The experiment, published in the Psychology of Women Quarterly by Montana State University professor Jessi L. Smith and former student Meghan Huntoon, looks at how effective female students are while writing essays about their own accomplishments in varying circumstances.
About 60 students were asked to go into a small room with a box — or a "subliminal noise generator." The first group was told that the box made a sound too high for humans to hear but could still cause discomfort, while the second group received no warning at all. The twist? This box didn't actually make noise or cause anxiety. Yet overall, students in the first scenario did much better work, suggesting that the opportunity to blame their nerves on an external source made it easier for them to write a self-promotional paper.
The study brings up a few central questions. Why do women have such a difficult time promoting their accomplishments? Why does an unrelated situation help relieve that anxiety? And moreover, how can women overcome this? (We're assuming most companies probably wouldn't invest in little black boxes.)
The third part of this experiment provides a possible solution. The last set of women involved were asked to discuss a friend's capabilities, and ended up writing very effective papers. So, it seems like it's easier to brag about others than it is to brag about ourselves — and the study suggests that the cultural norm of female modesty is to blame.
So, is the secret to self-promotion to pretend that we're talking about someone else? Maybe, but we're hoping for a greater societal shift that makes it commonplace for women to let go of their humility and share their exploits on their own. But, until that time comes, we might just have to be a bit more proactive about promoting our female friends and colleagues. Sounds like a plan to us. (TIME)