This post reviews the paper The Effect of Gender on Cognitive Structuring: Who are More Biased, Men or Women?
Here is the common assumption in popular culture:
Ample evidence demonstrates the existence of stereotypes about gender differences: men are more rational than women, while women are more emotional, intuitive and biased.
We’ve certainly gotten an earful of this at HUS over the years! Female solipsism, anyone?
Back in 1989 researcher J. Meyers-Levy found evidence for another, counterintuitive hypothesis:
In her Selectivity Hypothesis Meyers-Levy theorizes that men are considered to be “selective processors” who often do not engage in comprehensive processing of all available information before rendering judgment. Instead, they seem to rely on various heuristics in place of detailed information processing…Women, on the other hand, are considered to be “comprehensive processors” who attempt to assimilate all available information before rendering judgment.
Yoram Bar-Tal of Tel Aviv University and Maria Jarymowicz of Warsaw University sought to test the hypothesis further, conducting the three separate studies that comprise this paper.
Two different thinking approaches prevail among human beings:
“CS has been defined as “the creation and use of abstract mental representations (e.g., schemata, prototypes, scripts, attitudes, and stereotypes)—representations that are simplified generalizations of previous experience.”
“Piecemeal processing involves vigilant behavior, consisting of a bottom-up, systematic and effortful search for relevant information, and the evaluation and unbiased assimilation of that information.
CS allows individuals to attain certainty most efficiently because it is relatively automatic, effort-free and faster than piecemeal processing. It helps reach certainty by filtering out inconsistent and/or irrelevant information and may make use of previously stored information if needed to attain certainty as to the validity of the inference. CS is often identified with holistic and top-down processing. These characteristics make CS very effective….using CS helps the perceiver to make the world a meaningful, orderly, and predictable place.
In addition, however, to the very functional characteristics of CS it is also characterized by the use of:
- crudely differentiated categories
- stereotypical thinking
- heuristic, biased cognition
The association between CS and the use of biases is explained by the lower utilization of the relevant information as well as the relying on previously stored information that might be in form of stereotypes or other schema.”
One obvious example might be the categorical rejection of numerous sources of relevant data in favor of anecdotal evidence gathered while “working at a bar” or “according to my cubicle mate who is a player.” See where this is going?
Among the few studies that have examined this question is Martin’s study (B. A. Martin, “The influence of gender on mood effects in advertising,” 2003), which showed that men and women are affected differently by promotional messages. Women were found to process promotional information more comprehensively than men, while men focused on more peripheral information.
This implies that men use schema based heuristic strategies to process information. Hayes, Allinson and Armstrong found, similarly, that women use more analytical (less intuitive) information processing than men (J. Hayes, C. W. Allinson and S. J. Armstrong, “Intuition, Women Managers and Gendered Stereotypes,” 2004).
The three studies in this paper further examine how gender predicts the use of available diagnostic information (explicit measurement) rather than relying on a “self-schema” (implicit measurement).
“Confirmation bias is defined as the tendency, when examining the validity of a hypothesis, to prefer corroborative rather than refuting evidence. Study 1 focuses on the tendency to avoid examining rival hypotheses.”
A t-test showed that men’s confirmation bias (M = 1.43 SD = 1.09) was significantly higher than women’s (M = 1.09 SD = 0.96), which supported the study hypothesis that women tended to use cognitive structuring less than men.
The second study examined the effect of subliminal priming messages while asking men and women to guess which photos represented people who were in relationships, and in a second set of photos, which people made the most money.
Women’s judgments were not affected by the priming, while men showed a significant shift.
The third study aimed to discern whether gender plays a role in the extent to which personality traits influence decision making. Specifically, the personality trait anxiety was studied in relation to decision making during a health crisis.
The correlation between trait anxiety and the measures of state anxiety, distress, and well-being was significantly higher for men than women. Thus, this study validates the hypothesis that men use schematic thinking more than women do.
The data and findings of the three studies clearly support the idea that men tend to use more CS (and therefore use more cognitive biases) than women do.
As someone who is fairly analytical and logical, I have often been described as being “male brained,” and I tend to think of myself that way. I appreciate learning about research that illustrates my own biases, so that I may correct them.
Don’t let anyone tell you that as a woman your judgment is compromised by your being emotional, solipsistic or irrational. Turns out you’re very good at piecemeal processing. My experience as a blogger dealing with confirmation bias, while anecdotal, is considerable, and very much in keeping with the research findings. YMMV, as always.