Yukon College Papers by Murray Lundberg, 1993-1994
An Experiment to Test for Gender-Specific Traits
April 13, 1994
This experiment follows the example by Dunn and Garrison (1992:278-282), whose stated object is to show "how to develop a personality inventory that will differentiate between men and women" (p.279). In this the experiment fails, but it does point out many reasons why there is little likelihood that such a personality inventory could be designed.
Research of this type must start with a definition of the target group, men and women. A distinction must be drawn between the biological sex of each person, which cannot normally be changed, and the person's gender, which "refers to the cultural,
social and psychological characteristics assumed appropriate to one's sex; gender represents learned behaviour that is acquired over a lifetime" (Tepperman and Richardson, 1991:134). This paper will attempt to show that gender-role trait expectations vary widely even within one small city.
Personality may be defined as consisting of "all the relatively stable and distinctive styles of thought, behaviour, and emotional response that characterize a person's adaptations to surrounding circumstances" (Wortman and Loftus,1992:385). An
individual's personality is a combination of individual characteristics called traits which are "relatively stable over time" and "consistent over situations" (Wortman and Loftus, 192:396). There is a wide divergence in opinion as to whether various personality traits are biologically or culturally based.
There were ten respondents to the questionnaire which is the basis of this experiment. Five are men, and five are women; all are residents of Whitehorse, Yukon, and their ages range from 10 to 43.
The questionnaire used is included as Appendix A, titled "Personality Inventory". It includes 21 questions on a fairly wide range of subjects including fashion, grooming, social outings, leisure activities, and so on. The questions are answered simply True or False. The answers are scored either "0" or "1", depending on whether the answer coincided with the assumed gender-correct answer. For questions 2, 3, 5, 7, 10, 15, 16, 17, 18 and 20, the gender-correct answer is true for men and false for women; for questions 1, 4, 6, 8, 9, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 19, the gender-correct answer is false for men and true for women. By totalling the scores for each question, it was suggested by Dunn
and Garrison that the questions for which the totals are higher than six "are good discriminators between men's and women's attitudes and behaviours" (p.282). However, that is overly simplistic, and several other factor analyses must be used to understand the results.
There is an extremely strong Euro-centric viewpoint to virtually all of the questions; this points out the unstated acknowledgement of Dunn and Garrison's test that the social and cultural setting of the target group, and thus the accepted limits of gender behaviours, will dictate the type of questions which can be used effectively in a standardized test for that group.
The strongest "discriminator" that appears as a result of the questionnaire answers is question 12, "I generally spend at least 45 minutes getting ready to go out for the evening". None of the men agreed with that statement, but 4 out of 5 of the women did. This is followed by questions 4 and 13, which indicate that all the women, but only 2 of 5 men enjoy wearing cologne; and that beer is the chosen drink of all the men, but only 2 of the 5 women. An important question at this point is to ask what is being measured here. Are these questions measuring, for example, fashion adherence, or sensitivity to unnamed stimuli, and how do these behavioral measures relate to personality traits?
Some of the questions which measure a more distinct personality trait, such as a lack of sensitivity which may be indicated in various ways by questions 1, 3, and 14, give mixed results: in question 1, all of the women and 3 of the men would feel uncomfortable about squashing a bug between their fingers, and in question 14, only 1 man and none of the women would prefer taking math and science courses to art and literature.
A measure which was not suggested by Dunn and Garrison, but which indicates a different spectrum of analyses, is the totals of gender-correct answers given by each respondent. Though the women all responded in more "feminine" ways, the men did not; in fact, two of the men had moxe feminine responses than one of the women. An interesting correlation in this regard is that those two respondents are father and son; this could indicate the importance of social learning in the development of personality.
There are a large number of problems with a study of this limited size. First, the study sample was much too small; the larger the sample, the more likelihood there is that the test will be a valid indicator of personality traits. The number of questions on the questionnaire is also far too small; the 550 statements included on the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory probably gives an indication of a more reliable number. The study sample was not randomly chosen; they were friends and
relatives of a college student; a sample would need to be randomly chosen either from the population of a certain area (Riverdale, Whitehorse, or Canada, for example), or from a
certain group within a population (only college students, for example). In the Whitehorse area, the specific location of a respondent's home could largely determine the response to a given question; for example, a woman living at Army Beach would be much more likely to be able to change a flat tire, out of necessity, than a woman living in Riverdale. An enormous number of other criteria such as age, occupation, socio-economic class, cultural background, educational level, and so on would also need to be considered.
Some of the questions would not be reliable over time, and thus could not be considered to be valid tests of personality traits. The answer to question 5 could be altered by, for example, a back injury; and the answers to questions such as 8, 16, and 19 could depend upon the amount of money the respondent has at the time. Question 11 could indicate two different personality traits depending upon the respondent's interpretation
of the question; is the enjoyable part of a wedding an emotional ceremony, or a boisterous reception afterward?
A fairly simple analysis of the results of this experiment shows serious flaws in its basic design. It also points out the complexity of the decisions involved in an attempt to measure something like personality, which does not have distinct qualities or parameters.
Dunn, Wendy and Mark Garrison. "Student Study Guide to accompany Wortman/Loftus PSYCHOLOGY, Fourth Edition". New York: McGraw-Hill. 1992.
Tepperman, Lorne and R. Jack Richardson. "The Social World: An Introduction to Sociology. Second Edition". Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson. 1991.
Wortman, Camille B. and Elizabeth F. Loftus. "Psychology. Fourth
Edition". New York: McGraw-Hill. 1992.
Project done well. Report needs summary presentation of results, structure of sections, context in empirical development of measuring instruments (esc trivial example is easy to critique).
See a pdf of the paper.