Implicit Reactions to Women in High Power Body Postures: Less Wonderful But Still Weaker

Abstract

People rapidly form impressions of others based on their gender. Women tend to be liked more than men but men tend to be regarded as more powerful. However, a person’s nonverbal behavior has the potential to confirm or override these stereotypical impressions. Specifically, expansive, open body postures (e.g., based on widespread limbs) tend to convey high power compared to contracted, closed body positions. In three studies, we tested whether postural variations affected evaluations of men and women and impressions of their power. In Study 1, images of women elicited a more positive reactions than images of men in an affective misattribution procedure, but only when women enacted contracted body postures. In Studies 2 and 3, participants were slower to classify images of expansive postures as high power when enacted by women and slower to classify contracted postures as low power when enacted by men, but rated men and women similarly in explicit power-related judgments. Expansive body postures thus appeared to eliminate the usual positive reaction to women relative to men, but women still did not implicitly convey power to the same degree as men. Gender did not interfere with explicit, more controlled judgments of power. Together these studies demonstrate that gender implicitly interferes with perceptions of a person’s power, even in the presence of potentially individuating body postures.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Note that throughout the manuscript d reflects the Cohen’s d that takes the correlation between the within-subjects variables into account. The pre-registration lists a slightly different power analysis based on conventional Cohen’s d (i.e., mean difference divided by the square root of the pooled variance).

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Appendices

Appendix 1: Pilot Study to Study 1

Here we report the details and results of the pilot study to Study 1 reported in the main text. Pre-registered hypotheses, exclusion criteria, methods, and analysis plan for Study 1 were based on this pilot study.

Method

Participants

We sampled 126 respondents and excluded 11 participants whose average response on the rapid affect measure was below 200 ms (M = 105.69, SD = 42.91) and 19 participants who failed participant validity checks by indicating, for instance, that they were two different ages when asked at the beginning and end of the survey. The remaining 96 participants’ (56 women, 71 white, Mage = 38.68 SDage = 14.02) had plausible reaction times (RTs, M = 746.63, SD = 221.96), and as all factors were within-subjects, exclusions did not differ among conditions.

Measures and Procedure

Participants completed an AMP identical to that described in Study 1 in the main text.

Results

Each participant’s AMP score was the proportion of trials marked “pleasant” (vs. “unpleasant”). Trials with RTs less than 200 ms were omitted, which resulted in the omission of 2.36% (SD = 9.84%) of trials on average.

AMP scores were analyzed in a 2 (prime gender: male, female) × 2 (prime posture: contracted, expansive) repeated measures analysis of variance (rANOVA). Prime gender interacted with prime posture, F(1, 95) = 5.99, p = 0.016, η2p = 0.06. Specifically, participants reacted more positively to female primes (M = 0.63, SD = 0.20) than male primes (M = 0.58, SD = 0.23) but only in the contracted posture trials, t(95) = 2.01, p = 0.048, d = 0.20, and showed no preference for female primes (M = 0.57, SD = 0.21) compared to male primes (M = 0.59, SD = 0.19) in the expansive posture trials, t(95) = 0.73, p = 0.467, d = 0.08. Further, participants had a more positive reaction to female primes in contracted postures compared to female primes in expansive postures, t(95) = 2.26, p = 0.026, d = 0.23, while reactions to male primes in expansive and contracted postures did not differ, t(95) = 0.49, p = 0.627, d = 0.05.

Appendix 2: Study 2 Additional Details

Here we report the details of additional memory questions included in Study 2. These measures were included at the very end of Study 2 for exploratory purposes, and thus could not affect the results reported in the main text.

Participants saw four images taken from the set of 48 used in the posture classification task, a man and a woman in an expansive and a contracted posture. These were intermixed with images of a man and a woman in the same postures, but who had not been included in the classification task. Participants were instructed to rate each image on a scale from definitely have not seen before (1) to definitively have seen before (7).

Appendix 3: Replication to Study 3

Here we report the details of a replication to Study 3.

Method

Participants

We sampled 203 participants and excluded 26 whose error rates exceeded 15.00% (M = 89.64%, SD = 80.09) and one who failed validity checks described in Study 1. The remaining 176 participants (68 women, 137 white, Mage = 33.06 SDage = 9.15) had relatively low error rates (M = 5.45%, SD = 3.88%), and exclusions did not differ among the four between-subjects posture and gender conditions for the leadership judgments, χ2 (3, N = 203) = 5.08, p = 0.166.

Measures and Procedure

The posture classification task and leadership judgments were identical to that used in Study 3 (leadership qualities, α = 0.95).

Results

Posture Classification Task

RTs were prepared and analyzed in the same way as in Studies 2 and 3. Replicating Studies 2 and 3, target posture and target gender interacted, F(1, 175) = 21.45, p < 0.001, η2p = 0.11. Again, participants were slower to indicate that expansive postures were high power when classifying female targets (M = 844.95, SD = 241.54) compared to male targets (M = 826.64, SD = 224.71), t(175) = 2.38, p = 0.018, d = 0.18, and participants were slower to indicate that contracted postures were low power when classifying a male target (M = 853.57, SD = 250.19) compared to a female target (M = 821.88, SD = 195.95), t(175) = 3.68, p < 0.001, d = 0.28

Leadership Judgments

Leadership, hiring, and pay were analyzed in the same way as in Study 3. Replicating Study 3, Participants rated targets in expansive postures higher than targets in contracted postures on all three measures regardless of the target’s gender: leadership qualities, (M = 5.58, SD = 0.81; vs. M = 3.24, SD =0.99), F(1, 172) = 295.87, p < 0.001, η2p = 0.63, pay (M = $69,100, SD = $35,400; versus, M = $53,900, SD =$22,700), F(1, 172) = 11.28, p = 0.001, η2p = 0.06, and hiring, (M = 4.74, SD = 1.29; vs. M = 3.41, SD = 1.39), F(1, 171) = 42.73, p < 0.001, η2p = 0.20.

Note that when testing for potential participant gender effects, participant gender interacted with candidate gender concerning hireability, F(1, 167) = 3.97, p = 0.048, η2p = 0.02. Female participates rated female candidates (M = 4.59, SD = 1.56) as more hirable than male candidates (M = 3.89, SD = 1.35), F(1, 167) = 4.63, p = 0.033, η2p = 0.02, while male participants displayed no preference. For the present purposes this finding only reiterates that concerning explicit judgments participants display willingness to rate women at least as suitable as men (if not more) for leadership.

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Bailey, A.H., Lambert, R. & LaFrance, M. Implicit Reactions to Women in High Power Body Postures: Less Wonderful But Still Weaker. J Nonverbal Behav 44, 329–350 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10919-019-00327-w

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Keywords

  • Gender stereotypes
  • Implicit
  • Nonverbal behavior
  • Person perception
  • Posture
  • Power