New Directions in the Psychology of
Research and Theory
Gender Schematic Processing:
The Influence of Expressive and Instrumental Personality Attributes,
and Sex-Role Behaviors and Preferences
William E. Snell, Jr.
Southeast Missouri State University
Sharyn S. Belk
University of Texas at Austin
Gender schematic processing involves a readiness to evaluate and assimilate information about others and oneself in terms of gender. The study examined in Chapter 19 describes the relationship of gender schematic processing to women's and men's (1) sex-role behaviors and preferences and (2) instrumental and expressive personality characteristics. Systematic differences in gender schematic processing were observed among men who were traditional, non-egalitarian in their sex-role preferences and behaviors; whereas women's sex-role preferences and behaviors were unrelated to their use of gender schemas. The personality measures of socially desirable instrumental and expressive attributes showed no strong associations with the gender-schema measure, neither for men nor for women. Overall, the findings suggest that men's tendency to organize information in terms of gender schemas is more strongly related to their sex-role tendencies than to their expressive and instrumental personality characteristics.
Acknowledgments. Portions of these data were presented at the 29th annual meeting of the Southwestern Psychological Association, San Antonio, Texas. Gratitude is extended to anonymous SWPA reviewers for their peer-review commentary on this research.
Proper citation: Snell, W. E., Jr. (2002). Chapter 19: xxxxx. In W. E. Snell, Jr. (Ed.), New directions in the psychology of gender roles: Research and theory. Cape Girardeau, MO: Snell Publications. WEB: http://cstl-cla.semo.edu/snell/books/gender/gender.htm.
Schemas are cognitive structures that derive from the integration and organization of particular types of knowledge. Once developed, they influence the categorization, interpretation, and comprehension of social events and behaviors. Self-schemas, in particular, are those cognitive structures that contain integrated and organized information about the self--the unique aspects of people's personality, abilities, achievements, interests, and appearance (Markus, Crane, Bernstein & Saladi, 1982; Markus, 1977; Markus, Crane, & Saladi, 1978; Markus, Hamill, & Sentis, 1979; Rogers, Kuiper & Kirker, 1977).
In addition to the self-schema concept, several investigators have been concerned with the notion of gender schemas (e.g., Anderson & Bem, 1981; Bem, 1981a, 1982; Frable & Bem, 1985; Markus et al., 1982; Warfel, 1984). Gender schematic processing involves a generalized readiness to encode and to organize information about oneself, others, and the world on the basis of sex-linked associations. According to gender schema theory (Bem, 1981a, 1981b, 1982), being gender schematic involves a readiness to sort attributes and behaviors into masculine and feminine categories, where "masculine" and "feminine" refer to the culture's definitions of what is appropriate or inappropriate for an indivdual's sex (Bem, 1982, p. 1193). Bem further argues that those individuals likely to be the most prone to using gender as a schema are so-called "sex-typed" individuals--males high in "masculinity" and low in "femininity" and females low in "masculinity" and high in "femininity."
Although Bem and her colleagues have conducted a variety of investigations dealing with gender schema theory (Anderson & Bem, 1981; Bem, 1981a; Frable & Bem, 1985), others have questioned both her methodology and her theoretical assumptions (Crane & Markus, 1982; Deaux, Kite, & Lewis, 1985; Spence & Helmreich, 1981). Spence and Helmreich's (1981) criticism, however, deals not so much with Bem's proposal that individuals differ in the strength of their gender schema, as it does with Bem's theoretical basis for using the Bem Sex Role Inventory (BSRI; Bem, 1974) as a measure to define those most prone to the use of gender schemas (i.e., sex-typed individuals). Spence and Helmreich argue that instead of the BSRI, which they construe as a personality measure of instrumental and expressive characteristics, a more theoretically precise way of defining "sex-typed" individuals would involve the use of assessment tools tapping sex-role attitudes, preferences, and/or behaviors. Such measures, they posit, are more related to the tendency to utilize gender schemata than are instruments assessing people's instrumental and expressive personality traits (cf. Larsen & Seidman, 1986).
In light of these responses (Crane & Markus, 1982; Spence & Helmreich, 1981) to some of the central features of gender schema theory (Bem, 1981a, 1981b, 1985), there was a need to conduct an investigation of gender schema processing that dealt with both gender-related personality attributes and sex-role phenomena. The purpose of the present study was to examine the influence of women's and men's (1) expressive and instrumental personality characteristics and (2) sex-role preferences and behaviors on their use of gender as a cognitive heuristic. For our measure of expressive and instrumental personality attributes, the Extended Personality Attributes Questionnaire (EPAQ; Spence, Helmreich & Holahan, 1979) was used. The Extended Personal Attributes Questionnaire (EPAQ) is a personality measure of both socially desirable and undesirable instrumental and expressive characteristics. To measure sex-role preferences and behaviors, the recently developed Male-Female Relations Questionnaire was used (MFRQ; Spence, Helmreich & Sawin, 1980). The Male-Female Relations Questionnaire (MFRQ) contains two primary subscales. The Social Interaction scale deals with men's and women's tendency to conform to convention sex-role behaviors, whereas men's and women's preferences for conventional patterns of marital interactions.
Gender schematic processing can manifest itself, as Bem observes, in a variety of ways. A review of the literature in fact revealed several methods for assessing gender schematic processing (Bem, 1981a; Deaux & Brennan, 1980; Heilbrun, 1986; Jones, Chernovetz & Hansson, 1978; Markus et al., 1982). In the present study, we opted to devise a new procedure rather than rely on any of the past techniques. Women and men were asked to complete forty-three (43) statements, using one of five types of pronouns (e.g., I, She, He, We, or They). Approximately half of the statements referred to instrumental, agentic behaviors, while the remaining statements referred to expressive, interpersonal-oriented behaviors. The subjects' responses were scored such that higher scores on the gender schema measure corresponded to the selection of male pronouns (e.g., he) for the instrumental statements and female pronouns (e.g., she) for the expressive statements. Based on Spence and Helmreich's rationale (1980, 1981), it was predicted that sex-role preferences and behaviors would be more strongly associated with the tendency to use gender schemas than would the personality traits of expressivity and instrumentality.
One hundred and twenty-five college students (30 males and 95 females) volunteered to participate in the present study as one way of earning extra credit in one of their upper-division psychology courses.
The students were asked to participate in a study on personality and individual differences. As part of the study, they completed a questionnaire battery containing several different instruments.
Among the measures completed by the subjects were the Extended Personal Attributes Questionnaire (EPAQ; Spence et al., 1979), the Male-Female Relations Questionnaire (MRFQ; Spence et al., 1980), and the Gender Schema Questionnaire (GSQ).
Extended Personal Attributes Questionnaire (EPAQ). The EPAQ (Spence et al., 1979) contains three scales of socially desirable, abstract personality characteristics: (1) the +I scale, measuring instrumental-masculine traits (e.g., independent), (2) the +E scale, measuring expressive-feminine traits (e.g., gentle), and (3) the M-F scale, measuring "masculine-feminine" traits concerned with emotional invulnerability (e.g., dominant). In addition, the EPAQ contains several scales composed of socially undesirable traits. These include the negative masculinity scale (-I), which consists of instrumental, agentic traits that are both stereotypically and in self-report more characteristic of males (e.g., egotistical), and two negative femininity scales, which consist of socially undesirable traits that are stereotypically and in self-report more characteristic of females. One of these scales (-Fva) is composed of traits reflecting passive verbal-aggressiveness (e.g., nagging) and the other (-Fc) is composed of traits reflecting a lack of a sense of self (e.g., spineless). Subjects responded to the 40 items on the EPAQ on a 5-point scale scored from 0 to 4. Scores on the six subscales were based on the sum of the items constituting each subscale, higher scores indicating greater amounts of the respective attributes. Validity information for the EPAQ can be found in Spence and Helmreich (1978) and Spence et al. (1979).
Male-Female Relations Questionnaire (MFRQ). The MFRQ (Spence et al., 1980) is a measure of sex-role behaviors and preferences. It has four scales: (1) the Social Interaction Scale, designed to assess people's tendency to conform to traditional sex-role pressures, (2) the Marital Roles Scale, designed to assess a preference for a husband-dominated marital arrangement, (3) the Expressive Concern Scale, designed to assess men's lack of willingness to express emotional upset overtly and to be thought of as sensitive, and (4) the Male Preference Scale, designed to assess women's attraction for masculine, dominant men. The 30 items on the MFRQ were answered on a 5-point Likert scale with appropriate anchors (0=strongly agree; 4=strongly disagree). Scores on the subscales were based on the sum of the reversed-scored items constituting each subscale, higher scores thus indicating more "traditional" types of sex-role preferences and behaviors. Validity information for the MFRQ can be found in Spence et al. (1980).
Gender Schema Questionnaire (GSQ). The gender schema questionnaire contained 43 statements that the subjects were asked to complete, using different pronouns (e.g., I, She, He, We, or They). The instructions described the questionnaire as being "concerned with the linguistic form of sentences." Twenty-two (22) of these statements contained expressive, interpersonal-oriented thematic content (e.g., "Warmth and tenderness are characteristics that people almost always notice in ____."). The remaining twenty-one (21) statements contained instrumental, agentic thematic content (e.g., "Most people realize that ____ can serve as an excellent leader for most any group.").
Subjects were instructed to select one pronoun from among the alternatives listed in the parentheses in each sentence. A "masculine" schema score was computed, based on the proportion of the statements with instrumental content that the subjects completed with male pronouns (e.g., he, his). A "feminine" schema subscale was constructed in a similar way, based on the proportion of the statements with expressive themes that the subjects completed with female pronouns (e.g., she, her). A "gender" schema measure was then derived by summing together the masculine and feminine schema subscales. It was assumed that the selection of male pronouns for the instrumental statements and female pronouns for the expressive statements was based on the tendency to associate instrumentality with males and expressivity with females (i.e., on the tendency to use gender as a basis for making a decision about instrumental and expressive behaviors).
The results section is divided into two parts. The first section presents the results related to the Extended Personal Attributes Questionnaire (EPAQ; Spence et al., 1979), and the following section contains the results associated with the Male-Female Relations Questionnaire (MFRQ; Spence et al., 1980).
Extended Personal Attributes Questionnaire
Table 1 presents the correlations between the masculine, feminine, and gender schema measures and the six (6) subscales on the Extended Personal Attributes Questionnaire (EPAQ; Spence et al., 1979) for men and women, separately and together. An inspection of Table 1 indicates that the EPAQ subscales dealing with socially desirable instrumental and expressive attributes were unrelated to the gender schema scale among both males (instrumentality scale, r = .18, n. s. ; expressivity scale, r = .15, n. s.) and females (instrumentality scale, r = -.12, n. s. ; expressivity scale, r = -.10, n. s. ). [Unless otherwise indicated, all tests of significance are two-tailed.]
Several other correlations, however, were found to be statistically significant (see Table 1). Somewhat inconsistent with Bem's reasoning, it was found that women with lower scores on the measure of socially desirable expressive attributes (i.e., the +E subscale) scored higher on the feminine-schema subscale than did women with higher scores on the +E subscale ( r = -.25, p < .01). Three other subscales on the EPAQ were also associated with the masculine, feminine, and gender schema measures--(1) the emotional invulnerability scale (M-F), (2) the negative femininity scale concerned with passive verbal-aggressiveness (-Fva), and (3) the negative femininity scale concerned with a sense of selflessness (-Fc). However, since no theoretical rationale was advanced for these findings, they will not be discussed further.
Male-Female Relations Questionnaire
Table 2 presents the correlations between the masculine, feminine, and gender schema measures and the Male-Female Relations Questionnaire (MFRQ; Spence et al., 1980) for men and women, separately and together. As can be seen in Table 2, women's sex-role behaviors and preferences were unrelated to their tendency to use masculine, feminine, and gender schemas. In contrast, men's tendency to organize instrumental and expressive information in terms of gender was significantly associated with their (a) sex-role behaviors, as measured by the Social Interaction Scale (masculine schema, r = .27, p < .10; feminine schema, r = .39, p < .05; gender schema, r = .44, p < .01), and (b) their sex-role preferences, as measured by the Marital Relations Scale (masculine schema, r = .33, p < .05; feminine schema, r = .40, p < .05; gender schema, r = .50, p < .005). No other correlations were statistically significant.
The results indicated that men's use of gender schemas was influenced more by their sex-role preferences and behaviors than by their instrumental and expressive personality characteristics. By contrast, women's use of gender schemas was unrelated to both their sex-role preferences and behaviors as well as their instrumental and expressive personality attributes. Thus, men who reported conforming to traditional sex-role pressures and who preferred a "traditional", husband-dominant marriage arrangement used more male pronouns (e.g., he) when completing sentences containing instrumental themes and more female pronouns (e.g., she) when completing sentences containing expressive themes. As such, these results provide evidence for the position that gender schematic processing is more strongly associated with sex-role phenomena than with expressive and instrumental personality traits (cf. Spence & Helmreich, 1981).
It is worth noting here that the results of the present investigation are somewhat inconsistent with the research conducted by Bem and her associates (Anderson & Bem, 1981; Frable & Bem, 1985; Bem, 1981b). This discrepancy may be due to the multidimensional nature of the assessment instrument used by Bem and her colleagues in their research--i.e., the long BSRI (Bem, 1974). A recent factor analysis study of the long BSRI, for example, revealed several different components, including instrumental and expressive related factors and also a 2-item "masculinity-femininity" factor (Pedhazur & Tetenbaum, 1979). We suspect that the significant effects associated with gender schematic processing reported by Bem and her associates are due to this sex-role related component of the BSRI (i.e., due to the "masculinity-femininity" factor). Results consistent with this line of reasoning are reported by Frable and Bem themselves (1985, pp. 462-463). In a footnote, they indicate that the short BSRI failed to produce any significant gender schema effects, and thus they resorted to the use of the long version of the BSRI. In light of this concern, researchers might be forewarned to use some measure other than the long version of the BSRI to assess the relationship between sex-role related phenomena and gender schemas.
In summary, the goal of the present investigation was to broaden our understanding of gender schematic information processing by examining several individual differences related to the tendency to organize information on the basis of gender. The present results indicate that sex-role preferences and behaviors, as measured by the Male-Female Relations Questionnaire (MFRQ; Spence et al., 1980), are predictive of men's tendency to use gender as a cognitive heuristic in organizing unstructured behavioral information. Future researchers working in the area of gender schematic information processing may want to determine whether other sex-role phenomena also play an important role in not only men's, but also women's tendency to organize information about the world, themselves, and others on the basis of gender (Beauvais & Spence, 1985; Belk & Snell, in press, 1986; Deaux, 1984; Deaux & Lewis, 1984; Deaux, Winton, Crowley, & Lewis, 1985; Jackson & Cash, 1985; Tunnell, 1981). The present investigation represents an initial step in this direction.
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William E. Snell, Jr., Ph.D.