Women perform less well than men: at the core of an illusion

For the same level of performance, a woman is still judged to be less competent than a man, notably in areas which are stereotypically masculine. The University of Fribourg has taken part in a European study which has recently demonstrated this effect by studying the way in which magic tricks, which are predominantly performed by men, are evaluated.

The research team presented videos of magic tricks to the participants in the study. The tricks had been filmed entirely at hand level, so that it was impossible to guess the identity of the person performing them. One half of the participants were shown the tricks as if performed by Nathalie and the other half as if by Nicolas. The results clearly show that the tricks (supposedly) performed by Nathalie were judged to be worse and less impressive than those performed by Nicolas.

No progress in close to 50 years
In the study’s first experiment, 64 people were tested, of whom 33 were women. Over all, as mentioned, those evaluating Nathalie judged the tricks to be worse than did those evaluating Nicolas. Astonishingly, on the other hand, in a second experiment, when the participants were asked to justify their responses and explain how the tricks were done, the effect disappeared and all the tricks were judged to be better than in the first experiment. According to the authors of the study, it is, in point of fact, more difficult to evaluate a trick negatively when we can’t explain it.

The study, led in Fribourg by Pascal Gygax, co-director of the Psycholinguistic and Applied Social Psychology Team, is the result of a collaboration with Besançon, Paris and London. In 1968, a study conducted by Philip Goldberg in the United States had shown a similar effect when asking 40 women to evaluate journal articles written either by John T. McKay or Joan T. McKay. Thus these new results show that a discriminatory mechanism already studied in the 1960’s is still current today.

The article, published in the journal Social Psychological Bulletin, is available online.