Cognitive and task performance consequences for women who confront vs. fail to confront sexism

Kimberly M Gorski, Purdue University


Women who fail to confront sexism can experience negative intrapersonal consequences, such as greater negative self-directed affect (negself) and greater obsessive thoughts, particularly if they are highly committed to challenging sexism. Female undergraduates (N = 392) were sampled to investigate whether failing to confront past sexism influences future task performance and whether any effects on performance occur through the depletion of cognitive resources. Participants were randomly assigned to recall either confronting or failing to confront past sexism, then completed measures of affect, obsessive thoughts, working memory, and performance. Women who recalled failing to confront were expected to have greater negself and obsessive thoughts related to the situation and lower working memory and performance, and desire to respond to the situation was expected to moderate these effects. As predicted, compared with women who recalled confronting, women who recalled failing to confront reported greater negself. Contrary to predictions, there was no significant effect of confrontation condition on obsessive thoughts, working memory, or performance. However, condition interacted with desire to confront, such that the more women who recalled failing to confront wanted to respond to the situation, the more negself they reported and the lower their working memory. In addition, for women who recalled confronting, greater desire to respond was associated with higher performance, while desire to respond was unrelated to performance for women who recalled failing to confront. In contrast to predictions, neither obsessive thoughts nor working memory mediated the failure to confront-performance relationship, and there was no evidence of moderated mediation. In sum, although the cognitive variables of obsessive thoughts and working memory did not mediate the effect of failing to confront on performance, the results nevertheless demonstrate the importance of confronting sexism, particularly when one wants to do so, and have important implications for settings like the workplace where women may face discrimination and have to decide whether or not to confront.




Ashburn-Nardo, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Social psychology|Womens studies|Developmental psychology|Cognitive psychology

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