Intuition and the typical woman
In the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology
‘She works by intuition and feeling,’ wrote the US psychologist G. Stanley Hall of the typical woman; ‘fear, anger, pity, love, and most of the emotions have a wider range and greater intensity [than in men].’
That was in 1904. Fast forward more than a hundred years, what beliefs do modern-day Europeans still hold about the intuition of men and women? Gerd Gigerenzer and his colleagues surveyed 1016 men and women in Germany and 1002 in Spain to find out.
Overall, the participants didn’t see either sex as having more intuition than the other. But that’s because they held stereotypes about the intuitive strengths of the sexes in different domains. In both Germany and Spain, the majority of participants believed that women’s intuitions are better when it comes to personal life. For instance, 63 per cent of Germans believed that women’s intuitions about choosing the right romantic partner are superior (and the figures were almost identical in Spain).
Gigerenzer’s team said there could be some validity to a related stereotype held by their participants: the idea that women are better at understanding other people’s intentions. After all, there is evidence, the researchers said, that women are better at recognising emotional displays than men.
In relation to intuitions in a ‘professional social context’, there was no overall sex-related stereotype about leadership intuition (this may also be an accurate reflection of fact, since studies show companies with more women in leadership positions do at least as well, if not better, than those with fewer women). Both countries showed a weak preference for believing that men havea better intuition for choosing a business partner and in politics.
Beliefs about intuitions in the last domain of ‘professional individual tasks’ were stronger and exposed the greatest differences between the countries. In Spain the majority of men and women believed that the sexes have equally good intuition for scientific discoveries; in contrast, in Germany only one third felt the same, with most people favouring men. This study can’t speak to cause and effect, but it’s notable that a greater percentage of scientists in Spain are female.
Participants in both countries also endorsed the stereotype that men have better intuition for dangerous situations, but this was almost entirely down to the beliefs held by men! In both countries, men and women further endorsed the stereotype that men have better intuition for investing in stocks. This actually flies in the face of research that has found women to be more effective at portfolio investment.
Across the whole study there was evidence of ingroup bias – men and women tended to attribute more credit to the intuition of their own sex.
Intriguingly, there was no difference in beliefs with age group. This led the researchers to suppose that people’s beliefs about the intuitive skills of the sexes is based on the current social context rather than the past. If the past had had more influence you’d expect older participants to endorse more traditional stereotypes.
Related to this, it was curious that gender stereotypes were more often endorsed in Germany even though this country has been a liberal democracy for longer than Spain and is said to value gender egalitarianism more strongly. The researchers said this may reflect the fact that Spain is catching up fast and may be even overtaking Germany. We already discussed Spain’s female advantage in science. Despite Germany having a female Chancellor, it’s also a fact that there is a larger percentage of female politicians in Spain.
All in all Gigerenzer and his team concluded their study shows ‘widespread stereotypes about men’s and women’s intuitions still exist even a century after the first president of the American Psychological Association made his infamous statement’.
Exonerated but for ever tarnished?
In Legal and Criminological Psychology
Wrongful convictions are disturbingly common. In the USA alone, over 1050 innocent people who were found guilty in court have subsequently been exonerated. A new study, the first to systematically study stigma towards convicted innocents, finds that the old adage is true – mud sticks.
Kimberley Clow and Amy-May Leach surveyed 86 psychology students in Canada about either ‘people who have been wrongfully convicted of a crime’; ‘people who have been convicted of a crime that they actually committed’; or ‘people in general’.
The students rated wrongfully convicted people in a similar way to offenders, including perceiving them as incompetent and cold, and having negative attitudes towards them. Although the students desired less social distance from the wrongly convicted compared with offenders, they preferred to have more distance from them than people in general. And while they expressed more pity for wrongly convicted people than offenders, this didn’t translate into greater support for giving them assistance such as job training or subsidised housing. In fact, the students were more in favour of giving monthly living expenses to people in general as opposed to the wrongly convicted.
‘A wrongly convicted individual should be viewed as any other non-convicted citizen,’ said Clow and Leach. ‘Our findings, however, suggest that this does not occur… Wrongly convicted persons are not perceived as other citizens.’
These results are only a tentative step towards greater understanding of this issue. It’s unsafe to generalise confidently from a student sample, and we haven’t learned much about why the participants stigmatised the wrongly convicted. It’s possible the students held a general belief that wrongly convicted people are likely to be guilty of other crimes, or they believed them morally contaminated by their time in prison.
Despite its limitations, the new study chimes with anecdotal evidence. Consider the case of the unfortunately named Kirk Bloodsworth. In 1993, after nearly nine years in prison, Bloodsworth was a free man thanks to DNA testing that showed he was not guilty of raping and killing a nine-year-old girl – the first time the scientific technique had been used in this way. Yet despite his release, Bloodsworth continued to be vilified, including having ‘child killer’ scrawled in dirt on his truck.
A preliminary psychology of ‘keeping it real’
In the Journal of Personality
From Ancient Greek philosophy to humanistic psychology to modern-day rap songs, there’s a long tradition of espousing the benefits of being true to yourself or ‘keeping it real’. Despite this interest, a new study by Alison Lenton and colleagues is one of the first to investigate what being true to oneself actually feels like, how often it happens and in what circumstances.
Lenton and her colleagues began by surveying 104 participants (average age 35; 66 women) on the Amazon Mechanical Turk website that pays people for completing tasks online. The participants said they experienced a state of authenticity one to two times per week, and experienced inauthenticity nearly every two months. They were strongly motivated (5.8 on a scale of 1 to 7) to be their true selves and similarly motivated to avoid inauthenticity (5.2 on the same scale). The state of being true to oneself was different from the personality trait of being a ‘genuine person’ – people reported experiencing both authenticity and inauthenticity regardless of their personality.
Hundreds of people were also recruited to write about either a time they had felt most true to themselves, or a time they felt like they were being fake. Experiences of self-authenticity tended to involve fun, familiar places or people, close others, helping someone or being creative. They were also associated with ‘low arousal’ positive emotions like contentment and calmness, and the fulfilment of personal needs, especially self-esteem, relatedness to others and autonomy. ‘I was with my girlfriend and three best friends and we stayed there [at the millpond in Cambridge] late drinking, chilling out, and talking about our lives and childhoods,’ said one participant. ‘I was really happy at that moment in life and felt relaxed, honest, that nothing else mattered or would ever change.’
Episodes of inauthenticity, by contrast, were associated with difficult events, being evaluated by others, demonstrating a lack of social competence, feeling isolated, failing one’s own standards and feeling ill.
The ‘signature’ emotion of being phoney was anxiety, and there was a sense of failing to fulfil any personal needs. ‘The buildings were completely unrecognisable as were the people,’ said one person of their first day at university. ‘I felt as though I was alone and had lost my sense of self.’
One particularly intriguing finding – participants describing a time they’d felt authentic, as opposed to phoney, tended to say the experience overlapped far more with their ideal self. There’s an obvious contradiction here. If they were being themselves, how come they resembled their ideal self, which is likely to be influenced by social expectations?
One possibility is that what we really mean by ‘be true to yourself’ is ‘be the person you want to be’.
This recalls an intriguing study published in 2010 by William Fleeson and Joshua Wilt, in which people reported feeling more authentic when they were behaving in an extraverted, agreeable and open-minded way, regardless of whether this matched their own personality. Behaving this way usually means certain needs are being met, including closeness with others and being competent. Another possibility, then, is that by ‘keeping it real’ we really mean – satisfy the basic human desire to connect with others and be a creative, good person.
The material in this section is taken from the Society’s Research Digest blog at www.researchdigest.org.uk/blog, and is written by its editor Dr Christian Jarrett. Visit the blog for full coverage including references and links, additional current reports, an archive, comment and more.
Subscribe by RSS or e-mail at
Become a fan at
Follow the Digest editor at
BPS Members can discuss this article
Already a member? Or Create an account
Not a member? Find out about becoming a member or subscriber