In Brief

When women and men are depicted with the same expressions of anger and happiness, people tend to see women as more livid and less joyful than men, according to new research in the December issue of Emotion (Vol. 4, No. 4).

The finding breaks with cultural stereotypes suggesting that women are more likely to be seen as happy, given that they're more affiliative than men, and less likely to be seen as angry because they're less dominant than men, notes Ursula Hess, PhD, the lead researcher and a psychology professor at the University of Quebec at Montreal.

In the study, Hess, Reginald Adams Jr., PhD, of Harvard University, and Robert Kleck, PhD, of Dartmouth College, presented 44 college students--23 women and 21 men--with gender-neutral black and white drawings of facial expressions depicting a range of emotions, including anger, contempt, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness and surprise. Each face was framed by either a male or female hairstyle. The students then rated the degree to which each drawing expressed each emotion on a scale of one to six.

The researchers found that--for the emotions of happiness and anger--when they controlled for facial appearance, the previously reported gender stereotype effects not only decreased, but reversed. When an apparent man expressed anger, students rated him as less angry than the woman expressing the same emotion. When an apparent woman expressed happiness, the participants rated her as less joyful than the apparent man with the same facial expression.

Hess and her colleagues later replicated the results using photographs of male or female faces that could not be readily identified as male or female. The faces were then paired with a female or male hairstyle.

In each study, participants more accurately identified anger displays by the apparent women. Participants also rated the female faces' anger as more intense than the male faces' anger.

The results suggest that people notice when women counter gender stereotypes, says Hess. The findings also may indicate that the stereotypes don't reflect reality. Differences between men and women's facial appearances may contribute to perceptions of gender stereotypes, she adds.

"In our heart of hearts, we might actually think of women as angrier and less happy than men," she says.