Many reported gender differences may actually be power differences

Why do men and women seem so different?

According to a study, a wide range of gender differences that have been attributed to biological sex may actually be due to differences in power.

Psychological differences between men and women have multiple possible explanations, including natural selection for sex-specific adaptations on the one hand and socialization processes on the other hand. Contributing to this debate, Adam D. Galinsky and colleagues took advantage of a recent boom in sex/gender difference meta-analyses and a separate boom in psychological experiments that varies who has more versus less power.

Their analyses explored whether some reported sex/gender differences are actually due to the fact then men tend to have more power than women in society. For example, studies on sex/gender differences show that men tend to display more agency than women and that women tend to be more interpersonally sensitive than men.

But many studies that randomly assign some individuals to high power and others to low power find that those with power exhibit more agency and those without power are more sensitive towards others. Linking these experimental findings on power with sex difference meta-analyses, the authors found that of 102 outcomes associated with men, 72 were also empirically linked to people with power, whereas only 8 outcomes associated with women were also associated with power.

Men and people with power tend to display higher agency, more positive self-evaluations, lower empathy and sociability, and higher performance on spatial and creative tasks compared to low-power individuals and women. According to the authors, this strong connection between sex differences and power differences suggests that many sex/gender differences may be driven, at least in part, by power differences between men and women.

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