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Surprising Smiles and Unanticipated Frowns: How Emotion and Status Influence Gender Categorization

Abstract

Beliefs about who typically expresses which emotions are deeply ingrained and likely affect how people perceive and respond to emotional displays by others. We examined how emotional expressions and social status separately and in combination affect how quickly participants can categorize faces by their gender. The speed with which people categorize targets is informative about what combinations are expected or not. In Study 1, participants categorized the gender of targets displaying angry, happy, and neutral expressions. Response times were slower to incongruent gender-emotion pairs (angry female faces, happy male faces) relative to both neutral and congruent expressions. In Study 2, participants again categorized the gender of targets, this time presented as having high or low status. Target status affected response times to female targets only. Female targets were categorized more slowly when they both had high status and expressed anger (vs. happiness or no emotion). No differences by emotion were found for low-status female targets. In sum, anger was incongruent with women at an automatic level both when they had high status and when their status was unmarked, whereas explicit low-status information eliminated this incongruity. These data confirm the existence of deeply-ingrained associations linking status, gender, and emotion and underscore the importance of emotional expression and status in how women are perceived.

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Notes

  1. Although the gender-status congruent trials (i.e., high-status male and low-status female) arguably could be considered replications of the no-status trials in Study 1, we recognized that contextually-specific status information should be distinguished from assumed status based on gender and might differentially influence responses to the targets. Therefore, an additional 34 participants completed a revised version of the experiment in which a set of targets with no status information was presented first, followed by the high- and low-status sets. As expected, analyses of the no-status information trials replicated the patterns found in Study 1.

  2. The main effect of status was marginally significant, F(1, 72) = 2.88, p = .094, with faster response times to high-status (M = 577.2, SE = 6.6) than to low-status faces (M = 571.0, SE = 6.5).

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Acknowledgments

We thank John F. Dovidio for his helpful comments on earlier drafts of this article.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Correspondence to Jacqueline S. Smith.

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Smith, J.S., LaFrance, M., Knol, K.H. et al. Surprising Smiles and Unanticipated Frowns: How Emotion and Status Influence Gender Categorization. J Nonverbal Behav 39, 115–130 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10919-014-0202-4

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Keywords

  • Gender
  • Emotion
  • Status
  • Facial expressions
  • Stereotypes