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Pergamon Press Australia
Behaviour Change
Vol. 4, No. 1, 1987, pp. 14-19
Assertiveness in Men and Women
Seeking Counselling and Not
Seeking Counselling
Jagdish K. Dua and Helen M. McNall
of New
Five groups of males and females (N = 65) were administered the Gambrill
and Richey Assertion Inventory. These groups consisted of men and women
who were not seeking professional counselling (Men-Control and WomenControl Groups), men and women who were visiting a Counselling Centre (MenCounselling and Women-Counselling Groups) and women who were residents
or ex-residents of a refuge in town (Women-Refuge Group). In general, women
seeking counselling and women in the refuge group were less assertive than
women who were not seeking counselling, and men who were either seeking
counselling or not seeking counselling.
Assertiveness, variously defined by many of studies (e.g., Kelly, Kern, Kirkely, Patauthors (Lange & Jakubowski, 1976; Rimm terson, & Keane, 1980; Rich & Schroeder,
& Masters, 1979; Wolpe, 1973), can be char- 1976) have suggested that women are judged
acterized as the honest expression of one's more harshly than men for engaging in asserthoughts and feelings which takes into tive behaviour and that this may lead to low
account the feelings and rights of others in assertiveness in women. Rodriguez, Nietzel,
the environment. The lack of assertiveness and Berzine (1980) found that masculine and
has been suggested as the major cause of androgynous women rate themselves and are
interpersonal anxiety.
judged by others to be more assertive than
A number of inventories have been feminine women, i.e. women that have underdesigned to assess assertion levels in various gone traditional socialization. Jakubowski
populations (e.g., Gambrill & Richey, 1975; (1973) and Wolf and Fodor (1975) have sugRathus, 1973; Wolpe & Lazarus, 1966). The gested that the development of assertive
Gambrill and Richey (1975) inventory, used behaviour in women may lead to increased
in the present study, was designed for use anxiety. All of the above suggests that women
with a variety of individuals and consists of are less assertive than men. The study
items depicting a wide range of situations. reported here is designed to determine if such
In completing the inventory the subjects are is the case.
required to indicate the degree of discomfort
Working with a psychiatric population and
felt in various situations and also to indicate using the Rathus Assertiveness Schedule,
the probability that they will engage in behav- Rathus and Nevid (1977) found that females
iours specified in the inventory.
labelled as having personality disorders had
A number of recent studies have concen- the highest level of assertiveness followed by
trated on assertiveness in women. Some the male neurotics and the female neurotics.
researchers have assumed that women are less Jakubowski (1973) and Wolfe and Fodor
assertive than men. Fodor (1974) has sug- (1975) have argued that lack of assertiveness
gested that lack of assertiveness in women may be an underlying cause of a diverse range
is due to their sex-role training. A number of problems in both men and women. Jakubowski (1973) further argued that this may
Mailing Address: Dr. Jagdish K. Dua
be more true for women than men. The presDepartment of Psychology
University of New England
ent study was designed to determine if people
Armidale N.S.W. 2351
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visiting a counselling centre for help were less
assertive than a normal group. The counselling centre used in the study was a family
counselling centre in the town in which the
University is located. The problems of people
visiting the centre, although somewhat
diverse in nature, related to family relationships. Even if it is argued that the subjects
visiting the counselling centre did not constitute a homogenous group it was felt that
the study of assertiveness in such subjects
would provide useful information. The literature cited above suggests that lack of assertiveness may underlie a diverse range of
problems. The present study was designed
to determine whether people, especially
women, visiting the counselling centre exhibited low assertiveness.
To compare assertiveness in men and
women in general and in men and women
seeking help and not seeking help, two groups
of men, one seeking counselling and another
not seeking counselling (Men-Counselling
and Men-Control Groups) and two similar
groups of women (Women-Counselling and
Women-Control Groups) were tested for
assertiveness. To increase the generalizeability and application of the findings to a somewhat wider group of help-seeking women,
another group of women who were either
residents or ex-residents of a Women's
Refuge in town was also tested for
Following the studies and observations
presented above, the following predictions
were made:
Women are less assertive than men.
People seeking counselling are less assertive than those not seeking counselling.
Women seeking help are less assertive
than men seeking help.
Given the aims and hypotheses of the study,
it is argued that the results of the study can
contribute to our understanding of assertiveness in several ways. First, it was felt that
it is important to determine if men and
women differ in assertiveness. The reason for
studying this is the suggestion in the previous
work cited in this paper that women are less
assertive than men and that this is a reflection
on the process of socialization in general and
sex-role training in particular. Before one can
say something concrete about the socialization process it is important to know if men
and women differ in assertiveness. Second,
the study was designed to determine if people
seeking help from counsellors are lower in
assertiveness than those not seeking such
help. The results should be useful for counsellors and may indicate the need for the
inclusion of assertiveness training during
counselling. Third, if women seeking help are
found to be less assertive than men seeking
help, it would reinforce the suggestion that
lack of assertiveness is an underlying cause
of a diverse range of problems in women.
Sixty-five subjects were tested in the study.
There were 15 men in the Men-Control group
(Mean Age = 32.5 years) and 15 women in
the Women-Control group (Mean Age = 30
years). The control subjects were mature age
and postgraduate students living in town and
other people from the town. The subjects in
the control groups were approached by the
experimenter (the second author), the nature
of the study was explained to them, and they
were asked if they were willing to take part
in the study. Those replying in the affirmative
were assigned to one of the control groups.
Two groups of people seeking counselling
were selected from amongst the people visiting the Family Counselling Centre in town
(Men-Counselling, N - 10, Mean Age = 42
years; Women-Counselling, N = 15, Mean
Age = 30.5 years). To be selected in the latter
two groups the subjects had to be over 17
years old and should have been on their
second to fourth visit to the counselling centre. Subjects on their first visit were not
selected because they may have only come
to the centre for some inquiry, and subjects
attending for more than the fourth time were
not selected because it was possible that they
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may already have significantly gained from
counselling provided to them.
The fifth group (Mean Age = 28 years) were
10 women who were either staying at the
women's refuge in town or who were exresidents of the refuge (Women-Refuge
Group). A majority of the subjects in this
group were ex-residents of the women's
The men in the Men-Counselling group
were approximately eleven years older than
the subjects in the other groups. This disparity in the ages was unavoidable because
of the fewer men visiting the counselling centre. There were so few men visiting the local
counselling centre that some men in the MenCounselling group were recruited from those
visiting a family counselling centre in a
nearby town. Despite this it was only possible
to obtain ten subjects for the MenCounselling group.
The subjects in the control groups were
mailed the inventory and were instructed to
complete and return it. Those in the counselling groups were given the inventory by
the Counsellor and were asked to complete
it at home or on the premises. Subjects in
the refuge group were also given the inventory
to complete in their own time. Any subject
who experienced difficulties in understanding
the situations or in completing the inventory
was asked to discuss it with the experimentor
(the second author) or the counsellor who
explained the meaning of the situation or
answered any other questions raised by the
The degree of discomfort (anxiety) and the
response-probability (assertiveness) scores
were determined for each subject from the
inventory completed by the subject. The
mean anxiety and assertiveness scores for the
All subjects were asked to complete the Gam- five groups are shown in Table 1.
brill and Richey Assertion Inventory (1975).
Two-way analyses of variance were applied
This is a 40-item self-report questionnaire. to the anxiety scores and assertiveness scores
For the situation depicted by each of the 40 of the four groups of subjects, namely, men
items the subject is asked to record first, the and women (Sex factor) seeking counselling
degree of discomfort felt (1 = none to 5 = and not seeking counselling (Counselling
very much) and second, the probability of factor).
engaging in the behaviour (1 = always do it
Analysis of anxiety scores produced sigto 5 = never do it). The last part of the nificant Sex and Counselling effects, .F(l,51)
inventory determining the situations in which = 5.36 and 5.53 respectively, p < .05. The
the subject would like to be more assertive Counselling by Sex interaction was not sigwas not included in the study.
nificant, F{\,5\) - 3.69,p > .05. Nevertheless,
Anxiety and Assertiveness Scores: Means and Standard Deviations
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The analysis of assertiveness scores leads
to similar conclusions. Women seeking counselling were less assertive than men seeking
counselling and men and women not seeking
The women in the women's refuge were
found to have similar anxiety scores to the
women seeking counselling.
The summary of results provided above
leads one to conclude that women are as
assertive as men. The results, thus, do not
provide support for some previous direct and
indirect research findings (Fodor, 1974; Kelly
et al., 1980; Rich & Schroeder, 1976) that
women are less assertive than men. It is worth
remembering, however, that a number of subjects in the control groups were mature age
and postgraduate students. The assumption
that female and male students, especially
mature age and postgraduates, are not different in assertiveness may explain the finding
of no-difference in assertiveness between men
and women.
The results also do not support the prediction that people seeking counselling are
less assertive than those not seeking
Only women who went to the counselling
centre for help were found to be less assertive
than the other three groups. These results
provide support for the suggestion (e.g. Jakubowski, 1973) that low assertiveness may be
a cause for, or is found to be present in,
women seeking help for various problems.
The subjects in the Women-Refuge group
were more anxious but not less assertive than
The results indicate that women were more the subjects in the Women-Control group.
anxious in interpersonal situations than men Since a majority of subjects in the Womenand that subjects seeking help were more Refuge group were ex-residents it is possible
anxious than those not seeking help. The that these subjects had learnt to be more
testing of differences between cell means and assertive, or as assertive as the Womena closer look at Table 1 shows that the main Control group, but they were still very anxreason for the above results was the high ious. These results tend to support Jakuanxiety exhibited by women seeking coun- bowski (1973) and Wolfe and Fodor (1975)
selling. Women who visited the counselling who suggested that the development of assercentre were more anxious than men seeking tive behaviour in women is accompanied by,
counselling. The Women- and Men-Control or leads to, increased anxiety.
groups were not different in interpersonal
The main finding of the study is that
women who visited the family counselling
following Winer (1962), the cell means were
tested for significance by using post-hoc ttests. These tests showed that the WomenCounselling group was more anxious than
the Women-Control and the MenCounselling groups (p < .05).
The analysis of assertiveness scores
revealed non-significant Sex and Counselling
main effects, F{l,5l) = 2.88 and 1.69 respectively, p > .05 but the Counselling by Sex
interaction was significant, F(l,51) = 6.11,
p < .05. Further specific testing showed that
Women-Counselling group was less assertive
than Women-Control and the MenCounselling groups (p < .01).
To determine if the women's refuge group
had similar degree of anxiety and assertiveness to the Women-Counselling group, a oneway analysis of variance was applied to the
data for the three women's groups.
It was found that there was a significant
difference between the anxiety scores, F
(2,37) = 4.46,/? < .05. Further post-hoc testing
revealed that women in the Women-Refuge
and Women-Counselling groups were more
anxious than the Women-Control group (p
< .05). The assertiveness scores were not significantly different, F (2,37) = 2.76, .05 <
p < 10, but showed a trend towards significance. Further analysis revealed that women
in the control group were more assertive than
women seeking counselling (p < .05).
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centre were low on assertiveness. This is an
interesting and useful finding from the point
of view of the counsellors. The finding suggests that assertiveness training should be
included in the counselling techniques used
with women clients. Whether assertiveness
training by itself will be enough is difficult
to say but the study certainly suggests that
one problem area for women seekingcounselling is a lack of assertiveness.
It may be argued that the study relied on
a self-report measure whereas a direct behavioural assessment of assertiveness should
have been employed. A number of points
need to be made to justify the use of a selfreport measure in the study. First, the Gembrill and Richey inventory used in the study
has been extensively used and has been found
to be a reliable and valid instrument. Second,
many researchers (e.g. Genest & Turk, 1981;
Mischel, 1981) have argued that self-reports
are not necessarily invalid ways of collecting
data. Third, self-report measures of assertiveness are an essential part of research on assertiveness and assertiveness training. Fourth,
the behavioural measures of assertiveness are
not without problems. Various researchers
have measured a number of verbal and nonverbal components of assertive responses as
well as rating the appropriateness of the content of the subject's responses. All these measures can be subjective since they may be a
function of the personal values of the therapist and client, societal values, and the particular situation in which the response is to
be expressed. Societal values suggest different
behaviours for different ages, sexes, and subcultures. Research on sex-role stereotypes,
for example, suggests that women may be
labelled as aggressive for the same responses
that would produce a label of assertive for
men (Broverman, Broverman, Clarkson,
Rosenkrantz, & Vogel, 1970). Measures such
as eye contact, response latency, response
duration, presence or absence of requests of
others, body posture, facial expression, and
distance from the other person (Hersen,
Eisler, & Miller, 1973) are very complex and
subjective and further research needs to be
undertaken before these measures are used
in research on assertiveness and assertiveness
training. Given the reasons mentioned above
it was decided to use the Gambrill and Richey
inventory in this study.
Overall, the study shows that, in general,
men and women do not differ in assertiveness
and that, in general, people seeking counselling are not different in assertiveness to
those who are not seeking counselling. However, women who went for counselling were
found to lack assertiveness when compared
with similar men and also when compared
with men and women who were not seeking
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