A recent study published in the Britain Journal of Psychology has linked the influence of gender on confidence with the likelihood of conforming to others.
Deciding on a solution to a problem or challenge and then acting on it requires a certain amount of confidence in oneself. When individuals lack that confidence, an easy and cost-effective solution is to copy others and rely on their answers instead. In fact, even mathematical models indicate that humans will turn to copying as a type of social learning in order to compensate for lack of information or experience. Confidence, defined as one’s own subjective or perceived probability of correctness, has also been shown to differ between gender groups. Social factors, along with experience or prior knowledge, may play a role gender differences. Current psychological literature strongly suggests that women have lower confidence than men in a variety of contexts. For example, university level women underrate their performance across areas such as medicine, economics, and biology. Further analysis of social psychological literature suggests that women also resort to conformity at a higher rate than men. Since lower confidence appears to be an indicator of conformity, this study assessed the influence of gender on confidence, and by extension, the indirect influence of gender on conformity.
To test whether a gender-oriented test would influence confidence and conformity, the authors administered two tasks to a split the group of 168 participants. One was the mental rotation (MR) task, where the subject had to correctly guess if two 3D objects shown in differing orientation were identical or mirrored. Second was a letter transformation (LT) task, where the subject had to correctly shift a given set of letters to a new set based on given rules (e.g. move the letters three positions forward in the alphabet). Between these two tasks, the MR task is widely known to favour men whereas the LT task is considered gender neutral. After the tasks were administered, each subject was shown the answers given by other participants and offered an opportunity to change their initial answer based on what others chose.
The results of the study suggest that the participants were more confident about their solution to either task if their initial answer aligned with what the majority answered. Additionally, if a person was uncertain (i.e. unconfident) about their answer, to begin with, they opted to copy the majority solution. Ultimately, men displayed higher confidence in their answers for the gender-oriented MR task than women. By extension, the men also displayed a resistance to conformity for the MR task. This greater degree of confidence was not seen in the gender-neutral LT task.
It appears that gender does play an indirect role in conformity by influencing confidence. Although different studies suggest that men are less susceptible to self-confirming negative stereotypes, the complete picture to link gender, confidence, and conformity remains to be seen.
Written By: Harin Lee, BSc