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Gender role and behavioral avoidance: The influence of perceived confirmability of self-report

Carmen P McLean, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Substantial evidence indicates that women report greater fear and are more likely to develop anxiety disorders than men. Women's greater vulnerability for anxiety can be partly understood by examining gender differences in the etiological factors for anxiety. The pattern of gender differences in these factors implicates the role of socialization processes that are associated with gender-specific expectations regarding the expression of anxiety and the acceptable means of coping with anxiety. Research examining gender role differences in fear and anxiety has supported theories of gender role socialization, but has largely relied on self-report. ^ The purpose of the present study was to examine the relationship between gender role and fear, the influence of reporting biases, and the predictive utility of anxiety-related constructs under experimental conditions that were designed to elicit accurate fear reporting. One hundred and nine men and women completed several self-report questionnaires and a behavioral avoidance task (BAT) with a spider while wearing a heart rate monitor. Gender roles were operationalized as instrumentality and expressiviness, as measured by the Personal Attributes Questionnaire (Spence, Helmreich, & Stapp, 1975). Fear was measured using multiple methods; the key outcomes were self-reported fear of spiders, subjective anxiety ratings, and behavioral avoidance. ^ The results of this study confirm the relevance of gender role in understanding gender differences in fear and anxiety. As expected, women reported significantly higher anticipatory anxiety and peak anxiety than men. In spite of a ceiling effect on the BAT, there were also significant gender differences in avoidance behavior. Regardless of gender, individuals with high levels of instrumentality were more likely to approach to a spider than those with low levels of instrumentality. Expressivity, in contrast, was positively associated with avoidance of the spider, but only among men. Contrary to expectation, neither instrumentality nor expressivity was significantly related to subjective anxiety ratings. The notion that men underreport fear compared to women and the hypothesis that gender role differences underlie this finding (see Pierce & Kirkpatrick, 1992) was not supported in this study. However, this is the first study to assess the influence of gender role on potential reporting biases in fear and anxiety and replication using stronger experimental manipulation or within-participants design is needed. As predicted, women scored higher than men on measures of anxiety-related self-efficacy, anxiety sensitivity, and disgust sensitivity. Although anxiety-related self-efficacy and disgust sensitivity were both related to avoidance behavior, gender was the most consistent predictor of the criteria. The implications of the study with regard to our understanding of the gender differences in fear and anxiety is discussed, as well as the limitations of the current study.^

Subject Area

Psychology, Clinical|Gender Studies

Recommended Citation

McLean, Carmen P, "Gender role and behavioral avoidance: The influence of perceived confirmability of self-report" (2007). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3262188.