, Volume 25, Issue 3, pp 273-285

Brain potentials reflect violations of gender stereotypes

Abstract

Event-related brain potentials (ERPs) were recorded while 14 males and 14 females read sentences containing a reflexive pronoun that referred to a definitionally or stereotypically male or female antecedent noun. Pronouns that disagreed with the gender definition or gender stereotype of the antecedent elicited a large-amplitude positive wave. Violations of gender definitions elicited a larger positive wave than did violations of gender stereotypes. Furthermore, the positive wave elicited by stereotype violations persisted even when subjects judged these sentences to be acceptable. Finally, female subjects exhibited larger positivities than did male subjects, regardless of whether the gender mismatch involved a definitional or stereotypical antecedent. These results are taken to indicate that ERPs are sensitive to violations of gender-based occupational stereotypes and that the ERP response to stereotype violations is similar to the P600 effect elicited by a variety of syntactic anomalies.

This research received financial support from Grant R29 DC01947 from the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, National Institutes of Health.