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Journal Article

The male bias of a generically-intended masculine pronoun: Evidence from eye-tracking and sentence evaluation


Redl,  Theresa
Center for Language Studies , External Organizations;
Other Research, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;

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Redl, T., Frank, S. L., De Swart, P., & De Hoop, H. (2021). The male bias of a generically-intended masculine pronoun: Evidence from eye-tracking and sentence evaluation. PLoS One, 16(4): e0249309. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0249309.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0008-3FC4-5
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 generically-intended masculine pronoun to trigger a gender inference and cause a male bias, but for male participants and in stereotypically neutral stereotype contexts only. No evidence for a male bias was thus found in stereotypically female and male context nor 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 generically-intended masculine pronoun zijn ‘his’ can cause a male bias for male participants even when the referents are previously introduced by inclusive and grammatically gender-unmarked iedereen ‘everyone’. This male bias surfaces with eye-tracking, which taps directly into early language processing, but not in offline sentence evaluations. Furthermore, the results suggest that the intended generic reading of the masculine possessive pronoun zijn ‘his’ is more readily available for women than for men.