134 CHAPTER 5
dependent and submissive. Once these expectations are widely accepted, they may begin
to function as stereotypes. A stereotype is a generalized notion of what a person is like
based only on that person’s sex, race, religion, ethnic background, or similar category.
Stereotypes do not take individuality into account. Stereotypes pertaining to sex dif-
ferences in personality traits were recently examined in a major cross-cultural study,
described in the Spotlight on Research box.
Many traditional gender-based stereotypes are widely accepted in our society. Some
of the prevailing notions about men maintain that they are aggressive (or at least asser-
tive), logical, unemotional, independent, dominant, competitive, objective, athletic, active,
and, above all, competent. Conversely, women are frequently viewed as nonassertive,
illogical, emotional, subordinate, warm, and nurturing. ese common gender-role ste-
reotypes also tend to be found in many dierent cultures (Jandt & Hundley, 2007). For
example, one study found remarkable consistency in how these traditional role stereo-
types are ascribed to women and men in 30 dierent cultures (Williams & Best, 1990).
A recent study of college women found that women who endorse traditional gender
roles view an ideal male partner as one who conforms to traditional masculine roles
involving power over women, self-reliance, emotional control, and risk taking. In con-
trast, women who identied themselves as feminists not supportive of traditional gen-
der roles indicated that an ideal male partner would be one who did not conform to
Social scientists generally agree that sex differences in
traditional gender roles tend to appear early in life and
often persist across the life cycle. However, the origin of
these differences remains controversial. On the one hand,
evolutionary psychologists maintain that many of our
behaviors and personality attributes are innate traits inher-
ited from ancient hunter-and-gatherer ancestors. Alter-
natively, psychologists in the social-learning camp assert
that the personalities and behaviors of both sexes have
been largely shaped by traditional social roles.
ary psychologists might hypothesize that sex differences
in personality traits would be somewhat consistent across
divergent cultures. If a long period of biological evolution
favors selection of genes that contribute to the survival
of the species, there should be a predictable consistency
across various subcategories (cultures) of the human spe-
cies. Conversely, social-learning advocates would likely
hypothesize that sex differences in personality traits will
diminish as women spend more time outside the home in
the competitive workplace and less time in the traditional
female roles of homemaker and nurturer of children.
These two hypotheses were recently put to a world-
wide test in which 17,637 people drawn from 55 nations
were administered the Big Five Inventory (BFI; translated
English into 28 languages), a self-report question-
naire designed to assess the traits of extraversion, agree-
ableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness.
The survey’s ndings stand in marked contrast to likely
predictions based on the two psychological perspectives
just described. First, the extent of sex differences in
personality traits was found to vary considerably among
the 55 cultures surveyed, a result that is inconsistent with
the evolutionary psychology viewpoint. Perhaps even
more startling was the nding that personality differences
between men and women were smaller in traditional
cultures like those of Botswana or India than in more egal-
itarian nations like the United States or France.
trary to the social-learning hypothesis, a working husband
and stay-at-home wife in the patriarchal Botswana culture
are more similar in personality traits than a working
couple in Denmark. Or, stated another way, the more men
and women in a given culture are egalitarian in jobs and
rights, the more their personality traits seem to diverge
(Schmitt et al., 2008).
These ndings are so counterintuitive and inconsistent
with predictions derived from either the social-learning
or the evolutionary psychology perspective that some
researchers have suggested that they result from cultur-
ally based problems with the BFI (Tierney, 2008). However,
lead author David Schmitt and his colleagues conclude
that their study revealed general trends that are valid albeit
controversial in the context of widely held theories. Can we
expect that the personality gap between men and women
will widen further as the sexes become more equal in afu-
ent societies that increasingly embrace egalitarian values
and reduce barriers between women and men?
future research will provide additional insights and help to
clarify this question.
Cross-Cultural Sex Differences in Personality Traits
A generalized notion of what a person
is like based only on that person’s sex,
race, religion, ethnic background, or
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