The Effect of Patronizing Behavior and Control on Men and Women's Performance in Stereotypically Masculine Domains

Sarah J. Gervais, Theresa K. Vescio

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


The purpose of the present research was to examine whether contextual cues related to control contribute to gender differences in math performance that emerge from patronizing behavior. Specifically, in two experiments, men and women received patronizing behavior (i. e., praise paired with a devalued position that did not provide an opportunity for monetary rewards) from a male leader in a stereotypically masculine domain. In this context, we manipulated contextual control cues and measured math performance. In Experiment 1, 113 undergraduates (60 women, 53 men) from a Midwestern University in the United States received the patronizing behavior and all position assignments were made either at the outset (no control) or multiple times (ambiguous control) from one patronizing leader. In Experiment 2, 132 undergraduates (53 women, 79 men) from a U. S. Midwestern University received patronizing behavior and position assignments were made by one leader (ambiguous control) or multiple leaders (enhanced control). Consistent with Hypothesis 1, women had lower performance expectations than men, but no reliable gender differences emerged for desire to succeed. Consistent with Hypothesis 2, gender differences in math performance only emerged in the ambiguous control conditions in Experiment 1 and Experiment 2 with men performing better than women. Finally, consistent with Hypothesis 3, women performed better in the enhanced control (vs. ambiguous control), despite receiving patronizing behavior. Implications for research on patronizing behavior, subtle sexism, and stereotype threat, as well as directions for future research are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)479-491
Number of pages13
JournalSex Roles
Issue number7-8
StatePublished - Apr 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Gender Studies
  • Social Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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