Cultural Influences on Access to ‘Reality’

What do other men think? The social learning of men’s gender ideology

Research team

David Lawson, Principal Investigator
Mark Urassa, Co-Investigator
Alexander Mwijage, Co-Investigator
Charlotte Brand, Co-Investigator
Joseph Kilgallen, Research Assistant
Zhian Chen, Research Assistant

Key information

Full title: Norm Misperception and Conformity as Barriers to Positive Change in Gender Ideology: A Mixed Methods Study in Northern Tanzania
Host institutions: University of California, Santa Barbara (USA); National Institute for Medical Research, Mwanza (Tanzania); University of Exeter (United Kingdom)
Research location: Tanzania

Project overview 

Beliefs about how genders should behave differ across cultures, typically favoring male privilege. But how do we acquire these beliefs, and does social learning prevent or promote positive change in gender ideology? To investigate these questions, we will study the beliefs of young Tanzanian men in a rural community in which tradition dictates patriarchal values, but gender roles are shifting with urbanization.

Our proposal is that as men privately begin to support women’s empowerment, they will downplay this support in social settings in order to convey traditional ideals of masculine strength. This in turn will lead men to underestimate support for women’s empowerment among their peers. This combination of ‘norm misperception’ and a desire to conform may stifle positive change in gender ideology. In contrast, urbanization may introduce novel prestigious role models in the form of high status urban men who are more likely to encourage support for women’s empowerment.

Two men ride through town in Mwanza, Tanzania – Photo by David Lawson

We will ask men both about their own beliefs about women’s empowerment and what they think their peers believe. Our survey will cover topics like education and employment, how couples agree on when to have sex or to have children, and attitudes about intimate partner violence. We will also run an experiment to determine if men ‘perform’ different beliefs depending on who they are with. If our hypotheses are correct, men will underestimate other men’s support for women’s empowerment, and furthermore will report lower support for women when interviewed in front of their peers or village elders, compared to being interviewed alone or in front of prestigious men from the city. We will also conduct discussions with community members and observe men’s daily interactions to gain insight into how attitudes about gender are shared in everyday life. 

Together these data will provide a novel case study of the social learning of gender ideology, and provide recommendations for initiatives targeting inequitable gender norms worldwide.


David Lawson, PI on this project, has recently edited a special collection in the journal Evolutionary Human Sciences, emphasizing the importance of culture in the evolution of ‘Gendered Conflict in the Human Family’. Read more in our news item:

David Lawson, PI on this project, has written a field report about the process so far of the research. Read more in our news item:

Project contacts

If you would like to contact the project team, please email the grant management team in the first instance, at

David Lawson: Website, Twitter
Charlotte Brand: Website, Twitter
Alexander Mwijage: Twitter