Living in a Social World
Psy 324: Advanced Social Psychology
Fall, 1996
Miami University

Gender and the Optimistic Bias
By: Ed Berger

Please Note: These materials may be used for research, study, and education, but please credit the authors and source.

    Men and women differ in their attitudes about the risks revolving around sex (for example, see Seppa, 1997). Another way of saying this is that their optimistic bias is different. One study was performed using data from Australian college students. Females in this study saw themselves as less at risk, which coincides with the actual risk. Although they were taking fewer risks with casual partners, the women were taking somewhat greater risks with regular partners. Therefore females in possibly lasting relationships perceive their risk to be lower than it actually is.

   One way that men and women differ is there attitudes on condoms. Studies done about ten years ago reveal that the majority of young adults then did not use condoms (Cates & Rauh, 1985, et al.). In general, women wanted a form of contraception that was easy to use and familiar (Murray, Harvey, & Beckman, 1989). Women are the ones getting pregnant, so they are sure to at least have the prospect of getting pregnant if a pregnancy does occur. Consequently, with potentially more at stake (carrying the child, supporting and raising it) the woman has more to worry about. Therefore she may not be so as sure the condom is going to work as the man is (Campbell, Peplau, and DeBro, 1992). This is where optimistic bias can be seen. If it did not exist, both partners could equally assess a condom’s efficacy. But since the man will not get pregnant, he may perceive the condom as being more effective. He is more optimistic that no undesirable things will occur to him (his partner gets pregnant).

         The issue of whether or not partners use condoms shows how the optimistic bias can get started. Here is a quote from a woman that shows how she changed from wanting to use condoms to having an attitude not to use one (Monagle, 1989, p.52) .

I used to have problems asking men to wear condoms. They’d say no or whine and prophesy that it just wouldn’t work. I’d get embarrassed by the fact that I could produce a condom and they couldn’t-it made me look so eager. Finally, I got tired of the conflict with the men and myself, and blew off even suggesting prophylactic protection for a while.

         One possible explanation for this change in attitude is that the resistance the woman encountered made her think maybe she didn’t really need to use a condom during intercourse. This change in attitude is the acquisition of an optimistic bias.

         The use of condoms also demonstrates that positive feelings about them are associated with past or intended use (Baffia et al., 1989). The likelihood of an optimistic bias occurring may be related to past experiences. So, a man would be much less likely to think "I won’t contract a Sexually Transmitted Disease as a result of not wearing a condom" if he has used condoms before. The feeling of invulnerability can also be examined in other men’s issues.

Learn More About:

Age Factors

Cultural Factors

Gender Factors

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     Baffia, C.R., Schroeder, K.K., Redican, K. J., & McCluskey, L. (1989). Factors influencing selected heterosexual male college students’ condom use. Journal of American College Health, 38, 137-141.

     Campbell, Peplau, and DeBro. (1992). Women, Men, and Condoms. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 16, 273-288.

     Cates, W., & Rauh, J. L. (1985). Adolescent sexually-transmitted diseases: An expanding problem. Journal of Adolescent Health Care, 6, 257-261.

     Monagle, K. (1989, May). Nice girls do...or want to. Ms., 17(11), pp.50,52.

     Murray, J., Harvey,S. M., & Beckman, L. J. (1989). The importance of contraceptive attributes among college students. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 19, 1327-1350.

     Seppa, N. (1997). Yound adults and AIDS: 'It can't happen to me.' APA Monitor, January 1997, 38-39. For electronic version click here.

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Social Psychology / Miami University (Ohio USA). Last revised: Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 17:06:33. This document has been accessed 1 times since April 20, 2002. Comments & Questions to R. Sherman