Interpreting Behaviour and Emotions as a Function of Gender and Age
What happens when we see an angry woman? Or a man crying? Anger is generally associated with masculinity and assertiveness, while sadness can be seen as more feminine and vulnerable. The present study aimed to determine if emotion expression and the emotional behaviour of individuals is interpreted by others as a function of the target’s gender and age; if the influence of the individual’s gender is global or specific, situational or dispositional, and finally if a threshold for appropriate emotion expression exists. One hundred and thirty five adult men and women (18-30 years) and 63 child boys and girls (5-7 years old) were presented with target photographs of emotion expressions that varied by gender (male or female targets) and age (adult and child targets). The emotion expressions reflected six different emotions (anger, excitement, sadness, pride, embarrassment and fear) across two intensities (low and high), as well as a neutral expression condition. The photographs were accompanied by a statement of the type of emotion the actor was experiencing (‘James is feeling excited’) and the context of the expression (‘He is going on holiday to a tropical island tomorrow’). Participants rated the target’s emotion expression on overall acceptability (‘How James feels is ok’), assumed responsibility (‘It is James’s nature to feel this way’) and the situational causes (‘James feels like this because of what happened/is happening’) on 5-point Likert scales. It was hypothesized that both adult and child participant interpretations of emotional expressions would be in line with gender stereotypes, such that seeing an angry woman at any intensity (low or high) would be deemed unacceptable and occurring in reaction to the situation rather than inherently, while we expect the opposite for the male targets. Similarly, seeing a man expressing any level of sadness would be deemed unacceptable by the participants and occurring in reaction to a sad event. Results were mixed across all emotions. General gender stereotypic patterns were found for anger, with anger expression in males, in any context and at either the low or high intensities, rated higher than in females. Similar stereotypic judgments were also found for excitement. Expressions of fear, embarrassment and sadness in males were seen as acceptable when expressed to a lesser extent than female expression, with the more intense expressions interpreted as reactions to situational causes. The interpretations of pride however, were counter to gender stereotypes, as pride was expected to be a polarising emotion between the sexes. Results however, showed a small amount of variation between male and female targets expressing pride. Lastly, the between subjects factor of the participant’s gender was significant only in terms of female participants producing higher ratings for the responsibility measure than males, as well as for the acceptability ratings for pride expressions. Overall, child participant ratings followed that of adults. The present study incorporated the less studied emotions of embarrassment and pride, offering an additional perspective to the existing emotion research. Furthermore, the findings inform and expand on research regarding gender stereotypes, in exploring emotion expression and gender stereotypes as a function of who (gender and age) displays the emotion, when they display it (dispositional or situational) and how much emotion they display (low and high intensities).
Advisor: Murachver, Tamar; Conner, Tamlin
Degree Name: Master of Science
Degree Discipline: Psychology
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: Emotions; behaviour; gender; age; situation; disposition
Research Type: Thesis