Redl, Frank, De Swart & De Hoop: The male bias of a masculine generic pronoun: Evidence from eye-tracking and sentence evaluation

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Description: Two experiments tested whether the Dutch possessive pronoun zijn ‘his’ gives rise to a gender inference and thus causes a male bias when used generically in sentences such as Everyone was putting on his shoes. Experiment 1 (N = 120, 48 male) was a conceptual replication of a previous eye-tracking study that had not found evidence of a male bias. The results of the current eye-tracking experiment showed the masculine generic pronoun to trigger a gender inference and cause a male bias, but for male participants and in neutral stereotype contexts only. No evidence for a male bias was thus found in stereotypically female and male contexts and for female participants altogether. Experiment 2 (N = 80, 40 male) used the same stimuli as Experiment 1, but employed the sentence evaluation paradigm. No evidence of a male bias was found in Experiment 2. Taken together, the results suggest that the masculine generic pronoun zijn ‘his’ can cause a male bias for male participants when no other gender information is provided, but only surfaces with a method such as eye-tracking, which taps directly into automatic language processing. Furthermore, the results suggest that the intended generic reading of the masculine possessive pronoun zijn ‘his’ is readily available for women.

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