Are many sex/gender differences really power differences?

Adam D. Galinsky*, Aurora Turek, Grusha Agarwal, Eric M. Anicich, Derek D. Rucker, Hannah R. Bowles, Nira Liberman, Chloe Levin, Joe C. Magee

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This research addresses the long-standing debate about the determinants of sex/gender differences. Evolutionary theorists trace many sex/gender differences back to natural selection and sex-specific adaptations. Sociocultural and biosocial theorists, in contrast, emphasize how societal roles and social power contribute to sex/gender differences beyond any biological distinctions. By connecting two empirical advances over the past two decades-6-fold increases in sex/gender difference meta-analyses and in experiments conducted on the psychological effects of power-the current research offers a novel empirical examination of whether power differences play an explanatory role in sex/gender differences. Our analyses assessed whether experimental manipulations of power and sex/gender differences produce similar psychological and behavioral effects. We first identified 59 findings from published experiments on power. We then conducted a P-curve of the experimental power literature and established that it contained evidential value. We next subsumed these effects of power into 11 broad categories and compared them to 102 similar meta-analytic sex/gender differences. We found that high-power individuals and men generally display higher agency, lower communion, more positive selfevaluations, and similar cognitive processes. Overall, 71% (72/102) of the sex/gender differences were consistent with the effects of experimental power differences, whereas only 8% (8/102) were opposite, representing a 9:1 ratio of consistent-to-inconsistent effects. We also tested for discriminant validity by analyzing whether power corresponds more strongly to sex/gender differences than extraversion: although extraversion correlates with power, it has different relationships with sex/gender differences. These results offer novel evidence that many sex/gender differences may be explained, in part, by power differences.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberpgae025
JournalPNAS Nexus
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2024


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