Sex Roles

, Volume 80, Issue 3–4, pp 147–158 | Cite as

How Low Can You(r Power) Go? It Depends on Whether You are Male or Female

  • Aleah S. M. Fontaine
  • Jacquie D. Vorauer
Original Article


Three online experiments were conducted to determine whether gender differences in feelings of power are most evident in objectively lower or higher power situations (total n = 1360; Studies 1 and 2: 238 and 771 U.S. MTurk respondents respectively; Study 3: 351 Canadian university students). We focused on evaluating whether men’s and women’s responses were in line with a cushioning account, whereby the higher power generally accorded to men as a group essentially serves as a back-up power source for men in lower power positions. We also evaluated support for a ceiling account, whereby women’s feelings of power are limited in higher power positions. Results were consistent with the cushioning account: Men reported feeling more powerful than women did when imagining or recalling occupying a lower power position and in a control baseline, but no gender difference was evident under higher power conditions. Results further revealed that women’s feelings of power were more variable across lower versus higher power positions than were men’s and indicated that women’s feelings of power are quite responsive to situationally afforded high power when it is available. Overall our findings suggest that occupying a higher power role eradicates gender differences in feelings of power that are otherwise evident and thus has an equalizing effect.


Gender differences Feelings of power Buffering hypothesis Hierarchy Situational power 



The present article was facilitated by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada grant (#435-2012-0348) and a University of Manitoba Psychology Undergraduate Research Experience Award to Aleah Fontaine.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

This manuscript is original, not previously published, and not under concurrent consideration elsewhere.

Conflict of Interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

Ethical Approval

The research was conducted in accordance with APA ethical guidelines. All experiments reported in this paper were approved by our university’s research ethics committee; all participants indicated consent in the online survey before proceeding to answer any questions.

Supplementary material

11199_2018_927_MOESM1_ESM.docx (21 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 20 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of ManitobaWinnipegCanada

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