Gender stereotypes study debunks centuries-old assumptions that have plagued men and women

‘Almost every woman who posted about technology was inaccurately believed to be a man,’ say researchers

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The Independent Online

Inaccurate gender stereotypes about the kind of words men and women use have been exposed by a new psychological study.

The researchers asked people to make judgements about Twitter users based solely on their posts.

This included guessing their gender, age, education level and political views.

'Inaccurate stereotypes' indicate words (c) written by men but characterised as female, or (d) written by women but characterised as male. Word size indicates strength of the correlation and word color indicates relative word frequency. (Social Psychological and Personality Science, 2016)

Words like “force”, “news” and “research” were wrongly categorised as male, while “love”, “cute” and “beautiful” were among those mistakenly considered to be female.

The so-called “male words” were actually written by women and vice versa, but the study’s participants tended to decide they were indicative of the person’s gender.

Some stereotypes contained a degree of truth, but people had a tendency to place too much weight on them, according to the researchers, from the US, Australia and Germany.

Dr Jordan Carpenter, who led the work, said: “These inaccurate stereotypes tended to be exaggerated rather than backwards.

“For instance, people had a decent idea that people who didn’t go to college are more likely to swear than people with PhDs, but they thought PhDs never swear, which is untrue.

“One of our most interesting findings is the fact that, when people had a hard time determining someone’s political orientation, they seemed to revert, unhelpfully, to gender stereotypes, assuming feminine-sounding people were liberal and masculine-sounding people were conservative.”

Men did tend to tweet more about technology than women, but this led the test subjects to make mistakes when trying to guess people’s gender.

“It’s true: men do post about technology more than women,” Dr Carpenter said. 

“However, this stereotype strongly led to false conclusions: almost every woman who posted about technology was inaccurately believed to be a man.”

In a paper in the journal, Social Psychological and Personality Science, the researchers wrote that stereotypes were “overly salient in people’s judgments about men and women”.

They argued that this should make people who defend the use of stereotypes think again.

“People on both sides of the ‘appropriate because accurate’ debate should agree that this stereotype, along with the others we highlight, is inappropriate and should be intervened against,” the researchers wrote.