In Brief

Ever since Democratic presidential candidate Edmund Muskie's 1972 campaign eroded after he cried on national television, politicians have sought to regulate their emotions in the media age. However, new research presented at APA's 2005 Annual Convention suggests that female candidates may need to regulate their emotions more closely than men.

The study found that people view emotional displays by women as less appropriate, and, as a result of such displays--particularly angry ones--generally gauge women's intelligence and competence to be less than men's.

"A double standard exists--men are given more latitude to express their emotions than women," explained lead researcher Sarah L. Hutson-Comeaux, PhD, a psychology professor at Denison University in Ohio.

In the study, 91 undergraduate students watched a five-minute fictional Missouri television news show featuring either a male or female U.S. congressional candidate. The candidate showed one of three nonverbal emotional displays--happiness, anger or neutral. After watching the program, the participants completed a questionnaire assessing the appropriateness of the candidate's emotional expression, the candidate's character and their attitude toward the candidate.

While the participants deemed both candidates' happy or angry emotional expressions as less appropriate than the neutral expression, they considered the male candidate's emotional displays more appropriate than those of the female candidate. When the candidates showed anger, the participants reported to prefer, and be more willing to vote for, the male candidate. Likewise, the female candidate's anger display caused the participants to consider her significantly less competent, with less integrity and sincerity than the male candidate.

"It seems as though women are penalized for expressing gender-inconsistent emotions," Hutson-Comeaux said.

The study's implications, she said, are important, as the roles of female politicians like Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) require them to show emotions that counter what society considers socially appropriate for women.

"Anger is associated with power and status," Hutson-Comeaux said. "But anger is at odds with society's expectations for women."