|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