Society has made significant advances in terms of gender equality over the past few years, with many career and educational opportunities now open to both men and women.

However, a new study conducted by researchers at Duke University has found that many people still associate the capacity for creative thinking with conventional masculine qualities. The findings suggest that compared to the work and accomplishments of women, the achievements of men are mostly viewed as more creative than those of their female counterparts.

Devon Proudfoot, a researcher at Duke's Fuqua School of Business, said the results show how people tend to link the ability to think creatively with their idea of male stereotypes. They often create a systematic bias with which they evaluate the creativity of both males and females.

First Online Study

In their initial online study, Proudfoot and his colleagues randomly assigned 80 individuals to read a passage that describes divergent thinking, which is the ability of people to "think outside the box", and convergent thinking, which is the ability of people to "connect the dots".

After they read the passage, the study participants were then asked to rate how important 16 various personality traits are when it comes to creativity.

As the researchers expected, the participants linked the idea of creativity more with traits of stereotypical males, such as daring, ambition, competitiveness, decisiveness and risk-taking, than with traits associated with the stereotypical females, such as understanding, support and cooperation.

This tendency of the study participants was mostly observed when they viewed creativity as being able to thinking outside the box.

According to Proudfoot and his colleagues, this finding could result in people viewing creative thinking as more of a male ability than a female one.

Second Online Study

The Duke researchers conducted a second study wherein 169 participants were randomly assigned to read about either a fashion designer or an architect. Some of the participants were told that the professional was male, while others were told that the individual was female.

They were then showed the images of the professional's work, such as fashion or house designs, and asked to rate the quality of the work based on originality, creativity and outside-the-box thinking.

Proudfoot and his team believed that the male architect would receive a better rating in terms of creativity compared to the female architect. This difference in the genders, however, was not expected to emerge in fashion design as stereotypes of the traditional male may face more difficulties in applying his skills in the world of fashion.

The results once again reflected the prediction of the researchers, with the male architect receiving a more favorable rating than the female one even though the creations shown to the participants were the same. The creativity ratings for the male and female fashion designers did not show any indication of gender difference.

The research team also studied the performance evaluations of senior executives included in an MBA program in order to find out the connection between creativity and gender in a real world setting. The participants consisted of 100 males and 34 females, and each one was evaluated by their supervisors and direct reports based on their innovative thinking.

Evaluations given by supervisors showed that male executives were more likely to be viewed as more innovative compared to female executives, while evaluations based on direct reports showed that these same male and female individuals received similar ratings in terms of innovative thinking.

Proudfoot and his colleagues interpreted this ratings pattern as proof of stereotyping among supervisors. This is supported by earlier research wherein people in considerably higher positions of power tend to rely on known stereotypes when they form judgments of others.

Final Study

The Duke researchers conducted a final study that featured 125 participants. They asked these individuals to read a passage about a male or female manager whose strategic plan was viewed as more or less risky. This was meant to reflect a stereotypical trait of males.

The findings showed that the participants saw the male manager as more creative when the passage described his behavior as risky compared to when it wasn't. However, this effect was not seen for the female manager.

The male manager who took on a risky strategic plan was perceived as more creative than his female counterpart who adopted a similar risky plan.

The team discovered that the male manager who took risks in his job was considered to be more independent, courageous and independent, which led people to perceive him as being more creative. The participants also viewed him as more worthy of rewards.

Proudfoot and his colleagues pointed out that the finding suggests that gender bias in forming judgments of creativity could influence economic outcomes for both males and females in the workplace.

The Duke University study is featured in the journal Psychological Science.

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