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Gender representation in language: Learning to interpret the masculine form as generic

English title Gender representation in language: Learning to interpret the masculine form as generic
Applicant Gygax Pascal
Number 124624
Funding scheme Project funding (Div. I-III)
Research institution Département de Psychologie Université de Fribourg
Institution of higher education University of Fribourg - FR
Main discipline Psychology
Start/End 01.09.2009 - 31.08.2011
Approved amount 98'600.00
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Keywords (8)

Gender; Language; Grammar; Cognition; Bias; Discrimination; stereotype; masculine form

Lay Summary (English)

Lead
Lay summary
Across three experiments (Gygax et al., 2008; Gabriel et al., submitted; Sarrasin et al., in prep.) conducted in three different languages (English, French and German) the GREL group has documented the dominance of grammatical gender in the mental representation of gender during reading comprehension. More specifically, GREL has examined the joint influence of two potential biasing sources, namely the use of the masculine form, supposedly interpretable as a generic form, in gender marked languages (French and German) and gender-stereotypical information, when inferring gender from role names. The findings suggest that when grammatical gender cues are available, readers use them to construct a mental representation of gender. When not available, readers rely on stereotypical information. There are some exceptions, but these are few. Sarrasin et al. (in prep) and Gabriel et al. (submitted) examined possible sources that could attenuate the impact of the use of the masculine form by increasing the stereotypicality of the role names (Sarrasin et al., in prep) and by providing readers with additional and different grammatical cues (Gabriel et al., in prep.). Both studies showed that the bias introduced by the masculine form was rather strong and difficult to attenuate. Gygax and Gabriel (2008) even identified cases in which the bias was strengthened. At least, the latter study, although demonstrating an undesirable effect even more discriminatory to women, showed that the representation of gender was somehow flexible.In this present project, we propose to manipulate the conditions that may constrain both grammatical and stereotypical sources and result in a mixed representation of gender, which can be considered as a gender-fair representation. In a sense, we are trying to see if readers may be able to consider the masculine form as a generic one. We propose four experiments in French, based on Gygax and Gabriel (2008), in which different manipulations are implemented to force readers into a true generic interpretation of the masculine form. Compared to the work that has been conducted so far by the GREL group, this project raises more applied issues. If past research was primarily aimed at exploring the different biases that were responsible for the construction of a mental representation of gender, this project provides us with (a) clear indications of the flexibility of those biases and (b) directions that may be undertaken to modify those biases, in intervention programs, for example.
Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 21.02.2013

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

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Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
Twenty-first Annual Meeting of the Society for Text & Discourse 11.07.2011 Poitiers, France


Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
118301 Gender representations in Language: A project on the interaction of the generic masculine and stereotypical information in constructing a mental representation of gender 01.11.2007 Project funding (Div. I-III)
135271 Gender representation in language: The onset of grammar-stereotype interplay in toddlerhood 01.07.2011 Project funding (Div. I-III)
109705 Gender Representations in Language: A project on the Interaction of the Generic Masculine and Stereotypical Information in Constructing a Mental Representation of Gender 01.11.2005 Project funding (Div. I-III)
143573 Gender representation in language: The onset of grammar-stereotype interplay in toddlerhood 01.11.2012 Project funding (Div. I-III)

Abstract

Across three experiments (Gygax et al., 2008; Gabriel et al., in prep.; Sarrasin et al., in prep.) conducted in three different languages (English, French and German) the GREL group has documented the dominance of grammatical gender in the mental representation of gender during reading comprehension. More specifically, GREL has examined the joint influence of two potential biasing sources, namely the use of the masculine form, supposedly interpretable as a generic form, in gender marked languages (French and German) and gender-stereotypical information, when inferring gender from role names . The findings suggest that when grammatical gender cues are available, readers use them to construct a mental representation of gender. When not available, readers rely on stereotypical information. There are some exceptions, but these are few. Sarrasin et al. (in prep) and Gabriel et al. (in prep) examined possible sources that could attenuate the impact of the use of the masculine form by increasing the stereotypicality of the role names (Sarrasin et al., in prep) and by providing readers with additional and different grammatical cues (Gabriel et al., in prep.). Both studies showed that the bias introduced by the masculine form was rather strong and difficult to attenuate. Gygax and Gabriel (2008) even identified cases in which the bias was strengthened. At least, the latter study, although demonstrating an undesirable effect even more discriminatory to women, showed that the representation of gender was somehow flexible.In this present proposal, we suggest to manipulate the conditions that may constrain both grammatical and stereotypical sources, thus establishing a mixed representation of gender, which can be considered as a gender-fair representation. We propose four experiments in French, based on Gygax and Gabriel (2008), in which different manipulations will be implemented to force readers into a true generic interpretation of the masculine form. The sequence of experiments mirrors an explicit to implicit learning progression. Experiment 1 will attempt to modify the male bias found in Gygax and Gabriel (2008) by giving detailed instructions to consider the masculine form as a true generic form (explicit awareness training). In Experiment 2, although participants will not be explicitly instructed to consider the masculine as a generic form, they will, previous to the experiment, learn a list of pairs of words, in which the generic interpretation rule will be apparent (association learning). In Experiment 3, the learning process will only be implicit, as participants will simply be shown, for each given answer, the answer that others usually give (Social false feedback). Experiment 4 will investigate implicit learning by manipulating the frequency of occurrence of female characters associated to different role names. We hypothesise that the mere exposure to different proportions of male and female characters may change the way participants interpret the masculine form.Compared to the work that has been conducted so far by the GREL group, this project raises more applied issues. If past research was primarily aimed at exploring the different biases that were responsible for the construction of a mental representation of gender, the proposed project provides us with (a) clear indications of the flexibility of those biases and (b) directions that may be undertaken to modify those biases, in intervention programs, for example.
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