A Study of Psychological Gender Differences: Applications For Advertising Format

ABSTRACT - The main purpose of this paper is to explore the psychological differences between men and women and then make suggestions for possible applications to the advertising format. Psychological research has shown that women tent to excel in empathy and interpersonal relationships and tend to minimize hostility and conflict. Men perceive threat from intimacy while women sense threat from separation. These gender differences can be translated into scenarios for advertising format making the advertisement more acceptable to each of the sexes.


Ved Prakash and R. Caeli Flores (1985) ,"A Study of Psychological Gender Differences: Applications For Advertising Format", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 12, eds. Elizabeth C. Hirschman and Moris B. Holbrook, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 231-237.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 12, 1985      Pages 231-237


Ved Prakash, Florida International University

R. Caeli Flores, Florida International University

[We wish to thank Susan Batura for her help at an early stage of this project.]


The main purpose of this paper is to explore the psychological differences between men and women and then make suggestions for possible applications to the advertising format. Psychological research has shown that women tent to excel in empathy and interpersonal relationships and tend to minimize hostility and conflict. Men perceive threat from intimacy while women sense threat from separation. These gender differences can be translated into scenarios for advertising format making the advertisement more acceptable to each of the sexes.


The topic of gender gap is becoming increasingly popular in politics, sports, advertising, education and employment. Women have become an important factor as they constitute 53% of the total electorate. The nomination of Geraldine Ferraro to the Vice-Presidency of the U.S. by a major political party is an indication of the advances made by women. The position is also changing with respect to the workforce. By 1985, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that 50.3% of all women over 16 will be in the workforce. Also the purchase patterns of working women and women in general are changing. Some of the recent marketing research has concentrated on the difference between various groupings of women (Bartos 1977, 1982; Lazer and Smallwood 1977; Spain and Bianchi 1983; Strober and Weinberg 1980; Venkatesh 1980). In these studies the following segments have been identified; the stay-at-home housewife, the plan-to work housewife, the "just a job" working woman and the career oriented working women. Working women are more involved in financial activities, are more inclined to travel and are more likely to purchase a car on their own than non-working women (Bartos 1977, 1982). It has also been shown that the career-oriented working women, with their changing needs and increasing income, may need to be marketed to differently from the stay-at-home housewives (Bartos 1982; Venkatesh 1980), but the following question still remains: should the valuable working women's segment whose purchase patterns may be becoming more similar to those of the male counterparts be marketed to differently than men who have careers?

One important way to answer the above stated question is to study the psychological differences between the sexes and reach out to them accordingly. As Bem (1981) and Markus and Crane (1982) point out the male-female dichotomy is the most fundamental one in society and it affects the information processing strategies of gender schema. In Marketing while the differences between men and women have been studied with respect to media usage, little research has been reported with respect to the application of psychological gender differences for the purposes of advertising. In psychology, the gender differences have been studied from random angles, sexual, biological, social, and psychological. Primarily the gender differences have concerned topics like androgyny, sex role self-concept, levels of motivation and perception. But it is the psychological gender differences that hold unique promise for advertising. It is the purpose of this paper to explore these differences and suggest propositions, scenarios and hypotheses for application in the ad. format and tone.


There is a vast amount of literature available on gender differences. Maccoby and Jacklin (1974) was an important comprehensive study on psychological differences. Contrary to what Roberts (1984) said about this study, there have been many advances since then in psychology to further refine the research on psychological differences. Maccoby and Jacklin (1974) pointed out two major gender differences; hostility and empathy. With respect to hostility, there was overwhelming evidence that men scored higher than women on most forms of expression of aggression. With respect to empathy, even though women scored higher on this trait than men the evidence was not conclusive. Since then studies by Antill (1983) and Wheeler et. al. (1983) provide very strong evidence that women have greater capacity for interpersonal relations and empathy than men. The works of Bem (1974, 1927, 1981), Spence et. al. (1975) Markus and Crane (1982) with respect to measurement of sex role self-concept and androgyny are an evidence of the recognition of the gender differences with respect to these two traits. We begin this section with a review of the literature on hostility, then on empathy, and finally how these traits affect the interpersonal relations for men and women.

Hostility and Aggression

The greater incidence of male violence in both fantasy and reality is, as stated by Pollack and Gilligan (1983), and acknowledged by Benton et. al. (1983), a sex difference that is widely accepted. Maccoby and Jacklin's (19-4), review of aggression found using a wide variety of behavioral indexes, that males appear to be the more aggressive sex in a wide variety of settings and these studies consistently reveal that males are more aggressive than females.

Aggression may be the intent of one individual to hurt another. In turn, hurt may be the desire to hurt for its own sake or hurt may be the desire to control another person (for other ends) through arousing fear. The degree of hurt may range from vindictive daydreams to physical violence (Maccoby & Jacklin 1974).

Across cultures, Whiting and Pope (1974), found differences between sexes with respect to level of aggression. While physical violence was rare among children (ages 6-10), boys engaged in more rough and tumble play (mockfighting); more verbal insults; and were more likely to counter-attack if aggressed against verbally or physically than girls. Standardized elicitings have been used to research aggression in individuals older than ?re-school age. In modeling studies, boys exhibited more aggression than females following exposure to an aggressive model.

There are suggestions that males and females may be equally aggressive in their underlying motivations to hurt. The two sexes may show their aggression differently, though. Maccoby & Jacklin (1974), mention two approaches to explain this hypothesis. The first addresses reinforcement of different forms of aggression. It may be that girls are "allowed" to show hostility in subtle ways but not physical ways. On the other hand, physical aggression may be thought appropriate for boys, whereas cattiness, for example, is not. Different socialization pressures preclude behavioral differentiation in these two directions. The second approach deals with anxieties about aggression among females. Training girls to think that they may not behave in a certain way and directly punishing them for aggressive behavior actively discourages them from displaying aggression. As a result, it is suggested that females build up greater anxieties about aggression and greater inhibitions against displaying it. This would lead to displacement, attenuation or disguised forms of aggression. While Feshbach (1969), states that when indirect, non-physical forms of aggression are evaluated, the evidence of differences between males and females is not compelling as with physical aggression. However, Sears et. al. (1965), found that boys did display both more physical and more verbal aggression. Hotfield, et. al. (1967), and Whiting and Pope (1974), reported similar findings.

Some studies show that girls have a great deal of information about aggression that they never put into practice. "The question is whether their failure to perform aggressive actions is to be attributed to anxiety-based inhibition that has been developed as a result of negative socialization pressure in the past." (Maccoby and Jacklin 1974).

These lines of thinking follow those of Freud and presume that females are abnormal in repressing aggression; that the open aggressive behavior of males is normal. Perhaps, the lesser ability of males to extend understanding, affection and sympathy (female traits) leads them to exhibit greater aggressive behavior. Maccoby and Jacklin "urge serious consideration of the possibility that the two sexes are not equal in initial aggressive response tendencies."

On the basis of existing studies, Maccoby and Jacklin (1974) state that girls and women are less the objects as well as agents of aggressive action. "Males aggress primarily against each other and seldom against females" Pollack and Gilligan (1982), though, found that women are most often the victims in fantasies. Evidence that biological differences play a role in expression of aggressive behavior also exists. Studies conducted with animals show that females injected with male hormones exhibit increased aggressive behavior. When males are injected with female hormones, they become less aggressive.

In addition to being expressed as interpersonal hostility, male aggressiveness has also been thought to express itself through competition and dominance. Males are more interested in competitive sports than females. Competition involves varying degrees of aggression and cooperation (e.g. team versus individual sports). In academics, both sexes are equal but academic achievement does not involve defeating another as do sports.

With regard to dominance, studies conducted by Omark and Edelman (1973), reveal that: boys congregate in larger groups than girls; sexes tend to stick together although a few girls (the "toughest") could be found in large groups; there was more rough and tumble play among boys; boys were rated as "tougher" with some overlap where the toughest girls were tougher than the least tough boys; and boys' dominance hierarchies were more stable than those of females. The establishment and maintenance of dominance hierarchies among animals has also been studied and supports these findings. In general, it appears that boys dominate others, particularly other males, more frequently than females dominate others. Girls tend to be more compliant, but primarily toward adults rather than peers. Maccoby & Jacklin (1974), suggest that girls may attempt to form a "coalition" with adults "as a means of coping with the greater aggressiveness of boys, whose dominance they do accept."

Traditionally, these patterns have differed for adults, though. Marriage, in the past, was more important to women because of economic necessity, sexual double-standards, and the rearing of children. As a result, women were more likely to accept, rather than reject, dominance As women continue to enter the work force, they are less inhibited with regard to sexual relationships outside of marriage and have fewer children, their reasons for accepting or tolerating male dominance no longer exist.


While Maccoby and Jacklin (1974) found little support for gender differences with regard to empathy and related capacities, psychological theory has long accepted that women are emotionally more responsive, sympathetic, empathic, nurturant and interpersonally oriented than men (Eisenberg and Lennon, 1983; Anderson and Bem, 1981; Deaux 1976; Hoffman 1977).

Definitions of empathy have varied over the years. In recent years, empathy has been defined in affective terms (affective responsiveness to another's emotional state). Empathy has also been defined as the ability to feel the same emotion as another (Feshbach and Roe 1968; Stotland 1969). Coke, Batson and McDavis (1978), equate sympathy and compassion with empathy. Still others see empathy as a combination of emotional matching and sympathetic responding (Hoffman 1982; Mehrabian and Epstein 1972; Eisenberg and Lennon 1983).

Hesselbart (1981) treats the male characteristics of dominance and aggressiveness and the female characteristics of warmth, nurturance, cooperation and sensitivity as "perceived" difference. Theorists generally believe that sex role differences are in some way related to women's part in reproduction. Sociobiologists believe that females, because they can be certain that their offsprings are theirs, have more of an investment in their children. Males never know for sure whether their children are indeed their own. "This investment difference puts males in a sellers market, competing to be attractive to females," (Hesselbart 1981). Historically, males have been able to provide females with economic provision and protection, which increased their attractiveness. As a result, sociobiologists believe that aggression and other male traits were predisposed in males. Likewise, nurturance was predisposed in females because of the long dependency of infants.

The predisposed traits, though, may be changing in importance as children have become less of an economic necessity since the industrial revolution. Women, after the industrial revolution, moved outside of the home and began earning incomes of their own. Thus, economic provision by males may not have the same degree of importance as it once did. Whether the associated masculine traits such as aggression will also weaken is yet to be seen.

Garai and Scheinfeld (1968) found that girls are more interested in social stimuli of all kinds. They are more responsive to the nuances of relationships as implied by social cues and are more sensitive to the reactions of others toward one another and toward themselves. Females exhibit greater interest in people and show a greater capacity for interpersonal relations (Maccoby & Jacklin 1974). Some recent research discusses cultural influences and the socialization process as being responsible for the sex differences noted here (Thomas 1983; Hesselbart 1981). Parsons and Bales (1955), classified men as liaison between family and society (instrumental role) and females as the facilitators of interpersonal harmony within the family (expressive role) on the basis that males and females have been socialized to assume these roles.

As previously discussed, it has been speculated that the sexes may be similar in their knowledge of aggressive responses but differ in their willingness to display or accept them due to negative socialization processes (Maccoby and Jacklin 1974; Eisenberg and Lennon 1983). If this is the case, then it is possible that these tendencies may change over time as society changes. However, this does not alter the fact that these differences are apparent in our society today, or that they affect the way people perceive and react to themselves, others and their environment.

Eisenberg and Lennon (1983), contrary to Maccoby and Jacklin (1974), report that differences in empathy between Males and females do exist. It should be noted, though, that the greatest psychological differences between sexes with regard to empathy result when the test measures are self report scales. The differences strongly favor women. When reflexive crying and self report measures in lab settings were used, moderate differences favoring females were found. Physiological or unobtrusive observations of nonverbal reactions to another's emotional state yielded no differences between sexes.

Evidence of sex differences also comes from psychological research dealing with the way men and women construct relationships between themselves and others (Bakan 1966 Carlson 1977; Guttman 1965; McClelland 1975; Miller 1976; Witkin 1979). McClelland (1975) in observing fantasies of women and men, concluded that women are more oriented to both sides of interdependent relationships whereas men are more likely to structure social relationships in a hierarchy. Gilligan (1977) found that judgements of men are characterized by a morality of rights designed to protect separation. It was also found that judgements of women are characterized by reasonability and tend to sustain relationships among individuals.

Effects of Hostility

Given the psychological gender differences of aggression hostility and empathy, a question remains as to whether these traits affect the structuring of human relationships. Pollack and Gilligan (1982) analyzed fantasies of aggression to determine if they reflected differences in the way men and women perceive social realities and in the way they structure relationships between self and others. In their review of existing literatures Pollack and Gilligan (1982) noted that Bramante's study (1970), was the only one to address the connection between aggression and affiliation in fantasy. Bramante reported that men responded violently to romantic films. Horner (1969) indicated that women responded with violent imagery to achievement cues while May (1980) interprets differences in male and female fantasies as being due to the fact that women inhibit aggression and assertion and that men fail to perceive social relationships. Peplau (1976), connected competition and aggression and speculated that women with traditional roles and women who fear success see competition as an aggressive act that attempts to hurt or dominate the opponent.

Pollack and Gilligan (1982) hypothesized that men would project more violence (infliction t;.an achievement) and that women would project more violence into situations of achievement than affiliation. Situations of affiliation were portrayed by people in close relationships to one another (man and woman in peaceful scene). Situations of achievement were portrayed by people primarily at work. The resulting study showed that men and women perceive danger in different situations. There was a much greater incidence of violence among men in situations of affiliation in fantasy. The reverse held true for women.

The difference between the sexes is linked to man's perception of danger in intimacy and woman's perception of danger in isolation from relationships. Content analysis revealed that the danger in situation of affiliation as seen by males, is a danger of entrapment in relationships or of rejection or betrayal. The perceived danger elicited feelings of hostility. The danger that females described in situations of achievement, on the other hand, was a danger of isolation and being left alone.

Men perceived the most danger in situations where people were touching physically and women perceived the most danger in situations where a person was totally alone. Competitive situations appear safe to men as they establish clear boundaries, protection separation, between people. These same boundaries, to women, represent the possibility of isolation, being set apart. Women who associated violence and isolation did so as a result of being singled out from others.

In contrast to the findings of Maccoby and Jacklin (1974), Pollack and Gilligan (1982), found that in fantasy women were often the victims of aggression than males. It was suggested that in fantasy, aggression may be substantially different. Pollack and Gilligan (1982) state that man's perception of relationships as dangerous and of women as victims of violence underlines the reality of women's fears. Women see relationships as protective, as a means of avoiding isolation. The fact that women often continue relationships in which they are being hurt may be due to their perception of relationships as protective. That has sometimes been interpreted as masochism, may only be that it is often difficult for women to overcome their beliefs and realize that a particular situation is dangerous as opposed to safe. The same situations where women seek safety (affiliative) are where men perceive danger and situations men find safe (isolation) women perceive danger.

Effects of Empathy

A study by Antill (1983) found interesting results with married couples. Individuals were rated on various dimensions of femininity and masculinity. Antill hypothesized that males would be happiest when paired with an androgynous (i.e., people who have both masculine and feminine traits) female; females would be happiest with an androgynous male; that happiness would be greater in couples where there is at least one androgynous partner; that complementary couples would be happier than those who are similar. The hypotheses could not be supported as it was found that couples, where both partners were rated high on femininity,were happier than couples where one or both partners were low on this dimension. Similar couples were clearly happier than complementary couples. Femininity in both sexes was found to be the most important ingredient in marital happiness. It seemed that the femininity of the wife was more important in the early years of marriage whereas the husband's capacity for feminine traits increased in importance in later years with the arrival of children. The feminine traits used in this, and similar studies, centered on capacities such as empathy, sympathy and understanding. Specifically, feminine scale items included being: cheerful, affectionate, loyal, sympathetic, sensitive to needs of others, understanding, compassionate, eager to soothe hurt feelings, warm, tender, gentle and loving children. Masculine scale items were: defending own beliefs, being assertive, having strong personality, being forceful, having leadership ability, making decisions easily, being dominant, willing to take a stand, being aggressive, acting as a leader, being individualistic and ambitious. It has also been found that individuals high on androgyny scales, which are by definition high in femininity, have greater flexibility in sex role behavior thus increasing harmony in relationships (Ickes, and Barnes 1978; Gilbert et. al. 1978; Bem 1975; Giele 1978). In a study conducted by Gilbert et. al. (1978), it was found that both males and females saw the ideal opposite-sex person as being more androgynous than the sex-typed extreme. While masculine traits may result in self-confidence, achievement and leadership, they do not appear to be the qualities associated with long-term relationships.


Loneliness can be defined as the relative absence of meaningful social participation. Psychological gender differences have been shown to exist with respect to loneliness. As re. ,ed by Jones, Freeman and Goswick (1981) loneliness correlates with low self-esteem, shyness, feelings of alienation and external locus of control. A variety of other variables such as inhibited sociability (Horowitz and French 1979); boredom; restlessness and unhappiness (Perlman, Gerson and Spinner (1978); and dissatisfaction with social relationships (Russel, Peplau and Ferguson 1978) have also been shown to correlate with loneliness.

Russel, Peplau and Cutrona (1980) identified factors which related to loneliness. One of these factors was number of close friends. A study by Rubenstein (1979) also found that lonelier people had fewer close friends. These studies do not address gender differences with respect to the effectiveness of males and females as friends. Nor has any distinction been made between quality of interaction and quantity of interaction.

Prior discussion clearly indicates that males and females greatly differ in their ability to respond effectively in social relationships. The greater social responsiveness and empathy attributed to females should result in less loneliness in those individuals who interact with female friends. A study by Wheeler, Reis and Nezlek (1983) explores the differences associated with gender and with quality versus quantity of interaction time.

Wheeler et. al. (1983) found that the degree of loneliness expressed by both sexes was negatively related to the amount of time spent with women, the less lonely an individual. It follows that women who appropriate more social time to males than females would be more lonely. Both sexes were found to require the qualities of disclosure, intimacy, pleasantness, and satisfaction in order to avoid loneliness.

While both sexes need the same things in a relationship in order to prevent loneliness, it has been indicated that females are more adept at providing them. Males were found to be less close to their best friend of the same sex and to other friends than females. Therefore, in order for the time spent with males to reduce loneliness, the experience must be more meaningful than the time spent with women, since females contribute more meaningfulness and emotional closeness to social interaction.

Psychological femininity was also found to play a significant role in loneliness. Individuals, whether male or female, who possessed the more feminine traits (expressive/affiliative) were less lonely. Masculinity did not correlate with loneliness. Meaningfulness in interactions was correlated with the existence of femininity for males. This held true for interactions with other males and with females. Turning to the quantity of time spent as opposed to meaningfulness, femininity was correlated with time spent with females for both sexes. When well-being is measured in terms of emotional contact and cohesion, those individuals high in femininity demonstrate greater well-being.

Time spent with females and femininity independently over lap with meaningful interactions with males as predictors of loneliness for males. According to Wheeler et. al. (1983), meaningfulness with males predicts loneliness largely by itself for females.

Overall, the strongest predictor of loneliness was found to be interaction meaningfulness. The ability to develop meaningful relationships or interactions would therefore be a desirable trait for males and females. Literature has shown that in any interaction the presence of at least one female partner results in more intimacy and closeness for both the sexes (Deaux 1976; May and Henley 1981) and therefore more meaningfulness. Wheeler et al. have suggested that females may be able to elicit latent intimacy behavior from males, or alternatively that females simply add intimacy which is experienced by both partners in an interaction. It is pointed out by these authors that men high in meaningfulness spend more time with women and may learn to contribute more to a relationship, increasing their desirability to others as partners. Furthermore, Helson (1964) has suggested that because meaningfulness with males occurs less frequently than does meaningfulness with females, it may have greater reward value for both men and women. Thus findings with respect to loneliness and androgyny further lend support to the higher or superior interpersonal empathetic capabilities of women as compared to men.


The measurement of sex role differences poses a problem, i.e. whether it should be on sex basis (male or female) or whether it should be on the basis of sex role self-concept from the point of view of social desirability. Psychological literature contains plenty of information. Bem (1974) suggests that on the basis of gender self-concept people can be divided as: highly masculine, highly feminine, and androgynous which is equal on both feminine and masculine traits. In this study sex role orientation was measured on Bem Sex Role Inventory (BSRI). Spence et. al. (1975) challenged Bem's concept of androgyny based on balance between feminine and masculine items, and instead proposed 4 categories: high masculine-low; feminine, high feminine-low masculine, high feminine-high masculine, low feminine-low masculine. The third group was termed as androgynous and the fourth group was termed as undifferentiated. The main difference between Bem and Spence et. al. classification being that androgynous were defined to be high on both masculinity and femininity rather than a balance between the two. Measurement was done on an inventory similar to BSRI called Personal Attribute Questionnaire (PAQ). Bem (1977) modified her categories and accepted the four divisions suggested by Spence et. al. and also accepted the idea of scoring along the median split.

The idea of sex role self-concept is important because people process information on lines of gender schema. The theory of gender schema has special significance for application in marketing and advertising. According to Bem (1981) the biological dichotomy in society is the most fundamental. The sex-typed schematics (high masculine, high feminine) process information fast with regard to their respective gender. The androgynous people process information with equal speed with respect to both masculine and feminine items. Markus and Crane (1982) further refine the concept in their self schema theory in which the sex typed schematics are divided into masculine schematics and feminine schematics. These two groups are presumed to process information with respect to their gender but not necessarily with equal efficiency. The androgynous group processes information efficiently on some masculine traits (self-confidence) and some feminine traits (nurturance and compassion).

The undifferentiated group does not process information with respect to either schema efficiently. This group is aschematic. The major contribution of Markus and Crane (1987) is to further differentiate between masculine schema and feminine schema. In the Marketing literature, there is greater support reported for Markus and Crane than for Bem's classification (Gentry and Haley 1984).

Marketing Literature and Gender Differences

The question is how can this knowledge of the gender differences be used to the best advantage in the area of marketing. A review of Marketing literature reveals that gender differences have been studied in various marketing contexts. The main thrust of the consumer research to date, has been the analysis of gendered products and the effects of sex role self-concept on product perceptions i.e. masculine and feminine product perceptions (Allison, Golden, Mullet and Coogan 1980; Alreck, Settle and Belch 1982; Gentry and Haley 1984; Golden, Allison and Clee 1979; and Zimkund, Sciglimpaglia, Lundstrom and Cowell 1984). Other topics addressed are sex Role Stereotyping in ads, the portrayal of females in advertisements, and comparisons among different groups of women (Bartos 1977; Fennell and Weber 1983; Martin and Roberts 1983; Roberts 1984; and Venkatesh 1980).

Trends in research on the effect of sex role self-concept on product perception indicate that the sex of an individual has more important influence on how that individual sex types a product than is sex role self-concept. Because sex role self-concept is typically measured by the "modified" "Bem Sex Role Inventory" (using four categories as opposed to three) which includes those psychological traits considered to be different for males and females, it appears that such gender differences to not have a strong impact on a product being perceived masculine or feminine (Allison, Golden and Coogan 1980; Gentry and Doering 1978; Golden, Allison and Clee 1979). Golden et. al. (1979) implied that product sex type is related to the sex of the person that is typically thought of as using the product. Limited support was found for the conclusion that males will perceive a feminine typed product as more sex typed and that females will perceive a masculine typed product as more sex typed for both masculine and feminine product images. Sex role self-concept appeared in this study to be an influence on sex typing of specific products.

Only a few studies have appeared in the marketing literature with respect to advertising and gender differences. Alreck, Settle and Belch (1982) pointed out that advertisers often "gender" their brands by making the brands appear more masculine or more feminine through the use of sex stereotypical messages or portrayals. The resuLts of this study indicated that the effect of individual sex role specificity differs between men and women. For males, "the more they tent to prescribe behavior on the basis of sex, the more they accept the masculine brand and reject the feminine brand" (Alreck et. al., 1982). Greater sex role specificity among females results in greater acceptance of the feminine brand, however, this does not appear to affect the acceptance or rejection of mascuLine brands. Furthermore, Fennel and Weber (1983) is perhaps the only study that suggests the application of psychology of women to the portrayal of women in advertising from a feminist point of view, they do not provide concrete suggestions as to how these psychological differences can be translated into at. format

As evidenced by current advertisement, industry appears to be placing more emphasis on male/female relationships, and interpersonal relationships in general. Therefore, greater attention is being paid to the feminine traits that are important in building relationships (e.g., Diet-Pepsi; Bell Telephone/AT&T). Because these ads have appeared for a variety of products and companies, one would believe that research has been conducted within industry. Yet, no evidence from a psychological perspective was found in consumer and marketing research to explain why these advertisements would be more appealing. As the psychological literature indicates, men and women bring different attributes to relationships and, therefore, a better understanding of these attributes might be used to make advertising more effective.

Gaps in consumer research also are evident with respect to the existence of "male" traits and "female" traits in males. Research has indicated that as women progress in the work force to positions traditionally held by men, they are gaining in self-confidence an attribute usually assigned to males. It is yet to be seen whether these women are taking on the more negative masculine traits frequently associated with self-confidence as well: competitiveness and aggressiveness. If so, how should this influence marketers with regard to the portrayal of women in advertising?

As women increasingly fill traditional male roles, it would be beneficial for marketers to know whether psychological gender differences and/or occupational differences will play a role in advertising effectiveness and purchasing patterns. As males are increasingly "told" they are allowed to display the feminine traits of empathy, etc. should marketers portray them as such? Should advertisers take the initiative and accentuate the positive male/female traits that are found in more androgynous persons and downplay the extreme masculine and extreme feminine traits that are considered to produce a less healthy psychological outlook? Or, should the advertisers continue to perpetuate the stereotypes?

The lack of research on psychological gender differences in relation to advertising format has led us to the development of the following propositions. These proposals should be viewed as initial steps toward understanding how knowledge of psychological gender differences can be used in the creation of advertising.


By paying greater attention to the psychological gender differences, it is proposed that advertising can be made more appealing. In turn, it is hoped that more appealing advertising will lead to more effective advertising.

Proposition I

Advertising can be made more appealing by creating less threatening scenarios in ads. The following scenarios could be tested:

For Males. Male socializing with female in a casual setting; male socializing with female in an intimate setting.

Hypothesis: The first scenario will be less threatening to males as it avoids the feeling of entrapment and affiliation that could be conveyed by the second scenario. As a result, the first scenario will be more appealing.

For Females. Female socializing with one or more females who are peers; female "BOSS" directing or supervising a lower level female at work.

Hypothesis: The first scenario will be less threatening and therefore more appealing to females. The hierarchy of the second scenario presents greater chance of isolation for the female supervisor and less affiliation.

These hypotheses stated above follow from the research of Pollack and Gilligan (1982, that deals with violence resulting from situations of affiliation and isolation. It was found that males felt more danger in situations of affiliation whereas females had a greater fear of isolation resulting from achievement and being singled out from others.

For Males and Females. Female in a meaningful relationship with a male; female "BOSS" directing or supervising a male.

Hypothesis: The first scenario will be less threatening to males and females. As in the previous test, the affiliation present in the first scenario will be appealing to females. As indicated by Maccoby and Jacklin (1974), males more frequently attempt to dominate. Because the second scenario does not allow for this, it (the scenario) will be less threatening and therefore more appealing.

Proposition II

Advertising can be better targeted to the sexes by paying attention to the number of "friends" involved in the ad. The following scenarios can be tested:

For Males. Males socializing/playing in a large group (of males); males socializing/playing in a small group (of males).

Hypothesis: The first scenario will be more appealing to males as they have a preference for large groups.

For Females. Females socializing/playing with a large group (of females); females socializing/playing with a small group (of females).

Hypothesis: The second scenario will be more appealing tn females as theY have a Preference for small groups.

These hypotheses are drawn from Maccoby and Jacklin's review (1974), of Omark et. al. (1973), that found that boys congregate in large groups while girls gravitate toward groups of two's and three's.

Proposition III

Attention to the bevel of competition depicted in an advertisement can affect the appeal of an ad. Scenarios to be tested:

For Males. Male competing against self (academically or athletically); male directly competing against others (as an individual or part of team).

Hypothesis: The second scenario will be more appealing to males as it establishes boundaries and hierarchies as presented by competition.

For Females. Female competing against self (intellectually or athletically); female directly competing against others (individually or part of team).

Hypotheses: Females will find the first scenario more appealing as they are less concerned with defeating and aggressing against others.

There is little doubt that males are more interested in competitive sports. While males and females are equal academically, striving for academic achievement does not involve defeating another. The kind of competition present in certain sports involves varying degrees of aggression (Maccoby and Jacklin 1974).

Proposition IV

Avoiding the presence of loneliness in an ad can make the ad more appealing. The following scenarios have been developed for testing:

For Males. Male with female(s) - no emphasis/presence of meaningfulness in relationships; male with male(s) - no emphasis/presence of meaningfulness in relationships.

For Females. Female with female(s) - no emphasis/presence of meaningfulness in relationships; female with male(s) - no emphasis/presence of meaningfulness in relationship.

Hypothesis: The first scenario for males and the first scenario for females will be most appealing. his is based on research which indicates that the more time spent with females (regardless of meaningfulness) the less lonely a person is, male or female (Wheeler et. al. 19835

Proposition V

Also related to loneliness, deals with the meaningfulness of relationships and their portrayal in ads.

For Males. Male sharing personal feelings with another male (best friend); male sharing personal feeling with a female,

Hypothesis: The second scenario will be more appealing to males. To stave off loneliness, meaningfulness and closeness, must exist in a relationship. Males are less close to their best male friend than they are to a female (Wheeler et. al. 1983).

For Females. Female spending social "non-meaningful" time with female; female sharing personal feelings with female.

Hypothesis: The two scenarios will be equally appealing to females. Time spent with females is important but meaningfulness of time does not add extra benefits (Wheeler et. al. 1983).

Proposition VI

Loneliness and happiness can also be related to the existence of feminine traits in males, and androgyny in general. By portraying males with more feminine traits advertising can be made more appealing. Male interacting with child in an affectionate, gentle, compassionate, nurturing way (feminine); male interacting with child in an assertive, dominant, forceful, aggressive way (masculine).

Hypotheses: The first scenario will be more appealing to both sexes as it has been shown that both men and women prefer individuals who bring female characteristics to interpersonal relationships (Antill 1983). It has also been shown that greater well-being exists among persons high in femininity (Wheeler et. al. 1983). Androgynous male and female interacting; sex-typed extremes, male and female, interacting.

Hypothesis: The first scenario will be more appealing to both males and females as each sees the ideal opposite sex person as being androgynous (Antill 1983).

Proposition VII

This final proposition combines the aspects of group size and meaningfulness of relationships. Test:

For Males. Male sharing close, personal feelings with one male; male sharing close, personal feelings with small groups of males.

Hypothesis: Because males tend to be close or intimate with only one friend, the first scenario would be more appealing.

For Females. Females sharing close, personal feelings with one female; female sharing close, personal feelings with small group of females.

Hypothesis: Both scenarios will be appealing to females as they have the capacity for having close relationships with a greater number of persons (Wheeler et. al. 1983).

The testing of these hypotheses ought to be a challenging task. Edell and Burek (1984) posit that various ad. formats be experimented to determine the degree of involvement. If we combine Markus and Crane's (1982) self-schema gender theory with McKenzie and Lutz (1982) model of the effect of the attitude towards the ad. on the attitude towards the brand (from the perspective of classical conditioning), the following conceptual model may be suggested:


The main thesis here is that the psychological gender differences may determine the tone of the ad., which would determine the extent of involvement, attitude towards the ad. and attitude towards the Brand. Already there is some evidence with respect to the effectiveness of emotional advertising Puto and Wells 1984; Ray and Batra 1983).


Allison, N. K. Golden, L. L. Mullet, G.M and Coogan, D. (1980), "Sex-Typed Product Images: The Effect of Sex, Sex Role Self-Concept and Measurement Implications" In Jerry C. Olson (Ed.) Advances in Consumer Research, Vol. VII. Ann Arbor, MI: Association for Consumer Research, 604-609.

Alreck, P. L. Settle, R. B. and Belch, M. A. (1982), "Who Responds to "Gendered" Ads, and How?", Journal of Advertising Research, 22, 25-32.

Anderson, S. M. and Bem, S. L. (1981), "Sex Typing and Androgyny in Dyadic Interaction: Individual Differences in Responsiveness to Physical Attractiveness", Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 41, 74-86.

Antill, J. K. (1983), "Sex Role Complementary Versus Similarity in Married Couples", Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 45, 145-155.

Bakan, D. (1966), The Duality of Human Existence, Rand McNally, Chicago, IL.

Bartos, R (1977), "The Moving Target: The Impact of Women's Employment on Consumer Behavior", Journal of Marketing, 31-37.

Bem, S. L. (1974) "The Measurement of Psychological Androgyny", Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 42, 155-162.

Bem, S.L. (1975), "Sex Role Adaptability: One Consequence of Psychological Androgyny", Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 31, 634-643.

Bem, S.L. (1977), "On the Utility or Alternative Procedures for Assessing Psychological Androgyny" 9 Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 45, 196-205.

Bem, S.L. (1981), "Gender Schema Theory: A Cognitive Account of Sex Typing", Psychological Review, 88, 354-364.

Bem, S.L. (1982), "Gender Schema Theory and Self Schema Theory Compared: A Comment on Markus, Cranes Bernstein and Siladi's "Self-Schemas and Gender", Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 43, 1192-1194.

Benton, C.J., Hernandez, A.C., Schmidt, A., Schmitz, M.D. Stone, A.J., and Weiners B. (1983), "Is Hostility Linked with Affiliation Among Males and with Achievement Among Females? A Critique of Pollack and Gilligan", Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 45, 1167-1171.

Bramante, M. (1970), "Sex Differences in Fantasy Patterns: A Replication and Elaboration",(Doctoral Dissertation, City University of New York 1970). Unpublished.

Carlson, R. (1971), "Sex Differences in Ego Functioning: Exploratory Studies of Agency and Communion", Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 37, 267-277.

Coke, J.S., Batson, C.D. and McDavis, K. (1918), "Empathic Mediation of Helping: A Two-Stage Model", Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 36, 752-766.

Crane, M. and Markus, H. (1982), "Gender Identity: The Benefits of a Self-Schema Approach", Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 43, 1195-1197.

Deaux, K (1976) The Behavior of Women and Men, Brooks, Cole Publishing Company, Monteray, CA.

Edell, J.A. and Burke, M. C . (1984)", The Moderating Effect of Attitude Toward an Ad on Ad Effectiveness under Different Processing Conditions", in Thomas C. Kinnear (Ed.) Advances in Consumer Research, Vol. XI, Provo UT: Association for Consumer Research. 644-649.

Eisenberg, M. and Lennon, R. (1983), "Sex Differences in Empathy and Related Capacities", Psychological Bulletin, 94. 101-131.

Fennell, G. and Weber, S. (1984) "Avoiding Sex Role Stereotypes in Advertising: What Questions Should we Ask?" In Thomas C. Kinnear (Ed.) Advances in Consumer Research, Vol. XI, Provo, UT: Association for Consumer Research, 88-93.

Feshbach, N.D. (1969) "Sex Differences in Children's Motes of Aggressive Responses Towards Outsiders", Merrill palmer Quarterly, 15, 249-58.

Feshbach, N.D. and Roe, K (1968) "Empathy in Sex and Seven Year Olds", Child Development, 39, 133-145.

Gentry, J.W. and Doering, M (1977) 'Masculinity-Femininity Related to Consumer Choice,", In Barnett A. Greenberg and Danny Bellinger (Ed.) Educator's Conference Proceedings, American Marketing Association.

Gentry, J.W. Doering, M. and O'Brien, T.V. (1977) 'Masculinity and Femininity Factors in Product Perceptions and Self Image", In Keith Hunt (Ed.) Advances in Consumer Research, Vol. V. Ann Arbor, MI: Association for Consumer Research, 326-332.

Gentry, J.W. and Haley, D.A. (1984) "Gender Schema Theory as a Predictor of Ad Recall", in Thomas C. Kinnear (Ed.) Advances in Consumer Research, Vol. XI, Ann Arbor, MI: Association for Consumer Research, 259-264.



Ved Prakash, Florida International University
R. Caeli Flores, Florida International University


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 12 | 1985

Share Proceeding

Featured papers

See More


R10. Emotional-Transference or Exclusivity? an Emotional Attachment Approach to Brand Extension for Cultural and Creative Products

Wu Zhiyan, Shanghai University of International Business and Economics
Luo Jifeng, Shanghai Jiao Tong University
Liu Xin, Shanghai University of International Business and Economics

Read More


L10. How Physical Distance and Power Distance Belief Affect Salesperson Evaluations and Purchase Intentions

Chia-Wei Joy Lin, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
Saerom Lee, University of Texas at San Antonio, USA
Bingxuan Guo, University of Texas at San Antonio, USA

Read More


The Messy Satiation Effect: The Benefits of Eating Like a Pig

Kevin L. Sample, University of Georgia, USA
Kelly Haws, Vanderbilt University, USA

Read More

Engage with Us

Becoming an Association for Consumer Research member is simple. Membership in ACR is relatively inexpensive, but brings significant benefits to its members.