Sex Roles

, Volume 73, Issue 1–2, pp 16–28 | Cite as

Pursuing Desires Rather Than Duties? The Motivational Content of Gender Stereotypes

  • Amanda M. Johnston
  • Amanda B. Diekman
Original Article


In the current research we provide initial documentation of the motivational content of gender stereotypes. Drawing from regulatory focus theory (Higgins, 1987, 1997), we distinguish between whether traits are perceived to be motivated by ideals, including hopes, dreams, and aspirations, and oughts, including responsibilities, duties, and obligations. In two studies of U.S. Midwestern undergraduates, participants rated the extent to which the traits of men or women are motivated by ideals or oughts. Study 1 included 137 introductory psychology students who rated gender stereotypic traits (e.g., competitiveness for men; sensitivity for women); Study 2 included 118 introductory psychology students who rated gender stereotypic or counterstereotypic traits (e.g., competitiveness for women; sensitivity for men). In both Studies 1 and 2, we demonstrate that people perceive women as especially motivated by ideals rather than oughts but men as equivalently motivated by ideals and oughts. These patterns emerge regardless of trait stereotypicality. In Study 3, we examined the relationship between perceptions of role flexibility and the perception of ideal motivation using a sample of 214 introductory psychology students from the Midwestern U.S. We found evidence that ascriptions of ideal motivation are associated with perceptions of role flexibility, which are greater for women. We discuss the implications of these beliefs for the legitimization of the existing gendered social system.


Gender stereotypes Gender roles Motivation Social roles Stereotype content 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflicts of Interest

We have no conflicts of interest.

Informed Consent

All participants were required to sign an informed consent prior to participation.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Houston-Clear LakeHoustonUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyMiami UniversityOxfordUSA

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