The (Continuous) Nature of Perceived Gender Counter-Stereotype: A Threshold Model of Gender Stereotype Maintenance

Abstract

People often expect men and women to look, act, and think like typical members of their gender groups. When men and women deviate from gender-stereotypical expectations across various domains, people tend to denigrate them, compared to those who follow stereotypical expectations. This derogatory attitude—termed the backlash effect—has been well supported by psychological research. However, previous studies on the backlash effect have often neglected the fact that men and women can be counter-stereotypical of their gender groups, to varying degrees. This research tried to address this continuous nature of counter-stereotypical characteristics in various domains using six experiments to evaluate individual responses to gendered facial cues, behaviors, and psychological traits. We conducted three studies, with two experiments per study. Most importantly, this research proposed a threshold model of gender stereotype maintenance to explain people’s evaluations of gender-counter-stereotypical targets across various domains. The threshold model suggested that appraisal for a target with balanced gender-stereotypical and gender-counter-stereotypical characteristics tends to be more positive than for a target who strictly adheres to gender stereotypes or gender-counter-stereotypical characteristics. The results of all three studies supported the threshold model, which demonstrated a curvilinear pattern of participants’ appraisals and targets’ gender-counter-stereotypical degrees. The threshold model of stereotype maintenance has enriched the traditional stereotype maintenance theory and enlightened the development of a more effective impression management strategy. Moreover, it provided more ecological validity that treated gender counter-stereotype as a continuum rather than a binary variable.

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Acknowledgements

We would like to thank our colleagues and students at CSSP of CCNU and Mr. Christopher D. Petsko at the Department of Psychology of Northwestern University, for their kind support.

Funding

The funding was provided by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grand Nos. 31571147, 31400903) and the Major Program of National Social Science Foundation of China (Grand No. 18ZDA331).

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Correspondence to Bin Zuo.

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All experiments were carried out in accordance with the recommendations of the School of Psychology Ethics Committee of Central China Normal University.

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All participants read informed consent carefully at the very beginning of every experiment and voluntarily completed the following part. Participants received course credits or CNY ¥5 as compensation for their time.

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Wen, F., Zuo, B., Wang, Y. et al. The (Continuous) Nature of Perceived Gender Counter-Stereotype: A Threshold Model of Gender Stereotype Maintenance. Arch Sex Behav (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-020-01763-2

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Keywords

  • Gender perception
  • Gender role
  • Gender identity
  • Counter-stereotypes
  • Backlash effects