Senior Sophia Maggio spent the summer at Gonzaga researching gender and its relationship to everyday words and storytelling.
Maggio, along with seven other Zags, received the Morris Undergraduate Research Fellowship, which is awarded to a select few in the arts, humanities and social sciences within GU’s College of Arts and Sciences. This award is given to students to conduct research in the summer months. Maggio is the first psychology major to be awarded the scholarship to conduct a psychology-related study.
She is studying art and psychology with a research concentration. Maggio’s undergraduate studies and research specifically, has helped her find common ground between her passions.
“My career at GU has allowed me to merge two sides of myself, the free-flowing side with the rigorous academic side,” she said.
Maggio’s mentor for her research was Sarah Arpin, assistant professor of psychology, who explores loneliness.
“Ms. Maggio’s experience in a storytelling class and her interest in the social psychological study of gender and identity motivated her to explore how gender role stereotypes emerge in storytelling,” Arpin said. “Sophia’s study incorporated qualitative and quantitative research methods, thus making a large contribution to the current study of gender and storytelling.”
Maggio merged her creative passions and curiosity in her summer research which is titled “The Stories We Tell: Influences of Gender on Personal Narrative.”
It attempts to uncover how storytelling might be influenced by the gender identity of the storyteller.
Maggio’s research was inspired by a past social psychology class and outside research, like earlier research conducted by James Pennebaker. The social psychologist claims that people’s choice in function words like “we,” and “they” has a lot more to say about someone’s emotional state than meets the eye. Maggio wanted to take this study further by seeing how this related to a person’s gender identity.
“I became interested in the themes of women being more communal and men being more individualistic and power-oriented,” Maggio said.
She wanted to learn how the stereotypes of men and women could be seen in the language used.
She hypothesized that people who identified as more masculine, on a masculine-feminine scale, would use more first-person pronouns, like “I” when storytelling, emphasizing the male stereotype of individualism.
On the other hand, she predicted that people who identified as more feminine would use more inclusive pronouns like “we,” “you” and “they” while telling their stories, emphasizing the stereotypically more communal and inclusive habits of feminine people.
Maggio interviewed about 50 people, asking them to tell her a story from life that was meaningful, which in turn became meaningful for her personally.
“The data collection process, more so than the results, was the most meaningful experience for me because it surprised me how open people were,” Maggio said.
She thought that maybe people saw it as an opportunity to share a story they haven’t told out loud yet, pushing her more toward her passion for using art and psychology to heal.
After three months of in-depth research, the study found that gender and function, or connecting, word usage did not have a significant relationship. The results did not support her hypothesis, but they do align with some other research she has found. While it wasn’t the results she was expecting, Maggio was left feeling satisfied.
“The study showed that there was an insignificant difference between men and women, which should be an empowering takeaway from the study,” Maggio said.
Looking forward, Maggio wants to find a way to combine the field of psychology with art.
Post-graduation, she is considering research or art therapy to blend her love for both disciplines. Art theory of expressive art is using art to promote healing, often used in conjunction with regular therapy, which Maggio got a taste of in this research. Ultimately, she envisions herself attending graduate school, but would enjoy taking some time away from being a student to expand her knowledge and experience.
Editor's note: Sophia Maggio is currently employed by The Gonzaga Bulletin as a cartoonist. She is also the editor-in-chief of the Reflection Journal in Student Media.