Gender in context

If a woman has to choose between catching a fly ball and saving an infant’s life, she will choose to save the infant’s life without even considering if there are men on base. ~Dave Barry


Before you scroll down – Look at this picture and note down what you think: Is it a men, a women or neither of both?

shelf control adult

Now put the note away so that you cannot read it.

Even though politics around the world would love us to – we cannot stop to think in blue and red. As soon as we look at a person, we can surely make some guess about his/her gender. We do not even have to consciously access this information. There seems to be some hard-wired module in our brain automatically extracting this information, spreading it to the rest of our neuronal networks, activating all those super-fast routes for information inference (also known as prejudices).

So if we are always the victim of our automatic gender-categorization – how can we possibly ever get writ of gender inequality?
The utmost straight-forward solution: make it gender-neutral!

Sadly, this simply does not work.

When we had a look at the new extension of our NeoHelp stimuli, showing how an adult helping a child, we really tried to see the adult figure as it is – gender-neutral. Despite the fact that I had not put any gender-cues on these adult figures, they all looked “male”. Really?

A few hundred eyes see more than two or four – we let undergrads rate the gender of the adult figures. Even though they were given the opportunity to let the gender unspecified, they readily attribute male or female gender to all of these average-looking, neither beard- nor skirt-wearing, figures. Most of them were seen as male. Yet, as soon as a child was shown next to that person – it suddenly became female!

Look at this picture now – note down what you think: Is it a men, a women or neither of both?

shelf helping adult


Now have a look at the note you took for the picture above.

The probability of a gender neutral figure to be judged “female” was highest, if that figure was shown helping a child.

A stereotype? Yes! And it seems to be a powerful one up to the present days.


First results about how children’s gender perception is influenced by social contexts were presented at VSS 2014.




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