People Think Men Are More Creative Than Women, According to Disappointing Study

Even when it's not actually the case. 

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This week in "ugh" news: A recent Duke University study suggests people view creative thinking as a skill more common among men than women (seriously?!).

Since previous research has shown that people tend to ascribe stereotypically masculine qualities to “creative thinkers,” these researchers hypothesized that there might be a bias in how creativity is assessed among men and women—and they were right. According to their results, men are credited with being more creative than women, even when they produce identical work. The findings were published this month in the journal Psychological Science.

The researchers created four separate studies to test their hypotheses. The first, an online study assigned to 80 participants, found that “outside the box” creativity is more strongly associated with male characteristics, such as daring, self-reliance, and competitiveness. The second, in which 169 participants rated images of a person’s work on its creativity, originality, and outside-the-box thinking, found that a male architect was considered more creative than a female, despite the fact that their creations were identical.

In a third study designed to investigate gender and creativity in the real world, researchers examined performance evaluations of 134 senior-level executives—finding that female executives are considered less innovative than their male equivalents when evaluated by their supervisors.

The final study involved 125 participants reading a passage about a male or female manager whose strategic plan was portrayed as more or less risky. The male manager was perceived as more creative when he was described as risky—but not his female counterpart. People then viewed the male manager as more deserving of rewards, suggesting that gender bias might affect economic outcomes and promotions.

"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 researcher Devon Proudfoot said in a statement.

So even though the study didn't find that men are actually more creative, the results are concerning—especially if this perception contributes to men receiving preferential treatment at work. We can think of about a million reasons—and incredibly creative women—that disprove this bias. Every month in Real Simple, for instance, we feature entrepreneurial women, such as the CEO of Girl Scouts who teaches young girls about leadership. Plus, our sister brands publish annual lists of the most powerful and innovative women of our time.