Women's Intellectual Contributions to the Study of Mind and Society

Students, as part of an advanced seminar, examined and wrote about the lives of these women, their intellectual contributions, and the unique impact and special problems that being female had on their careers.

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Janet Taylor Spence


Janet Taylor Spence was born August 29, 1923 in Toledo, Ohio to John and Helen Taylor. A sister born four years later completed the family. Her father was a soldier in the Canadian Army until he was wounded. He then went to work as a reporter in New York where he met Helen, a college graduate with a undergraduate degree from Vassar and a Masters in Economics from Columbia and who would later receive a Masters of Social Work. They returned to Toledo and married. Both parents were involved in activism in their community. Her father, involved with the Socialist Part, ran for governor and later was elected to the school board (Taylor Spence, 1988). Her mother worked with the League of Women Voters and as well as an agency that worked with families and children. Taylor Spence (1988) states that "as children and teenagers, my sister and I were fully exposed to all these activities...perhaps it was due to the exposure to the human suffering so common during the Depression and my parents' concern with it that as a young adolescent I decided I wanted to become a psychologist" (p. 193).

Taylor Spence began her career in psychology at Oberlin College where she received her undergraduate degree in 1945. The following fall she began graduate work at Yale, but then transferred to The University of Iowa, after deciding that Yale was not for her. Although she did not remain at Yale, this is where she first met Kenneth Spence, co-creator of the Hull-Spence Hypothesis, who would become her future husband. Taylor Spence worked with Spence once again after transferring to the University of Iowa. Here she worked as his graduate student and they researched anxiety. In 1949, Taylor Spence graduated from the University of Iowa with a M.A. and Ph.D. in Psychology. Her first job after graduation is as a psychology instructor at Northwestern where she remains, becoming an associate professor, until 1960.


Taylor Spence did not have problems during her time as a student, but did run into a couple of issues afterwards. When she was hired at Northwestern, she was the first female faculty member and was given the opportunity because the chair thought "having a woman on the faculty was a novel and interesting idea" (Taylor Spence, 1988, 197). Although she was hired, she later discovered that some of the faculty were against her getting the position and she states that promotion there was slow.

One of Taylor Spence's main areas of research was in gender, which she came by in a interesting way. Until the early 1970s, with the women's liberation movement gaining momentum, her research focused mainly on anxiety. The shift to gender occurred after reading a study done by her colleagues Robert Helmreich and Elliot Aronson. This 1970 study focused on the likeably of those who were seen as competent. The study only used male subjects and only showed that men liked competent men. Taylor Spence noticed the gender biased and decided, along with Helmreich, to study who liked competent women. This was the beginning of her gender research, which would continue and span many years.

Taylor Spence has discussed how once her name became recognized after her involvement in gender research, many doors began to open for her which she attributes to the fact that she was a female. She states, "I began to receive invitations to give talks at other universities do that I could 'serve as a role model' for their women students. The implication, I think unintended, was that whether one had something worth listening to was relatively unimportant; it was enough to be a women" (1988, 201). She attributes this same idea to many of the invitations she first received to become a member of a committee or board. Despite the intentions that may not have been pure, it is doubtful that she did not have an impact on those she was speaking to or working with.


The two main areas Janet Taylor Spence has been involved in are anxiety and gender. She began her anxiety research while working as a graduate student at the University of Iowa, where she worked with Kenneth Spence. Her dissertation was an extension of the Hull Spence Hypothesis, in which she studied whether anxiety was a dispositional trait. She stated (1988), "Quite simply, I investigated whether chronically anxious individuals would classically condition more rapidly that less anxious individuals" (p. 196). She had to develop her own instrument to measure her hypothesis, as one did not exist. She titled it the Taylor Manifest Anxiety Scale and "it consisted of 50 statements that were indicative of manifest anxiety when answered a certain way" (Garfield, 1993, p. 379). This test has been widely used and has become her most cited piece. In 1951, Taylor Spence had her first article published titled "Anxiety and strength of UCS as determiners of the amount of eyelid conditioning" with Kenneth Spence as a co-author. Her first independent article, "The relationship of anxiety to the conditioned eyelid response" was published the same year.

In 1960, Taylor Spence married Kenneth Spence, left Northwestern University and she and her husband returned to Iowa. Before leaving Northwestern, she worked in the area of statistics, both as a professor and as a textbook author. In Iowa, due to nepotism, she was unable to get a job in the Department of Psychology, so instead she was hired as a research psychologist at the Veterans Hospital in Iowa City. At the VA Hospital, Taylor Spence was able to expand her interest in schizophrenia and her "research turned from anxiety in college students to the study of motivational processes in schizophrenia patients" (Taylor Spence, 1999, p. 257). She left her position here in 1964 when she and her husband moved to Austin, Texas where her husband was offered a job at the University of Texas at Austin.

In Austin, Taylor Spence was once again unable to get a job at the University due to nepotism. She accepted a position at the Austin State School, which was an institution for the mentally retarded. Here she once again diverted from her original research on anxiety and "initiated a series of studies with children, normal and retarded, that were directed at questions that were then of interest to developmental psychologists" (Taylor Spence, 1999, p. 258). Taylor Spence ended her time at the Austin State School and she was offered a position at the University of Texas at Austin in the Department of Educational Psychology in the School of Education. When the chair of the Department of Psychology was offered another position, Taylor Spence replaced him as chair - a position she held for four years.

As stated above, Taylor Spence began her foray into gender research after reading her colleagues biased study. In reaction, Taylor Spence teamed up with Helmreich and performed a study to explore the likeably of competency in women. Out of this study came the Attitudes Toward Women Scale, which was devised because an adequate tool to test their hypothesis did not exist. Th Attitudes Toward Women Scale included questions on a scale about women's place in society. The study had an interesting outcome as described by Taylor Spence (1988): "Even our conservative subjects not only preferred more competent to less competent women but rated highest the woman who was competent in stereotypically masculine areas" (p. 200). The article by Taylor Spence and Helmreich which described this study was published in 1972 under the title, "Who likes competent women? Competence, sex-role congruence of interest, and subjects' attitudes toward women as determinants of interpersonal attraction". The study was the first in her gender research career, which include numerous more, studies as well as another instrument called the Personal Attributes Questionnaire developed in 1974.

Janet Taylor Spence has held many important positions and honors throughout her career. Taylor Spence first became involved with the American Psychological Association in 1970 when she was elected to the Board of Scientific Affairs. Fourteen years later she would become the sixth female president of the American Psychological Association, where she has joined such other distinguished female psychologists as Mary Calkins, Margaret Floyd Washburn and Florence L. Denmark. In 1972 she became the President of the Southwestern Psychological Association. Two years later she became the editor of Contemporary Psychology after serving as associate editor under Gardner Lindzey beginning in 1969. She held this position of editor for five years. She was on the Board of Directors of the American Psychological Association from 1976-78 and then joined the Governing Board of Psychonomic Society in 1978. In 1989, Taylor Spence became the founding President of the American Psychological Society. She holds the unique position of being elected to both the American Psychological Association and the American Psychological Society. In 1993, Taylor Spence was awarded the National Association of Scholars Award for Excellence in Scientific Reviewing. She has been awarded three honorary Doctor of Science degrees from her alma mater Oberlin College, Ohio State University and the University of Toledo, as well as receiving a gold medal from Hollins College. She has also been invited to give numerous speeches at universities across the nation and has twice been to Harvard as a visiting research professor.

Janet Taylor Spence's career in psychology has been long and fruitful. Since her work in graduate school and continuing through the years, she has contributed greatly to the discipline and explored areas that have changed the way people think. Her dedication to the career and her groundbreaking work has had a great impact on the way people think. Her colleague Robert Helmreich (1999) likens her to another great woman in history: "I would consider her impact to be comparable with that of Helen of Troy, the face that launched a thousand ships. In Janet of Austin, we have the face that launched a thousand dissertations" (p. 35). If this quote is any indication, Janet Taylor Spence's impact in the area of psychology is undeniable.

Works Cited

Garfield, E. (1993). Janet T. Spence receives the 1993 NAS award for excellence in scientific reviewing. Current Contents, 41, 3-8.

Helmreich, R. (1999). The many faces of Janet Taylor Spence. In W. B. Swann, W.B. Jr., J. H. Langolis, & L. A. Gilbert, L.A. (Eds.), Sexism and stereotypes in modern society: The gender science of Janet Taylor Spence. (pp. 35-42). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Spence, J. T. (1988). Janet Taylor Spence. In A. N. O'Connell, & N. F. Russo (Eds.), Models of achievement: Reflections of eminent women in psychology (Vol. 2). (pp. 191-203). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Spence, J. T. (1999). Thirty years of gender research: a personal chronicle. In W. B. Swann, Jr., J. H. Langolis, & L. A. Gilbert (Eds.), Sexism and stereotypes in modern society: The gender science of Janet Taylor Spence. (pp. 35-42). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.Further Reading Spence, J. T., & Helmreich, R. L. (1978). Masculinity and femininity: Their psychological dimensions, correlates and antecedents. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Spence, J. T., & Helmreich, R. (1972b). Who likes competent women? Competence, sex-role congruence of interest, and subjects' attitudes toward women as determinants of interpersonal attraction. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 2, 197-213.

Spence, J. T., Helmreich, R. L., & Stapp, J. (1973). The Personal Attributes Questionnaire: A Measure of sex-role stereotypes and masculinity-femininity. JSAS Catalog of Selected Documents in Psychology, 4, 43-44 (Ms. 617).

Spence, K. W., & Taylor, J. A. (1951). Anxiety and strength of the UCS as determiners of the amount of eyelid conditioning. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 42, 183-188.

Taylor, J. A. (1956a). Drive theory and manifest anxiety. Psychological Bulletin, 53, 303-320.

Taylor, J. A. (1953). A personality scale of manifest anxiety. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 48, 81-92.

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