Springer Nature is making SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

Unmitigated agency and unmitigated communion: An analysis of the negative components of masculinity and femininity


The negative components of masculinity and femininity, conceptualized by Spence and her colleagues (1979) as unmitigated agency and unmitigated communion, were explored by examining dominant and submissive acts used in their expression. In three separate sessions, subjects (N=129) completed scales designed to measure these constructs, a Dominance Act Report, and a Submissiveness Act Report. Dominant acts used in the expression of unmitigated agency involved the formation of separations (e.g., making decisions without consulting the others involved in them), narcissistic self-assertion (e.g., telling others to perform one's menial tasks), and self-protection (e.g., bluffing one's way out of an embarrassing situation). Submissive acts used in the expression of unmitigated communion involved failing to make normatively appropriate agentic responses (e.g., walking out of a store knowing that one had been short-changed) and subjugating personal desires to group wishes (e.g., giving up vacation plans in deference to the preferences of others). Discussion focuses on elaborating the concepts of unmitigated agency and unmitigated communion.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Bakan, D. (1966). The duality of human existence. Chicago: Rand McNally.

  2. Baruch, G. K., Barnett, R. C., & Rivers, C. (1983). Lifeprints: New patterns of love and work for today's women. New York: New American Library.

  3. Block, J. H. (1973). Conceptions of sex roles: Some cross-cultural and longitudinal perspectives. American Psychologist, 28, 512–526.

  4. Buss, D. M. (1981). Sex differences in the evaluation and performance of dominant acts. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 40, 147–154.

  5. Buss, D. M. (1989). Conflict between the sexes: Strategic interference and the evocation of anger and upset. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 56, 735–747.

  6. Buss, D. M., & Craik, K. H. (1980). The frequency concept of disposition: Dominance and prototypically dominant acts. Journal of Personality, 48, 379–392.

  7. Carlson, R. (1971). Sex differences in ego functioning: Exploratory studies of agency and communion. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 37, 267–277.

  8. Chodorow, N. (1978). The reproduction of mothering: Psychoanalysis and the sociology of gender, Berkeley: University of California Press.

  9. Erikson, E. (1964). Inner and outer space: Reflection on womanhood. Daedalus, 93, 1–25.

  10. Fishbein, M., & Ajzen, I. (1974). Attitudes toward objects as predictors of single and multiple behavioral criteria. Psychological Review, 81, 59–74.

  11. Freud, S. (1950). Beyond the pleasure principle. New York: Liversight Publishing Corporation.

  12. Gough, H. G. (1965). Conceptual analysis of psychological test scores and other diagnostic variables. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 70, 294–302.

  13. Guttman, D. L. (1965). Women and the concept of ego strength. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 11, 229–240.

  14. Jaccard, J. J. (1974). Predicting social behavior from personality traits. Journal of Research in Personality, 7, 358–367.

  15. Leary, T. (1957). Interpersonal diagnosis of personality. New York: Rondal Press.

  16. Locksley, A., & Colten, M. E. (1979). Psychological androgyny: A case of mistaken identity? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37, 1017–1031.

  17. Malley, J. E. (1989). The importance of agency and communion for well-being: Individual differences in needs and experiences. Paper presented at the American Psychological Association, New Orleans, August.

  18. Malley, J. E., & Stewart, A. J. (1988). Women's work and family roles: Sources of stress and sources of strength. In S. Fisher & J. Reason, (Eds.), Handbook of Life Stress, Cognition, and Health, New York: Wiley, pp. 175–191.

  19. Menaker, E. (1953), Masochism — a defense reaction of the ego. Psychoanalysis Quarterly, 22, 205–220.

  20. Parsons, T., & Bales, R. F. (1955). Family socialization and interaction process. Glencoe: Free Press.

  21. Sloman, L., & Price, J. S. (1987). Losing behavior (yielding subroutine) and human depression: Proximate and selective mechanisms. Ethology and Sociobiology, 8, 99S-109S.

  22. Spence, J. T., & Helmreich, R. L. (1978). Masculinity and femininity: Their psychological dimensions, correlates and antecedents. Austin: University of Texas Press.

  23. Spence, J. T., Helmreich, R. L., & Holahan, C. K. (1979). Negative and positive components of psychological masculinity and femininity and their relationships to self-reports of neurotic and acting out behaviors. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37, 1673–1682.

  24. Stewart, A. J., & Malloy, J. E. (1987). Role combination in women: mitigating agency and communion. In F. Crosby (Ed.), Spouse, parent, worker: on gender and multiple roles. (pp. 44–62). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

  25. Stewart, A. J., & Salt, P. (1981). Life stress, life styles, depression, and illness in adult women. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 40, 1063–1069.

  26. Veroff, J., Kulka, R., & Douvan, E. (1981). The inner American: A self-portrait from 1957–1976, New York: Basic Books.

  27. Wiggins, J. S. (1979). A psychological taxonomy of trait-descriptive terms: The interpersonal domain. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37, 395–412.

  28. Wiggins, J. S. (1982). Circumplex models of interpersonal behavior in clinical psychology. In P. C. Kendall, & J. N. Butcher, (Eds.), Handbook of research methods in clinical psychology, New York: Wiley.

  29. Wiggins, J. S., & Holzmuller, A. (1978). Psychological androgyny and interpersonal behavior. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 15, 67–80.

  30. Wiggins, J. S., & Holzmuller, A. (1981). Further evidence on androgyny and interpersonal flexibility. Journal of Research in Personality, 15, 67–80.

  31. Wiggins, J. S., & Pincus, A. (1989). Conceptions of Personality Disorders and dimensions of personality. Psychological Assessment: A Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 1, 305–316.

  32. Witkin, H. A. (1974). Social conformity and psychological differentiation. International Journal of Psychology, 9, 11–29.

Download references

Author information

Correspondence to David M. Buss.

Additional information

This article was completed while the author was a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. Support was provided by NIMH Grant MH-44206-01, NSF Grant BNS98-00864, and the Gordon P. Getty Trust. The author thanks Kenneth H. Craik and Carolyn Phinney for their valuable suggestions on earlier drafts of this article.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Buss, D.M. Unmitigated agency and unmitigated communion: An analysis of the negative components of masculinity and femininity. Sex Roles 22, 555–568 (1990).

Download citation


  • Social Psychology
  • Agentic Response
  • Negative Component
  • Separate Session
  • Personal Desire