Men are believed to be more creative than women, even if they show equal skill.
This is according to a series of studies that found most people associate creativity with 'masculine qualities', such as risk-taking and a sense of adventure.
The findings provide a clearer insight into why men tend to get promoted faster than women in a range of professions, the researchers say.
'Our research shows that beliefs about what it takes to 'think creatively' overlap substantially with the unique content of male stereotypes,' says lead researcher Devon Proudfoot at Duke University.
In an online study, the researchers randomly assigned 80 participants to read a passage describing a type of creativity.
They included the ability to 'think outside the box', also known as divergent thinking, or the ability to 'connect the dots', known as convergent thinking.
After reading the passage, the participants rated how central 16 different personality traits are to creativity.
As expected, participants associated creativity more with stereotypically masculine traits, including decisiveness, competitiveness, risk-taking, ambition, and daring, than with stereotypically feminine traits like cooperation and understanding.
In a second online study, Proudfoot randomly assigned 169 participants to read about either an architect or a fashion designer; some were told the professional was male and others were told that the professional was female.
The participants viewed three images of the person's work and rated the work on its creativity, originality, and outside-the-box thinking.
The male architect was judged as more creative than the female architect, despite the fact that their creations were identical.
'This result suggests that gender bias in creativity judgments may affect tangible economic outcomes for men and women in the workplace,' the researchers write.
'In suggesting that women are less likely than men to have their creative thinking recognized, our research not only points to a unique reason why women may be passed over for corporate leadership positions, but also suggests why women remain largely absent from elite circles within creative industries,' says Proudfoot.