Study: Gender stereotypes about movie preferences are mostly accurate

Women watch chick flicks while men watch macho movies? Just how accurate are stereotypes about the film preferences of men and women?

According to research recently published in Frontiers in Psychology, people’s gender stereotypes about movies generally match the actual preferences of men and women. But there is a catch — people also tend to exaggerate just how different men and women’s preferences are.

“Our study compares stereotypes about movie preferences of women and men (i.e. presumed preferences) to actual movie preferences of women and men,” said the study’s corresponding author, Peter Wühr of TU Dortmund University.

“We were interested in this topic for three reasons,” he told PsyPost. “First, we wanted to know whether women and men have similar or different stereotypes about movie preferences of women and men. Second, we wanted to know more about the actual movie preferences of women and men. And, third, we were interested in the accuracy of gender stereotypes about movie preferences. Previous studies on the accuracy of gender stereotypes about cognitive abilities found that people tend to underestimate actual gender differences. We wanted to know whether this pattern would also occur for gender stereotypes about (movie) preferences.”

The researchers surveyed 150 German adults regarding which movie genres were preferred by women or men. The participants were questioned about 17 movie genres: adventure, action, animation, comedy, crime, drama, erotic, fantasy, heimat, history, horror, romance, mystery, science fiction, thriller, war, and Western.

In a second survey of 160 German adults, the researchers had men and women rate their own preference for each of the 17 genres.

“Concerning stereotypes, we observed that both men and women presume consistent gender differences in preferences for most movie genres (i.e. 15 of 17) in our study,” Wühr said.

Animation, comedy, drama, heimat, and romance were considered “female” genres, while action, adventure, erotic, fantasy, history, horror, science fiction, thriller, war, and Western were considered “male” genres. The men and woman in the study had very similar predictions about the movie preferences of each gender.

“Second, concerning actual gender differences, we found that men and women have significantly different preferences for the majority of movie genres (i.e. 11/17) in our study,” Wühr explained to PsyPost.

The researchers found that action, adventure, erotic, fantasy, horror, mystery, science fiction, war, and Western genres were more strongly preferred by men than by women. But only romance and drama were more preferred by women. The remaining genres were equally popular among men and women.

“Finally, concerning the accuracy of the stereotypes, we observed that most gender stereotypes about movie preferences were accurate in direction, but inaccurate in size. In particular, in our study, participants typically overestimated the actual gender gap in movie preferences,” Wühr said.

In other words, while men and women tend to prefer different types of movies, there is a large overlap in their preferences.

“One major caveat on questionnaire data in general is that sometimes participants have never thought about a particular question prior to the study,” he continued. “In this case, participants could have inferred their missing knowledge (‘Do I like Western movies?’) from their own gender stereotypes. Thus, to some extent, stereotypes may have also influenced the results in Study 2. Future research could try to find other ways of measuring the individual preference for movie genres, which may activate gender stereotypes to a lesser degree.”

“Further, our research is limited with regard to the number of movie genres (17), and we did not include hybrid genres (e.g., romantic comedy) and sub-genres (e.g., dark comedy). Future research could explicitly turn to such hybrid and sub-genres.”

It is also unclear how generalizable the study’s findings are to other countries and cultures. That is an area for future research.

“Moreover, our results are restricted to a Western (Germany) and rather young (18-35 years) population. There is already evidence that movie preferences differ between age groups and between cultures.”

“Finally, the concept of movie genres itself is also restricted to the Western society,” Wühr explained to PsyPost. “For example, a typical American or European movie involves elements from one or only a few genres. A typical movie from India, however, often combines elements from different genres such as action, comedy, dance, music, and romance. Thus, our results are probably limited to American and European movies.”

“We are not only interested in the existence and strength (or size) of gender stereotypes, but also in the impact of gender stereotypes on the cognitive processing (e.g. memory) of stereotyped material. We have recently published another study where we compared the memory of male and female participants for the contents from action and romantic movies.”

“We presumed that men would prefer the action movie, whereas women would prefer the romantic movie. After having watched a clip (from an action or romantic movie), participants took a surprise memory test on movie content. We found that men remembered more details from action movies than women, and women remembered more details from romantic movies than men (Wühr & Schwarz, 2016). Thus, preferences for a movie genre seem to guide our attention and help us to remember more details.”

The study, “Tears or Fears? Comparing Gender Stereotypes about Movie Preferences to Actual Preferences“, was also co-authored by Benjamin P. Lange and Sascha Schwarz. The study was published March 24, 2017.