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University of Connecticut Intergroup Relations Rob Foels, Ph.D.




Research Programs


Editor, Teaching Section, Psychology of Women Quarterly

Gender Research

I study gender not as an explanatory variable, but in terms of the processes associated with gender that are actually causing differences.

  • Women have less social power than men.
  • Women are more cognitively complex than men.

Social power and gender 

Any outcome that is heavily influenced by power differences will appear to show gender differences. 
In fact, when you take away the power difference, the gender difference goes away.

Overlaps between power and gender fool us into thinking there is an inherent gender difference.

Removing the overlap shows the truth: there is no gender difference.

  • Foels, R.,& Reid, L. D. (2010). Gender differences in social dominance orientation: The role of cognitive complexity. Sex Roles, 62, 684-692.
  • Foels, R., & Pappas, C. J. (2004). Learning and unlearning the myths we are taught: Gender and social dominance orientation. Sex Roles, 50, 743-757.

Gender differences in cognitive complexity

Those with less power are more cognitively complex because they must have an accurate understanding of their social world in order to survive. 
Women therefore have a more detailed representation of social groups, including both relational and collective types of groups.


Relational groups are composed of close personal bonds with others, such as family or friends.
Collective groups involve membership in a social category, such as career affiliation or ethnic group.

Either type of group be cognitively represented as several individuals or one group. Women are more likely to represent groups as the individuals that compose the group.

  • Foels, R., & Tomcho, T. J. (2009). Gender differences in interdependent self-construals: It's not the type of group, it's the way you see it. Self and Identity, 8, 396-417.
  • Foels, R., & Tomcho, T. J. (2005). Gender, interdependent self-construals, and collective self-esteem: Women and men are mostly the same. Self and Identity, 4, 213-225.
  • Rustin, B., & Foels, R. (in press). Gender differences in the need to belong: Different cognitive representations of the same social groups. Current Research in Social Psychology.
Gender is a continuum not a dichotomy.
Gender is a flexible form of identity.