A Change Will Do Us Good: Threats Diminish Typical Preferences for Male Leaders
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The current research explores role congruity processes from a new vantage point by investigating how the need for change might shift gender-based leadership preferences. According to role congruity theory, favorability toward leaders results from alignment between what is desired in a leadership role and the characteristics stereotypically ascribed to the leader. Generally speaking, these processes lead to baseline preferences for male over female leaders. In this research, we propose that a shift in gender-based leadership preferences will emerge under conditions of threat. Because the psychological experience of threat signals a need for change, individuals will favor candidates who represent new directions in leadership rather than consistency with past directions in leadership. Specifically, we find that threat evokes an implicit preference for change over stability (Experiment 1) and gender stereotypes align women with change but men with stability (Experiments 2a and 2b). Consequently, the typical preference for male leaders is diminished, or even reversed, under threat (Experiments 3 and 4). Moreover, the shift away from typical gender-based leadership preferences occurs especially among individuals who highly legitimize the sociopolitical system (Experiment 4), suggesting that these preference shifts might serve to protect the underlying system.