Women's anxiety level rises in risky circumstances
A new study has claimed that risky situations tend to fuel 'anxiety' in women, which harms their work performance.
Susan R. Fisk, a doctoral candidate in sociology at Stanford University, in her mixed methods study, relied on data from three sources: two experiments and test scores from an engineering course at a selective private university on the West Coast of the United States.
The goal of the first experiment, which was conducted online using U.S. adults ranging in age from 18 to 81, was to determine whether risky workplace situations increased the anxiety of women and men. In this experiment, participants were given one of four scenarios presented in either a risky or non-risky way.
After reading their scenario, participants were asked to think and write about the reasoning they would use to decide what to do in the situation they received, how they believed they would act in the situation, and how the situation would make them feel. After participants finished thinking and writing about their scenario, they took an anxiety test.
Fisk found that when scenarios were framed in a risky way, women were more anxious than when the scenarios were framed in a non-risky way. Women who received risky scenarios scored 13.6 percent higher on the anxiety test than those who received non-risky scenarios. The framing of the scenarios did not have a statistically significant effect on men's anxiety.
Fisk argued that women's increased anxiety in risky situations may be due to the fact that these types of circumstances are riskier for women than men.
Increased anxiety in risky settings was problematic for women because it may depress their ability to achieve, as Fisk also found that women have worse task performance than men in risky situations, even when they have the same ability in a non-risky setting. The data on performance came from two diverse sources: an in-person experiment that required participants to answer verbal SAT questions and test grades from a large undergraduate engineering course.
In the experiment that used the verbal SAT questions, participants were given 20 questions to complete and were told that they could bet money on each answer, making the situation risky. If they placed no bets, they were guaranteed to walk away with 15 dollars, but, if they placed bets, they could earn as little as 5 dollars or as much as 55 dollars, depending on how much they bet and the accuracy of their answers. Women correctly answered about 11 percent fewer questions than men in this risky situation involving betting, even after their general verbal SAT ability was taken into account.
A similar effect was seen when using grades data from an undergraduate engineering course. In this course, the midterm exam used an unusual grading methodology that required students to state their confidence in their answers. This created a risky setting because higher confidence in correct answers generated higher scores, while higher confidence in incorrect answers produced lower scores. On this test, a student could receive any score between -33 percent and 100 percent, and were guaranteed to earn 50 percent if they stated that they had no confidence in any of their answers.
However, the final exam occurred in a setting that was much less risky, as it was impossible for students to lose points. Women's grades on the midterm were about 4 percentage points lower than men's grades, even after their general ability in the engineering course was taken into account. On the final exam, there were no differences in the grades of women and men.
The study is due to be presented at the 109th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association.
(Posted on 18-08-2014)