Teenage boys are more likely to copy an answer provided by a male than a female when they are presented with a difficult question, new research on gender bias has found.
The psychology research from Abertay’s School of Applied Sciences, published in academic journal Plos One, set out to measure the extent to which both teenagers and adults are influenced by different gender biases.
The research team asked participants to complete a quiz with several difficult multiple-choice questions which they were unlikely to know the answers to, relating to topics that were either stereotypically masculine (e.g. mechanics) or feminine (e.g. nursing).
To gauge gender bias, some of the answers were marked as ‘previously chosen’ by another participant, accompanied by a picture of either a male or female.
For example, in the stereotypically masculine question “Which of the following is not included in the list of pre-flight aeroplane essential checks?”, the correct answer ‘lontiors’ was not shown as being previously selected, but one of the three incorrect answers (‘ailerons’, ‘props’ and ‘fuel contagion’) was shown as previously being selected by a male participant, and one other by a female participant.
The results showed that adults tended to copy the answer previously chosen by a male when the question was on a stereotypically masculine topic, and the answer chosen by a female for stereotypically feminine topics.
Teenage boys were significantly more likely to follow the male’s answers for both stereotypically masculine and feminine questions, selecting the male’s answer on 44% of questions and the female’s on just 31%. Teenage girls’ selections did not differ significantly between the two.
A second part of the study measured participants’ attitudes towards gender stereotypes. This found that those who showed a bias to copy male answers in stereotypically masculine questions tended to have stronger male stereotypic beliefs.
Male teenagers who believed in gender stereotypes were also more likely to pick subjects in school that were considered typical for their gender.
Overall, boys were more likely than girls to believe in gender stereotypes and more likely to pick more gender typical subjects in school, with 73% of boys’ choices being ‘masculine’ subjects while just 47% of girls’ choices were ‘feminine’ subjects.
Professor Sheila Cunningham who led the study said:
“This study tells us that both teenagers and adults are influenced by gender, but in different ways. In adults, gender stereotypes may give false impressions of expertise in others, influencing decisions over whom to copy. In adolescents, boys tend to show stronger gender stereotypic beliefs than girls, and to be influenced primarily by other boys in their decision-making. Importantly, these trends are also related to their real-world behaviour in terms of school subject choices. This shows that if we want to improve gender balance in areas such as school subject choices, we need to focus particularly on understanding and tackling boys’ attitudes and their social influences."
Read the full study here.