (schemas relating to psychological masculinity and femininity) could not be disentangled from activation of very shallow schemas related simply to biological sex or sex stereotypes. This study provides initial support for the conceptual distinction between cognitive processing based on biological sex vs. psychological gender. Independent manipulation of both sex-stereotyped information and less salient, nonstereotyped gender-relevant behavioral cues demonstrated that two levels of cognitive operation seem to be used. All subjects, regardless of gender role, used surface information regarding biological sex to make inferences regarding targets' masculinity and femininity. However, only some subjects made use of gender-related behavioral cues when assessing masculinity and femininity on indirect measures. Masculine males demonstrated their expertise in sex appropriateness in judging a male target who behaved sex appropriately, whereas cross-sex-typed subjects demonstrated expertise in sex inappropriateness in judgments of a male target who behaved sex inappropriately. The results are consistent with self-schema theory predictions regarding individual differences in schematic processing.

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Correspondence to Linda J. Skitka.

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Skitka, L.J., Maslach, C. Gender roles and the categorization of gender-relevant behavior. Sex Roles 22, 133–150 (1990).

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  • Gender Role
  • Conceptual Distinction
  • Person Perception
  • Initial Support
  • Surface Information