“She works by intuition and feeling;” wrote the US psychologist G. Stanley Hall of the typical woman, “fear, anger, pity, love, and most of the emotions have a wider range and greater intensity [than in men].“
That was in 1904. Fast forward a hundred years, what beliefs do modern-day Europeans still hold about the intuition of men and women? Gerd Gigerenzer and his colleagues surveyed 1016 men and women in Germany and 1002 in Spain to find out.
Overall, the participants didn’t see either sex as having more intuition than the other. But that’s because they held stereotypes about the intuitive strengths of the sexes in different domains. In both Germany and Spain, the majority of participants believed that women’s intuitions are better when it comes to personal life. For instance, 63 per cent of Germans believed that women’s intuitions about choosing the right romantic partner are superior (and the figures were almost identical in Spain). Gigerenzer’s team said there could be some validity to a related stereotype held by their participants: the idea that women are better at understanding other people’s intentions. After all, there is evidence, the researchers said, that women are better at recognising emotional displays than men.
In relation to intuitions in a “professional social context”, there was no overall sex-related stereotype about leadership intuition (this may also be an accurate reflection of fact, since studies show companies with more women in leadership positions do at least as well, if not better, than those with fewer women). Both countries showed a weak preference for believing that men have a better intuition for choosing a business partner and in politics.
Beliefs about intuitions in the last domain of “professional individual tasks” were stronger and exposed the greatest differences between the countries. In Spain, the majority of men and women believed that the sexes have equally good intuition for scientific discoveries; in contrast, in Germany only one third felt the same, with most people favouring men. This study can’t speak to cause and effect, but it’s notable that a greater percentage of scientists in Spain are female.
Participants in both countries also endorsed the stereotype that men have better intuition for dangerous situations, but this was almost entirely down the beliefs held by men! In both countries, men and women further endorsed the stereotype that men have better intuition for investing in stocks. This actually flies in the face of research that has found women to be more effective at portfolio investment.
Across the whole study there was evidence of in-group bias – men and women tended to attribute more credit to the intuition of their own sex. Intriguingly, there was no difference in beliefs with age group. This led the researchers to suppose that people’s beliefs about the intuitive skills of the sexes is based on the current social context rather than the past. If the past had had more influence you’d expect older participants to endorse more traditional stereotypes.
Related to this, it was curious that gender-stereotypes were more often endorsed in Germany even though this country has been a liberal democracy for longer than Spain and is said to value gender-egalitarianism more strongly. The researchers said this may reflect the fact that Spain is catching up fast and maybe even overtaking Germany. We already discussed Spain’s female advantage in science. Despite Germany having a female Chancellor, it’s also a fact that there is a larger percentage of female politicians in Spain.
All all in all Gigerenzer and his team concluded their study shows “widespread stereotypes about men’s and women’s intuitions still exist even a century after the first president of the American Psychological Association made his infamous statement.”
Gigerenzer, G., Galesic, M., and Garcia-Retamero, R. (2013). Stereotypes About Men’s and Women’s Intuitions: A Study of Two Nations. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology DOI: 10.1177/0022022113487074