An Emphasis on Brilliance Fosters Masculinity-Contest Cultures

Andrea C. Vial, Melis Muradoglu, George E. Newman, Andrei Cimpian

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Women are underrepresented in fields in which success is believed to require brilliance, but the reasons for this pattern are poorly understood. We investigated perceptions of a “masculinity-contest culture,” an organizational environment of ruthless competition, as a key mechanism whereby a perceived emphasis on brilliance discourages female participation. Across three preregistered correlational and experimental studies involving adult lay participants online (N = 870) and academics from more than 30 disciplines (N = 1,347), we found a positive association between the perception that a field or an organization values brilliance and the perception that this field or organization is characterized by a masculinity-contest culture. This association was particularly strong among women. In turn, perceiving a masculinity-contest culture predicted lower interest and sense of belonging as well as stronger impostor feelings. Experimentally reducing the perception of a masculinity-contest culture eliminated gender gaps in interest and belonging in a brilliance-oriented organization, suggesting possible avenues for intervention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)595-612
Number of pages18
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2022


  • brilliance
  • gender stereotypes
  • impostor feelings
  • masculinity-contest culture
  • open data
  • open materials
  • preregistered
  • sense of belonging

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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