Gender Differences in Conformity
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Do women conform more than men?

    Studies over the years have shown a higher rate of conformity among women than men.  Psychologists have attributed this difference to many areas, such as personality traits, differing views of conformity, social status, and situational forces.  The following research and studies illustrate the findings which confirm this hypothesis.

Personality Traits of Men vs. Women

   According to Eagley, Wood, and Fishbaugh (1981), women are more concerned than men about the quality of interpersonal relationships.  Women take greater responsibility for establishing and maintaining interpersonal bonds, whereas men do not.  Also, women are more empathetic and more accurate at decoding nonverbal communication than males.  Male gender roles also claim that men should remain independent and not agree closely with others, while it is seen as acceptable for women to conform to group behaviors.

     According to the studies by Maslach, Santee, and Wade (1987), part of the masculine gender role is to be independent and assertive, therefore leading males to conform less.  At the same time, they stated that part of the feminine role involves being sensitive to others, therefore leading to conformity to maintain harmony.  These contrasting personality traits found in men and women set a solid foundation for their conforming or nonconforming behaviors.

Male vs. Female Views on Conformity

    A study completed by Santee and Jackson (1982) helped determine that females assess conformity as a more positive, self-defining act than males do.  Females are seen as being more sensitive to others, and therefore conform more to keep a state of peace.  Males, on the other hand, are more likely to deviate from a group and interpret their actions as enhancing their self-image.  Males' nonconforming behavior attracts attention, therefore more attention is directed toward their behavior (Eagley, et al., 1981).

Effects of Status and Status Cues on Conformity

    Many psychologists attribute the gender differences in conformity to the perceived differences in class status of men and women.  One possible interpretation of differences in conformity is the implicit status cue that suggests certain individuals are believed to be of higher status by group members.  The results of a study performed by Eagly and Chrvala showed that older females conformed more than older males when subjects surveyed each other's answers or when they rated each other on likeability (Collin, Di Sano, and Malik, 1994).  It has been suggested, though, that this higher rate of conformity is due to the male-based stimuli.  The same study conducted by Collin, et al., suggests that male subjects exhibited more conformity than females due to their higher status.

    In the formation of new groups, it has been found that gender functions primarily as a status cue (Eagly, et al., 1981).  Gender informs people about status, because it is normally perceived in our society that men have higher status than women.  Therefore, people enter into a group on unequal ground.  Eagly, etc. also argue that men's nonconformity results in successful influence due to their higher status.  In reference to occupational status, this study found that the perception of women as being more compliant in a job setting than men came from having a lower occupational status.   Therefore, they claim that women are not as able to move about as freely from a group consensus as men.  Thus, women are seen as conforming more than men.

What situational influences affect conformity differences?

    Johnson and Schulman(1989) suggest that the composition of groups, such as the number of males versus the number of females, will affect conforming or nonconforming behavior.  Their studies show that both men and women are affected by decreased group numbers, yet the effects are to the advantage of the man.  When situational pressures are weak, personality traits will be more predictive of behavior and less predictive when situational pressures are strong (Maslach, et al., 1987).  Yet, this is not always true and both sides should be studied.

    Another situational force which has been found to influence conformity is the gender relevance of the topic.  The gender relevance of a topic triggers different response styles for men and women.  It has been found that people are more likely to individuate themselves with respect to gender relevant issues.  Therefore, since most of the studies contain male-based material, men have shown a stronger tendency to individuate themselves.  Personality traits will also play a role in how people respond to different gender based issues.  Also, results of studies have shown higher rates of conformity when individuals are in situations of hearing opinions of peers (Maslach, et al., 1987).  Also, women are more easily influenced in settings which individuals function as members of groups as opposed to other settings (Eagly, et al., 1981).

    Another area with situational influence to be studied is that of surveillance.   In a study done by Eagly, et al., (1981), subjects were placed in different conditions, one of which their opinions were believed to be under surveillance by other subjects.  The results show that males conformed less when under surveillance than when they were not.  Female conformity was unaffected by surveillance.  This fact may relate to the idea that once individuals are committed to an opinion or have considered something carefully, their opinions will most likely carry over to new settings, such as one with surveillance.

 

References

Eagly, A.H., Wood, W., & Fishbaugh, L. (1981). Sex Differences in Conformity: Surveillance by                  the Group as a Determinant of Male Nonconformity.  Journal of Personality and Social                  Psychology, 40(2), 384-394.

Johnson, R. A., & Schulman, G. I. (1989). Gender Role Composition and Role Entrapment in                  Decision-Making Groups.  Gender and Society, 3(3), 355-372.  

Maslach, C., Santee, R. T., & Wade, C. (1987).   Individuation, Gender Role, and Dissent:               Personality Mediators of Situational Forces.  Journal of Personality and Social                Psychology, 53(6), 1088-1093.

Santee, R.T., & Jackson, S.E. (1882). Identity Implications of Conformity: Sex Differences in              Normative and Attributional Judgements. Social Psychology Quarterly, 45(2), 121-125.

Workman, J.E., & Johnson, K.K.P. (1994).  Effects of Conformity and Nonconformity to               Gender-Role Expectations for Dress: Teachers Versus Students. Adolescence,                  29(113), 207-221.

 

This web page was created by Wesley Moore at Rhodes College.  April 1999.