Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Female political role models have an empowering effect on women

Psychologically empowering to women?
The late Margaret Thatcher - Britain's first and, so far, only female Prime Minister - is criticised for failing to do more to help other women get ahead in politics. Supporters argue, however, that the example she set will, on its own, have been of profound benefit to women with leadership ambitions. A new study puts this principle to the test, examining the effect on women of reminders about the contemporary female political high-flyers Angela Merkel and Hillary Clinton.

Ioana Latu and her colleagues recruited 149 Swiss student participants (81 women) to make a persuasive public speech against the rise in student fees. The speeches were made in a virtual reality room in front of a virtual audience of 12 men and women. Crucially, some of the participants performed their speech in a room with a poster of Hillary Clinton on the back wall; others with Merkel on the wall; a third group with Bill Clinton's poster on the back wall; and for a final group, there was no poster.

The key result is that the female students spoke for significantly longer - a sign of dominance - when Merkel or Hillary Clinton was on the back wall (as opposed to Bill or no poster) - an increase of 49 per cent and 24 per cent, respectively, making their speeches just as long as the men's. These female students' speeches were also rated as better quality by two coders blind to the experimental condition, and they also evaluated their own performance more positively. The presence of the different posters made no difference to the performance of the male students.

"We believe these findings are important because although a wealth of research has studied the effects of role models on academic and math performance, there is no research that investigates the effect of female political role models on successful leadership behaviour," the researchers concluded. "Yet, exactly such behaviour is crucial because not only is an increase in female politicians the goal of equality, it can also be (as our results show) the engine that drives it."


Latu, I., Mast, M., Lammers, J., and Bombari, D. (2013). Successful female leaders empower women's behavior in leadership tasks. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 49 (3), 444-448 DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2013.01.003

--Further reading--
The Hillary Clinton effect - how role models work for some people but not others
Women need female role models

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.


Anonymous said...

Timely and unbiased, reliable Jarrett. Shame they used poster or Clinton, are they sure women weren't influenced by his womanising rep? Seeing him on the wall might have increased a disgust reaction and so they wanted to get out of there asap. It would be cool to replicate in the UK with.....oh! Can anyone think of contemporary powerful women in UK politics???? Was Maggie the first and last to break into our male dominated politics?

Ron@OnlineCheckers said...

I think it's great that these female politicians serve as a role model for young women. Lets keep the trend going!

graywave said...

It's a shame you used a picture of Margaret Thatcher in your piece! Of all the women who might be cited as positive role models for women - Australia's current Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, for example - Thatcher is the least of them.

Anonymous said...

Here is where sexual orientation comes in. Psychologically, females are more domestic and effected by their environment. Even though nurture has no effect among men and women growing up, big figures like celebrities and politicians do influence domestic roles of men and women. This poster study is a good example, as it turns out that a female role model presence influences women more.

Unknown said...

it was the day of Thatcher's funeral and there is ongoing debate about the impact she may have had as a role model for women. She's been criticised for not doing more to actively promote women, but then many say she was an inspiration to them simply by virtue of what she achieved.

Sue said...

Margeret Thatcher did well to get as far as she did in her time. Yet she had to "become" a man to do it. Yet I feel and hope that today's women have moved on or at least are trying to move on from the need to be like a man in a mans world. Many business women today are using the skills given to all women rather than following a testosterone example which can only wear us down.

Anonymous said...

I believe that the women are more likely to connect with the poster of a successful female because they are of the same sex and they want to prove that women are successful. They probably feel more comfortable when the poster is a female, so the speech is slower and more effective. Some women are more completive when they are around other women, which might bring out something beneficial. Men feel that they don’t have to prove anything, they are who they are.

Anonymous said...

Being a politician is not a stereotypical gender-role for women. Politics used to be a man's world. Today men and women are more equal than ever before. Women are slowly beginning to make great strides in politics. We look to other, more famous women, for inspiration. We have always been labeled as the "inferior" sex. Now it is time for us to step up and show the men of the world what we are made of!!

Unknown said...

Melissa H.

Females have a greater impact on famles. We as women need the support of other women to take control. Women have always been down played to men. Their has always been a gender role conflict. Men get paid more then women that do the same job as them. Men are seen as the ruling power and women have to be under their rule. IT's time for us women to stand up and rule they world. The men had their turn and now it's our turn. Margaret Thatcher set the stage for women across the world. She made us believe that we could hold a high title in politics and over come the rule of man. She lead the way for women,like Hillary Clinton. Clinton is thought of as a strong woman who could have been president of the United States but didn't win. Her running for president was a big push in the right direction. Just like when the women did thier speech that had the Hillary Clinton and Angela Merkel posters. Women did better with their speech because they were empowered by them. On the other hand when they had the posters of Bill Clintion they didnt do as well because men are in control. This goes back to gender roles. Men are in power and women are domesticated to be a good wife. It's now time women to be treated equal as men and for the roles to change. One day the United States will have a female president and they will do a great job running this country. We need to stand together so that one day soon women and men will be eqaul. There will no longer be the issue of men making more then women at the same job. Gender will no longer matter.

Unknown said...

posted this on 4/26/13
by Melissa Hagedorn

Anonymous said...

One of the problems with the study is that they did not compare female role models to non-role models (e.g., picture of unknown women). It might be that the effect is simply due to the fact that the participants watched a women, not necessarily a role model.

Unknown said...

This seems unlikely because there were women in the audience. So presenters in all conditions were exposed to the sight of other women.

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