From Motivation and Performance to Gender

Janet Taylor Spence University of Texas at Austin

Spence_JanetJanet Taylor Spence began her research career by demonstrating that people’s level of anxiety had a complex relationship to effectiveness of task performance, better on some kinds of tasks and worse on others. Because an adequate measure of anxiety did not then exist to test her hypothesis, Spence developed her own instrument to measure anxiety, the widely used Taylor Manifest Anxiety Scale. Through her work on anxiety and performance, Spence demonstrated the importance of intrinsic motivation (which is motivation driven by interest or enjoyment) in performance. After dedicating her early career to anxiety and motivation, Spence turned her attention to gender. Along with her colleague Robert Helmreich, Spence developed a series of measures to investigate commonly accepted but untested beliefs about characteristics differentiating the genders and about appropriate roles for males and females in society. Through her pioneering work, Spence helped gender become a mainstream topic in psychological research. Because of Spence’s distinguished research career, characterized both by its empirical rigor and its innovative theoretical approaches, the Association for Psychological Science (APS) established the Janet Taylor Spence Award for Transformative Early Career Contributions to honor the significant impact of researchers in the first several years of their careers.

Watch Inside the Psychologist’s Studio with Janet Taylor Spence.