Social Desirability Effects and Support for a Female American President
Matthew Streb, Barbara Burrell, Brian Frederick & Michael Genovese
Public Opinion Quarterly, Spring 2008, Pages 76-89
Public opinion polls show consistently that a substantial portion of the American public would vote for a qualified female presidential candidate. Because of the controversial nature of such questions, however, the responses may suffer from social desirability effects. In other words, respondents may be purposely giving false answers as not to violate societal norms. Using an unobtrusive measure called the "list experiment," we find that public opinion polls are indeed exaggerating support for a female president. Roughly 26 percent of the public is "angry or upset" about the prospect of a female president. Moreover, this level of dissatisfaction is constant across several demographic groups.
Selective Attention to Signs of Success: Social Dominance and Early Stage
Jon Maner, Nathan DeWall & Matthew Gailliot
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, April 2008, Pages 488-501
Results from two experiments suggest that observers selectively attend to male, but not female, targets displaying signs of social dominance. Participants overestimated the frequency of dominant men in rapidly presented stimulus arrays (Study 1) and visually fixated on dominant men in an eyetracking experiment (Study 2). When viewing female targets, participants attended to signs of physical attractiveness rather than social dominance. Findings fit with evolutionary models of mating, which imply that dominance and physical attractiveness sometimes tend to be prioritized preferentially in judgments of men versus women, respectively. Findings suggest that sex differences in human mating are observed not only at the level of overt mating preferences and choices but also at early stages of interpersonal perception. This research demonstrates the utility of examining early-in-the-stream social cognition through the functionalist lens of adaptationist thinking.
Here's what I think. Humans are sexually dimorphic, and muscle tone and mass also differ. Dominance hierarchies are based in part of objective dominance potential, and in the absence of other information a lot of that comes down to visual correlates of size and strength. If a man the size of my wife (5'3", 95 pounds) tried to give signals of dominance, he would get the hell beat out of him. Man strive for dominance, and won't concede to a tiny man without evidence.
So, these studies should control for size and strength. If you were comparing two people of the same potential dominance, in physical terms, I bet most of the "gender" difference would disappear.
I am 6'1", 250 pounds, can bench press my weight, and look like I can bench press my weight. Dominance signals from me may not be welcome, but they are not embarrassing. People think, "well, he's a big guy."
Dominance signals from a tiny person are going to be resented, and perhaps openly mocked.
Now, dominance hierarchies can be malleable, of course, when you have more information than just size. In my house, there is no question but that my wife occupies a higher position than I do. I am obedient and respectful, at all times, knowing that to act otherwise would bring me certain death.
(nod to KL for the references)