Biological Psychology

Volume 149, January 2020, 107781
Biological Psychology

Clever girl: Benevolent sexism and cardiovascular threat

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We compared effects of non-sexist vs. benevolently sexist supportive feedback.

Cardiovascular measures of challenge/threat were assessed during a reasoning test.

Benevolently sexist feedback led to cardiovascular responses consistent with threat.

Threat occurred spontaneously, without opportunity for undistracted rumination.

Supportive benevolent sexism undermines women’s evaluations of personal resources and skills during subsequent motivated performance tasks.


Benevolent sexism is a double-edged sword that uses praise to maintain gender inequality, which consequently makes women feel less efficacious, agentic and competent. This study investigated whether benevolently sexist feedback that was supportive could result in cardiovascular responses indicative of threat (lower cardiac output/higher total peripheral resistance). Women received either supportive non-sexist or supportive yet benevolent sexist feedback from a male evaluator following practice trials on a verbal reasoning test. As expected, women receiving benevolent sexist feedback exhibited cardiovascular threat during a subsequent test, relative to women receiving non-sexist feedback. There was no support for an alternative hypothesis that benevolent sexist feedback would lead to cardiovascular responses consistent with disengaging from the task altogether (i.e., lower heart rate and ventricular contractility). These findings illustrate that the consequences of benevolent sexism can occur spontaneously, while women are engaged with a task, and when the sexist feedback is intended as supportive.


Benevolent sexism
Cardiovascular reactivity