[PS-1.79] The craftsman knits a sweater - processing of gender stereotypes in adults and children

Müller-Feldmeth, D. , Silveira, M. & Hanulíková, A.

University of Freiburg

Previous research suggests an immediate activation of gender stereotypes upon presentation of a noun (e.g., doctor is usually associated with the male gender). In this study we asked whether verbs activate stereotypical associations and affect reading in adults and children. Repeated exposure to verbs in gender-specific contexts (e.g. a woman knitting) might result in probabilistic stereotypical inferences and lead to processing costs in gender-mismatching contexts.

Based on a rating study of 111 verbs (n=69), verbs with clearly male or female connotations were selected for a self-paced reading study. A new group of 43 adults and 15 children (8-9 years old) read simple German sentences in which the sentence subject's gender either matched or mismatched the stereotypical gender connotation of a verb.

Adults showed slower reading times immediately after the verb in mismatching sentences. For children, the effect showed up at the verb, but only for sentences with male subjects. Such an asymmetry in reading times as a function of the sentence subject's gender is visible in adult readers too.

The results suggest that stereotypical meaning of verbs is accessed immediately, and that gender-mismatching effects are more pronounced in contexts with masculine than feminine nouns.