Need for Cognition and Women’s Implicit Associations: Breaking Stereotypes?

Sarah Olshan

Authors: Sarah M. Olshan, Christine Vitiello, Kate A. Ratliff

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Kate Ratliff

College:  College of Liberal Arts and Sciences


Previous research suggests people associate women more with emotions, or affect, compared to men (e.g. Barrett & Bliss-Moreau, 2009); however, it is unknown whether some women will have a stronger association of the concepts self with affect and others with cognition whereas other women may report the reverse associations (self + cognition and others + affect). We predict that higher need for cognition (NFC), or the enjoyment of cognitive processes, will be associated with stronger associations between self and cognition (and others with affect). We also predicted that women with stronger self and cognition (others and affect) associations would be less likely to endorse STEM stereotypes. This project will help us better understand to what extent women internalize these stereotypes, both implicitly and explicitly. It is important to know who endorses this affect-cognition stereotype because it can inform potential future interventions.
To test these predictions, we will run an experiment investigating the relationship between Need for Cognition (NFC; Cacioppo et al., 1984), affect-cognition associations with the self and others, and endorsement of STEM stereotypes (Jackson, Hillard, & Schneider, 2014). Participants at the Project Implicit website will complete the NFC scale, a Self-Others/Affect-Cognition IAT, and a STEM stereotype endorsement measure.

Poster Pitch

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18 Responses
  1. James Shepperd

    Hi Sarah,

    Nice job.

    So, what makes a woman who is high in need for cognition less inclined to have an automatic association between themselves and affect? Also, I’m not familiar with the affect IAT. What images/words appear on the screen and what are the “control” words?

    1. Sarah

      Hi Dr. Shepperd,

      Thank you!

      A woman who is high in need for cognition likely enjoys effortful thinking and may be more likely to see herself as a “thinker” and maybe also to think more about these gender stereotypes in general. One idea that I think is very important is that counter-stereotypic associations can be created if stereotypic associations conflict with self-knowledge (Smeding, 2012). For example, a woman in STEM should be less likely to associate men with STEM because it may go against what she believes about herself. A woman who is high in need for cognition may think more about this identity in general and herself as a “thinker”.

      The IAT used the words self and others with the attributes thinking and feeling. Thinking words included thinking, thought belief, and reasoning. Feeling words included feeling, affect, emotion, and sensing. The self items were self, I, me, and myself. The others items were others, they, them, and themselves.

  2. Sarah Peeling

    Hi Sarah,

    Great job, this is really interesting! What future directions do you see for your research?

    1. Sarah

      Hi Sarah,

      Thank you!!

      Future research may investigate what other concepts the IAT can predict in addition to how we can prime subjects to think about women as “thinkers” or “feelers” in order to affect their IAT scores. I would also be interested in how the results may be different, especially for the second hypothesis, with a STEM stereotypes scale that is more subtle.

  3. John Natoli-Henry

    Hi Sarah,

    Great job, this is definitely an area where we need more studies like yours. Do you think interventions would be more successful if they were implemented in both directions, such as interventions to excite young girls about STEM and interventions to excite young boys about “feeling” fields?

    1. Sarah

      Hi John,

      Thank you, this is a great point. I think you are right that interventions may be more successful if they are implemented in both directions. The perception that men are less masculine when associated with feelings or acting in emotional ways is another harmful stereotype in our society, and I think it would be great if the harm from this stereotype could also be reduced.

  4. Anna Baringer

    This is very neat. I agree that it would be interesting to see if this relationship holds regardless of gender. But, you did a great job!

    1. Sarah

      Hi Anna, I actually did collect male date for this project as an exploratory part of the study. It is not included on this poster but we did not find a significant relationship between need for cognition and these implicit associations for men.

  5. Daphne Bricker

    Hi Sara. Wow, this is great! How would you recommend exciting young girls to be unafraid of thinking and learning? Will this take place in the home or in schools?

    1. Sarah

      Hi Daphne,

      I think if young girls can be encouraged about thinking and learning both in the home and at school, that would be most beneficial. I think there’s a lot of ways that this can be accomplished. One of the graduate students that I work with mentioned to me that in her daughter’s class they are being shown coding at a very young age. I think this is a good example of introducing STEM skills that are typically associated with men to both genders early in their education. Perhaps this will help give them the sense that science is not an innate ability just for men, but a field that everyone can enjoy and succeed in.

  6. William Zelin

    Your study has some important implications for future generations. I am very interested in this topic and would love to discuss it further with you! Great job communicating the important information in such a concise manner, and I hope you (or someone else) to expand this project to potentially test whether interventions early on in childhood do, in fact, reduce those stereotypical associations. Lots of potential here!

  7. Dylan Burgin

    Hi Sarah, great job on your project! Your methodology was fantastic and so was your use of statistics!