Sex Roles

, Volume 22, Issue 1, pp 69-82

First online:

The impact of generic word choices: An empirical investigation of age- and sex-related differences

  • Jo Young SwitzerAffiliated withIndiana University—Purdue University at Fort Wayne

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Previous studies of receivers' responses to generic words have found that adults generally develop masculine imagery for neutral words and that men do this more than women. The present investigation of school-aged children (n=471) found that they, like adults, develop sex-specific masculine imagery in response to apparently neutral messages. Early adolescents, however, reported significantly more inclusive imagery than 6–7-year-olds. Different pronoun conditions elicited different mental imagery for the receivers of the messages with “he/she” eliciting more of a balance between male and female images and “they” eliciting more inclusive imagery.