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Without social cues it's male: Children perceive amorphous drawing of adults as male, but less so in social contexts

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Brielmann, A., & Stolarova, M. (2014). Without social cues it's male: Children perceive amorphous drawing of adults as male, but less so in social contexts. Poster presented at 14th Annual Meeting of the Vision Sciences Society (VSS 2014), St. Pete Beach, FL, USA.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0007-6AD6-1
Peoples strong tendency to assign male gender to neutrally described persons has been termed the people = male bias. We aimed to assess whether this effect can be elicited using amorphous visual stimuli instead of verbal descriptions and whether it is already evident in childhood. We presented 53 children (4 to 12 yrs., 27 boys) with black-and-white amorphous drawings of humans and asked them whether the adult depicted was a man or a woman. The option to choose "I dont know" was also provided. In order to assess whether social contexts influenced childrens gender attributions (as has been previously reported for adults) we placed the same amorphous humans in three different contexts: 1) the adult was depicted alone, 2) the adult was passively involved in a social situation with a child and 3) the adult was actively helping a child. Children showed a clear tendency to assign male gender to the amorphous adults across all context variations; this was equally true for boys and for girls. However, when the adult was shown in a social context the proportion of male gender attributions was lower compared to the condition without social context. The older the children were, the more likely they were to attribute female gender to a higher proportion of amorphous figures across all contexts. Median response times were higher for "female" ratings, indicating that this decision was associated with greater cognitive effort. Our results show that a strong bias towards attributing male gender to visually presented amorphous figures is evident already in childhood and that it somewhat decreases with age. For children, just as it has been demonstrated for adults, social contexts lead to a larger proportion of female gender attributions. These results encourage future research to include developmental aspects for explaining the mechanisms underlying gender perception and stereotypes.