In Brief

A 16-nation study finds that in less egalitarian countries, both men and women are more likely to hold extremely negative and positive opinions of men's attributes and personal qualities.

These opinions, researchers say, reflect and reinforce men's dominance in those countries, because both the negative attributes (such as arrogance and aggressiveness) and the positive attributes (including competence and intelligence) relate to dominance. The study was published in the May issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Vol. 86, No. 5).

The study supports "ambivalent sexism theory," a concept that the researchers--psychologists Peter Glick, PhD, of Lawrence University in Appleton, Wis., and Susan T. Fiske, PhD, of Princeton University--have been investigating for several years. They posit that traditional attitudes toward men and women have both negative and positive components, and those components are generated by the interaction between men's dominance and men's and women's interdependence.

In the study, Glick, Fiske and 14 other researchers from around the world surveyed 8,360 men and women about their attitudes toward men. The researchers surveyed men and women on five continents. They compared the respondents' attitudes toward men with U.N. indexes of gender equality in the respondents' countries.

Ambivalent sexism theory might seem counterintuitive, says Glick, because generally prejudice is associated with biases in favor of the dominant group. In studies of prejudice based on such factors as weight, social class and ethnicity, he says, people in the high-status group tend to favor their own group members more than do people in the low-status group, and people in the low-status group may even show favoritism toward the high-status group.

But, he says, gender bias appears to work differently. Several studies have shown that even in very sexist countries, women are generally rated more favorably overall because women's perceived positive characteristics, such as warmth, relate directly to likability. In an earlier study, Glick and Fiske found that "hostile sexism"--hostility toward women who challenge the status quo--and "benevolent sexism"--casting women as wonderful, but weak--are mirror images of each other and occur together.

The new study extends that finding to men. "The same forces that produce hostile and benevolent sexism also produce hostile and benevolent attitudes toward men," Glick says.

--L. WINERMAN