People Think Men Are More Creative Than Women, Study Finds

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Creativity often goes hand-in-hand with other characteristics. Mental illness, for one. Drinking, occasionally. Also, for a lot of people, a propensity for hanging out in the shower

But a new study finds that there’s another quality we associate with creativity—one we're probably less willing to acknowledge. A study by Duke University business school researchers in the journal Psychological Science argues that people link creativity with stereotypically masculine traits, leading them to view men as more creative than women even when they produce the same work.

In one test, 80 online participants rated how important certain personality traits were to creativity, linking it more with stereotypically male characteristics like risk-taking, competitiveness, and ambition than to stereotypically female traits like cooperation.

Then, a different set of online volunteers read a passage about an architect or a fashion designer and looked at images of the professional’s work. When rating the person’s creativity, people who were told the architect was a man rated his work more highly than people who were told the architect was a woman, even though it was the same. However, there was no discernible gender difference in the fashion designer’s work, perhaps because fashion is a more stereotypically female field than architecture.

In a different scenario, they asked people to read a passage about a manager who was adopting a strategic plan. When the manager was described as a man, participants rated him as more creative if he was setting forth a risky strategy. However, the fictional female manager was not given the same creativity bump when she took that exact same risk.

But does this play out in the real world, outside made-up lab scenarios? You bet. In looking at 34 women’s and 100 men’s real-world office evaluations by supervisors and employees, the researchers also found that the "creative" label seemed to be gendered, although the tendency to stereotype affected higher-ups more than lower-level employees. The men and women, all senior-level executives in an MBA program, got similar ratings on their innovative thinking when it came to their direct reports, but their supervisors tended to judge the male executives as more creative.

This adds to previous research showing that women run up against barriers in academic fields where brilliance is seen as a more important trait than hard work, as females are much less likely to be perceived as “geniuses.” 

"In suggesting that women are less likely than men to have their creative thinking recognized, our research not only points to a unique reason why women may be passed over for corporate leadership positions, but also suggests why women remain largely absent from elite circles within creative industries," lead author Devon Proudfoot of Duke says in a press release. Here's hoping these findings help managers find creative ways to overcome their own biases.