Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

The Contribution of Bodily Posture to Gender Stereotypical Impressions

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

The Contribution of Bodily Posture to Gender Stereotypical Impressions

Article excerpt

The present study investigated the way in which the bodily posture, viz. the sitting position, of men and women contributes to gender stereotypical impressions. We expected that men would more often adopt a "wide" sitting position (legs apart and arms away from the trunk), while women would more often adopt a "closed" sitting position (upper legs against each other and arms against the trunk) and that these sitting positions would generally be seen as masculine or feminine. In the first study the sitting positions of men and women travelling on the Amsterdam Metro (underground railway) were observed. The results showed that men more often sat in a wide position, while women more often displayed a closed sitting position. In the second study, photos of men and women sitting in a wide or a closed position were judged. The results showed that a wide sitting position was considered more masculine and a closed position more feminine. We expected also that (in)consistency between gender and sitting position would have an impact on the impression gained of the stimulus person. The results lend support to this expectation.

A stereotype refers to a cognitive structure which contains the perceiver's knowledge, beliefs and expectations about some human group (Hamilton & Sherman, 1994). According to the stereotypical view, men are, among other things, more detached and tough, and women are more vulnerable and dependent (Geis, 1993). Stereotypes result from the categorization of individuals into social groups. They are automatically activated as soon as a person is classified as a member of a social group, for example as a woman or as a man. Many studies show that gender stereotypes can lead to a biased impression of a man or a woman (Geis, 1993). The results of Porter and Geis (1981) showed that gender stereotypes bias the impression formation in which nonverbal communicative behavior, in the present study spatial behavior, plays a role. Porter and Geis had photos judged and found that, in a mixed-sex group, a man who sat at the head of the table was far more often regarded as the leader of the discussion than was a woman who sat in the same position.

The present study is based on the idea that gender stereotypes not only contribute to the impression gained of a man or a woman with a certain bodily posture, viz. sitting position, but also determine the meaning of common sitting positions. Research in the field of gender stereotyping (Ruble & Ruble, 1982) has shown that professions mainly occupied by women (e.g. playgroup leader) and those mainly occupied by men (e.g. manager) are regarded as feminine or masculine, respectively. It is generally assumed that stereotypical masculine and feminine traits are required to fulfil these professions properly. Therefore, the stereotypical traits associated with the gender of those persons who usually perform the profession are regarded as characteristic of that profession. These findings make it likely that the gender of a person who often adopts a particular sitting position determines the meaning which is ascribed to it.

It appears, from research on gender differences in non-verbal communicative behavior (Hall, 1984; Vrugt & Kerkstra, 1984) that the sitting positions adopted by men and women differ. Hall observed that little research has been conducted in this field. The results are consistent, however. While men usually adopt a "wide" sitting position, i.e. with their legs apart and arms held away from the trunk, women usually adopt a "closed" sitting position, i.e. with their (upper) legs against each other and arms against the trunk.This research on sitting position was conducted in the 1970s. Since then no further research has been conducted on this subject. The present study examines whether the differences in sitting position observed then also obtain at present. The hypothesis tested here is based on the results of that research, namely that men will mostly adopt a wide sitting position and women a closed sitting position. …

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