"On the surface, risky situations may not appear to be particularly disadvantageous to women, but these findings suggest otherwise," said study author Susan R Fisk, a doctoral candidate in sociology at Stanford University.

A risky situation is defined as any setting with an uncertain outcome in which there can be both positive and negative results, depending on some combination of skill and chance.

In the study, Fisk relied on data from three sources: two experiments and test scores from an engineering course at a private university on the West Coast of the US.

The goal of the first experiment, which was conducted online using US adults ranging in age from 18 to 81, was to determine whether risky workplace situations increased the anxiety of women and men.

In this experiment, participants were given one of four scenarios presented in either a risky or non-risky way. For instance, participants who were asked to imagine a work-related group meeting were either told that the other members of the group understood that bad ideas were part of the brain-storming process (the non-risky framing) or that the other group members were extremely judgmental of bad ideas (the risky framing).

After reading their scenario, participants were asked to think and write about the reasoning they would use to decide what to do in the situation they received, how they believed they would act in the situation, and how the situation would make them feel.

After participants finished thinking and writing about their scenario, they took an anxiety test. Fisk found that when scenarios were framed in a risky way, women were more anxious than when the scenarios were framed in a non-risky way.

Women who received risky scenarios scored 13.6 per cent higher on the anxiety test than those who received non-risky scenarios.

Increased anxiety in risky settings is problematic for women because it may depress their ability to achieve, as Fisk also found that women have worse task performance than men in risky situations, even when they have the same ability in a non-risky setting.

The research was presented at a meeting of the American Sociological Association in San Francisco.


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