Are Men More Creative?

A recent study found that creativity and innovation are more closely associated with stereotypically male traits, and that this belief can lead people to judge men as more creative than women.
Are Men More Creative?
MEN TEND TO BE perceived as more creative than women even when the work they produce is identical, according to research from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business in Durham, North Carolina. A team led by Aaron Kay, a professor in the area of management and organizations, found that creativity and innovation are more closely associated with stereotypically male traits, and that this belief can lead people to judge men as more creative than women. The findings suggest women could be at a professional disadvantage in workplaces where creative thinking is most valued, such as those in the tech sector. Kay researched the topic with PhD students Devon Proudfoot and Christy Zhou Koval.

In an online study, the researchers randomly assigned 80 participants to read a description of creativity, either as outside-the-box thinking or as a connectthe-dots approach. Then they were asked to rate how central each of 16 character traits is to creativity. Participants rated stereotypically male traits (such as decisiveness, courage, and competitiveness) as more important to creativity than stereotypically female traits (such as sensitivity, sympathy, and the ability to be nurturing).

In another study, 125 participants read one of two descriptions of a manager with a business plan. In the first, the manager’s plan took greater risk, reflecting a stereotypically male quality; in the other, the manager’s plan took less risk. Male managers with risky plans were rated as more creative than those with less risky plans. Men with risky plans also were rated as more creative than women with the same plans. There was no significant difference between the women in these scenarios.

The researchers also examined professional evaluations of 134 senior executives, 100 of them men, enrolled in an MBA program. Though their subordinates rated men and women as equally innovative, their supervisors judged men as more innovative than women. Such attitudes could limit opportunities for women in business, the researchers conclude. “Creativity is becoming the dominant form of personal capital,” Kay says. “If we think creative behavior is more desirable, then it’s even more important to be aware of stereotypes about creativity.”

“A Gender Bias in the Attribution of Creativity: Archival and Experimental Evidence for the Perceived Association between Masculinity and Creative Thinking” was published online in Psychological Science. Purchase it at pss.sagepub.com/content/26/11/1751.