Sex Roles

, Volume 80, Issue 5–6, pp 247–261 | Cite as

Feeling Powerful but Incompetent: Fear of Negative Evaluation Predicts Men’s Sexual Harassment of Subordinates

  • Leah R. HalperEmail author
  • Kimberly Rios
Original Article


Although research has examined the role of power in men’s likelihood of perpetrating sexual harassment against women, less is known about specific personality traits that might predict sexual harassment. Building upon theorizing that men are especially prone to engage in sexual harassment to the extent that their social status is threatened (Berdahl 2007a), we conducted three studies with samples of adults (Studies 1 and 3) and college students (Study 2). In Studies 1 and 3, we asked participants to indicate their likelihood of engaging in sexual harassment of subordinates across a variety of scenarios. In Study 2, we experimentally primed power and had participants choose to send either neutral or sexuality-related articles to an ostensibly real female participant. Results demonstrated that concerns about being perceived as incompetent (i.e., Fear of Negative Evaluation scores) positively predicted men’s sexual harassment of female subordinates. Among women, Fear of Negative Evaluation scores were unrelated to sexual harassment of male subordinates. Further, this relationship held controlling for Narcissism, Self-Esteem, and Generalized Self-Efficacy scores, suggesting that the fear that others would see oneself as incompetent was a better predictor of sexual harassment than one’s self-perceived incompetence. Implications for the relationship between power, personality, and sexual harassment, and for interventions designed to curb sexual harassment, are discussed.


Sexual harassment Power Incompetence Gender harassment Fear of negative evaluation 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

The material in this paper has not been previously published and is not under consideration for publication elsewhere. All who participated provided informed consent. The paper complies with APA ethical standards, and all authors have seen and approved of the paper in its current form. All research in this manuscript was completed at Ohio University although the first author has since changed her affiliation.

Supplementary material

11199_2018_938_MOESM1_ESM.docx (16 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 15 kb)


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Copyright information

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

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyOhio UniversityAthensUSA
  2. 2.Office of Student Life, Center for the Study of Student LifeThe Ohio State UniversityColumbusUSA

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