Women-are-wonderful effect

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The women-are-wonderful effect is the phenomenon found in psychological and sociological research which suggests that people associate more positive attributes with women when compared to men. This bias reflects an emotional bias toward women as a general case. The phrase was coined by Alice Eagly and Antonio Mladinic in 1994 after finding that both male and female participants tend to assign positive traits to women, with female participants showing a far more pronounced bias. Positive traits were assigned to men by participants of both genders, but to a far lesser degree.

The authors supposed that the positive general evaluation of women might derive from the association between women and nurturing characteristics. This bias has been cited as an example of benevolent sexism.[1]


The term was coined by researchers Alice Eagly and Antonio Mladinic in a 1994 paper, where they had questioned the widely-held view that there was prejudice against women. They observed that much of the research had been inconclusive in showing a bias. They had found a positive bias towards women in their 1989 and 1991 studies, which involved questionnaires given to students in the United States.[2]

In 1989, 203 psychology students of Purdue University were given questionnaires in groups of 20 and asked to assess subjects of both genders, which showed a more favourable attitude to women and female stereotypes.[3]

In 1991, 324 psychology students of Purdue University were given questionnaires in groups of 20 and asked to assess subjects of both genders. They evaluated the social categories of men and women, relating the traits and expectations of each gender through interviews, emotion-associations and free-response measures. Women were rated higher in attitudes and beliefs but not emotions.[4]

In-group bias[edit]

Rudman and Goodwin conducted research on gender bias that measured gender preferences without directly asking the participants. Subjects at Purdue and Rutgers participated in computerized tasks that measured automatic attitudes based on how quickly a person categorizes pleasant and unpleasant attributes with each gender. Such a task was done to discover whether people associate pleasant words (good, happy, and sunshine) with women, and unpleasant words (bad, trouble, and pain) with men.[5]

This research found that while both women and men have more favorable views of women, women's in-group biases were 4.5 times stronger[5] than those of men. And only women (not men) showed cognitive balance among in-group bias, identity, and self-esteem, revealing that men lack a mechanism that bolsters automatic preference for their own gender.[5]

Other experiments in this study found people showed automatic preference for their mothers over their fathers, or associated the male gender with violence or aggression. Rudman and Goodwin's suggested that maternal bonding and male intimidation influences gender attitudes.

Another experiment in the study found adults' attitudes were measured based on their reactions to categories associated with sexual relations. It revealed that among men who engaged more in sexual activity, the more positive their attitude towards sex, the larger their bias towards women. A greater interest in and liking of sex may promote automatic preference for the out-group of women among men, although both women and men with sexual experience expressed greater liking for the opposite gender.[5]

One study found that the effect is mediated by increased gender equality. The mediation comes not from differences in attitudes towards women, but in attitudes towards men. In more egalitarian societies, people have more positive attitudes towards men than in less egalitarian societies.[6]


Those who exhibit the women-are-wonderful effect tend to react negatively to research that "[puts] men in a better light than women".[7]

Gender equality[edit]

A study with participants from 44 countries involving prediction of an individual's personality based on photographs verified the effect in multiple countries and found that the effect decreased the higher a countries measure of gender equality. This effect seemed to be due to men being viewed less negatively the more egalitarian a country was rather than women being viewed more positively.[8]

Gender roles[edit]

Some authors[who?] have claimed the "Women are wonderful" effect is applicable when women follow traditional gender roles such as child nurturing and stay-at-home housewife.[9] However, other authors[who?] have cited studies indicating that the women-are-wonderful effect is still applicable even when women are in nontraditional gender roles, and the original Eagly, Mladinic & Otto (1991) study discovering the women-are-wonderful effect found no such ambivalence.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Glick, Peter; Fiske, Susan. T. (2001). "An ambivalent alliance: Hostile and benevolent sexism as complementary justifications for gender inequality". American Psychologist. 56 (2): 109–118. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.56.2.109. PMID 11279804.
  2. ^ Eagly, Alice H.; Mladinic, Antonio (1994). "Are people prejudiced against women? Some answers from research on attitudes, gender stereotypes, and judgments of competence". European Review of Social Psychology. 5: 1–35. doi:10.1080/14792779543000002.
  3. ^ Eagly, Alice H.; Mladinic, Antonio (1989). "Gender Stereotypes and Attitudes Toward Women and Men". Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 15 (4): 543–58. doi:10.1177/0146167289154008. S2CID 145550350.
  4. ^ Eagly, Alice H.; Mladinic, Antonio; Otto, Stacey (1991). "Are women evaluated more favorably than men? An analysis of attitudes, beliefs and emotions". Psychology of Women Quarterly. 15 (2): 203–16. doi:10.1111/j.1471-6402.1991.tb00792.x. S2CID 145704437.
  5. ^ a b c d Rudman, Laurie A.; Goodwin, Stephanie A. (2004). "Gender differences in automatic in-group bias: Why do women like women more than they like men?" (PDF). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 87 (4): 494–509. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.87.4.494. PMID 15491274. Archived (PDF) from the original on July 18, 2014. Retrieved September 2, 2016.
  6. ^ Krys, Kuba; Capaldi, Colin A.; van Tilburg, Wijnand; et al. (2018). "Catching up with wonderful women: The women-are-wonderful effect is smaller in more gender egalitarian societies" (PDF). International Journal of Psychology. 53 (S1): 21–26. doi:10.1002/ijop.12420. ISSN 1464-066X. PMID 28295294. S2CID 31983366.
  7. ^ Stewart‐Williams, Steve; Leong, Christine X. R.; Seto, Shania A.; Thomas, Andrew G.; Wong, Xiu Ling (January 3, 2024). "The harm hypothesis: How perceived harm to women shapes reactions to research on sex differences". International Journal of Psychology. doi:10.1002/ijop.13101. ISSN 0020-7594.
  8. ^ Krys, Kuba; Capaldi, Colin A.; van Tilburg, Wijnand; Lipp, Ottmar V.; Bond, Michael Harris; Vauclair, C.-Melanie; Manickam, L. Sam S.; Domínguez-Espinosa, Alejandra; Torres, Claudio; Lun, Vivian Miu-Chi; Teyssier, Julien; Miles, Lynden K.; Hansen, Karolina; Park, Joonha; Wagner, Wolfgang (2018). "Catching up with wonderful women: The women-are-wonderful effect is smaller in more gender egalitarian societies: CATCHING UP WITH WONDERFUL WOMEN". International Journal of Psychology. 53: 21–26. doi:10.1002/ijop.12420. hdl:2164/12046. PMID 28295294. S2CID 31983366.
  9. ^ Anderson, Kristin J. (2015). "Women are Wonderful, but Most Are Disliked". Modern Misogyny: Anti-feminism in a Post-feminist Era. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 106–137. ISBN 978-0-19-932817-8.
  10. ^ Laurie A. Rudman; Peter Glick (August 22, 2012). The Social Psychology of Gender: How Power and Intimacy Shape Gender Relations. Guilford Press. pp. 163–. ISBN 978-1-4625-0906-5.

Further reading[edit]

  • Eagly, Alice H.; Steffen, V. J. (1984), "Gender stereotypes stem from the distribution of women and men into social roles", Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 46 (4): 735–754, doi:10.1037/0022-3514.46.4.735, S2CID 43393737
  • Garcia-Retamero, Rocio; López-Zafra, Esther (2006), "Prejudice against Women in male-congenial environments: Perceptions of gender role congruity in leadership", Sex Roles, 55 (1/2): 51–61, doi:10.1007/s11199-006-9068-1, S2CID 144491449
  • Whitley, Bernard E.; Kite, Mary E. (2010), The Psychology of Prejudice and Discrimination, Belmont, California, USA: Wadsworth, ISBN 978-0-495-81128-2