Research Spotlight: Dr. Jan Yoder

Jan Yoder, Professor of Psychology, is interested in gender differences, not because she thinks women and men are fundamentally different but because these apparent differences often can highlight how our social worlds vary simply because we operate within them as either women or men. Take something as seemingly benign as television advertising. The bulk of TV ads tells us that women and men are different − delighted by a new mop or by lime in beer. A highly cited study published in 1984 found that women exposed to nontraditional variants of ads described more achievements themes in their subsequent written statements about what they expect to be doing 10 years in the future. Sadly, women exposed to traditional ads proved no different from unexposed control women, suggesting that the general state of affairs was for women’s achievement scripts to be muted. Honors student Jessica Christopher and I wanted to know if these findings persisted with contemporary UA students.

Taking a much more complex approach to the problem than the 1984 study, we found that indeed things have changed: women’s achievement aspirations, like men’s, were unaffected by exposure to ads. However, ads still affect their viewers: for both women and men, traditional ads activated gender stereotyping so that these participants were quick to recognize gender-typed words. Other researchers have documented that such stereotype activation can have real consequences, such as undermining women’s math performance and leadership aspirations. Furthermore, the content of college women’s and men’s future aspirations remains different, with men expecting greater commitment to career than women and women projecting greater commitment to children than men. Surely there’s more to creating these differences than TV ads, but even in our study, the more TV women reported watching, the lower their achievement scores and career aspirations were. There’s something especially chilling about the idea that the social world in which we raise our daughters and sons, including not-so-mindless but clearly not mindful TV, can narrow their imaginations, hopes, and dreams.

Yoder, J. D., Christopher, J., & Holmes, J. D. (2008). Are television commercials still achievement scripts for women? Psychology of Women Quarterly, 32, 303-311.