Exploring the relationship between lay theories of gender and attitudes to abortion in the context of a national referendum on abortion policy
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The relationship between lay theories of gender and attitudes to abortion policy has received minimal empirical attention. An ongoing theoretical debate in the psychological essentialism literature queries whether biological attributions causally influence social attitudes or primarily function to justify existing attitudinal commitments. The current research used the context of a national referendum on abortion in Ireland to investigate whether endorsement of certain gender theories is contingent on their rhetorical construction as supporting particular attitudes to abortion. Two experimental studies were conducted online in the three weeks preceding the Irish abortion referendum. The studies tested whether participants would adapt their causal gender beliefs after reading that biological (Study 1N = 348) or social (Study 2N = 241) accounts of gender supported or conflicted with their intended vote in the referendum. Both studies showed the opposite effect: causal gender theories presented as conflicting with participants’ voting intentions subsequently showed elevated support, relative to theories that purportedly aligned with participants’ voting intentions. While results confirm that lay theories of gender are mutable, the direction of effects does not support the proposition that gender theories are selectively endorsed to support existing socio-political attitudes to abortion. Potential mechanisms for the results observed are discussed.