Archives of Sexual Behavior

, Volume 40, Issue 6, pp 1183–1187 | Cite as

Sex Differences in Semantic Categorization

  • Vickie PasterskiEmail author
  • Karolina Zwierzynska
  • Zachary Estes
Original Paper


Sex differences in certain cognitive abilities, including aspects of semantic processing, are well established. However, there have been no reports investigating a sex difference in semantic categorization. A total of 55 men and 58 women each judged 25 exemplars of natural categories (e.g., fruits) and 25 of artifact categories (e.g., tools) as a nonmember, partial member, or full member of the given category. Participants also rated confidence for each judgment. Women provided a greater number of vague (partial member) judgments whereas men provided more inclusive (full member) judgments of artifacts but more exclusive (nonmember) judgments of natural categories. The sex difference in vagueness was observed across domains (Cohen’s d = .56). Confidence predicted categorization among both men and women, such that more confident participants exhibited fewer vague category judgments. However, men and women were equally confident in their category judgments, and confidence failed to explain the sex difference in categorization. Men and women appear to categorize the same common objects in systematically different ways.


Artifacts and natural kinds Semantic categorization Sex differences 



This study was funded by the Undergraduate Research Scholarship Scheme (URS) at the University of Warwick.


  1. Barbarotto, R., Laiacona, M., Macchi, V., & Capitani, E. (2002). Picture reality decision, semantic categories and gender: A new set of pictures, with norms and an experimental study. Neuropsychologia, 40, 1637–1653.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bermeitinger, C., Wentura, D., & Frings, C. (2008). Nature and facts about natural and artifactual categories: Sex differences in the semantic priming paradigm. Brain and Language, 106, 153–163.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Capitani, E., Laiacona, M., & Barbarotto, R. (1999). Gender affects word retrieval of certain categories in semantic fluency tasks. Cortex, 35, 273–278.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Carli, L. (1990). Gender, language, and influence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 59, 941–951.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Cohen, J. (1988). Statistical power analysis for the behavioral sciences (2nd ed.). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  6. Diesendruck, G., & Gelman, S. A. (1999). Domain differences in absolute judgments of category membership: Evidence for an essentialist account of categorization. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 6, 338–346.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Estes, Z. (2003). Domain differences in the structure of artifactual and natural categories. Memory & Cognition, 31, 199–214.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Estes, Z. (2004). Confidence and gradedness in semantic categorization: Definitely somewhat artifactual, maybe absolutely natural. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 11, 1041–1047.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Golombok, S., & Rust, J. (1993). The Pre-school Activities Inventory: A standardized assessment of gender role in children. Psychological Assessment, 5, 131–136.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Hampton, J. A. (1998). Similarity-based categorization and fuzziness of natural categories. Cognition, 65, 137–165.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Hampton, J. A. (2007). Typicality, graded membership, and vagueness. Cognitive Science, 31, 355–384.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Hampton, J. A., Storms, G., Simmons, C. L., & Heussen, D. (2009). Feature integration in natural language concepts. Memory & Cognition, 37, 1150–1163.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Hines, M. (2009). Gonadal hormones and sexual differentiation of human brain and behavior. In D. Pfaff, A. P. Arnold, A. M. Etgen, S. E. Fahrback, & R. T. Rubin (Eds.), Hormones, brain and behavior (2nd ed., Vol. 3, pp. 1869–1909). New York: Academic.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Hyde, J. S. (2005). The gender similarities hypothesis. American Psychologist, 60, 581–592.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hyde, J. S. (2007). New directions in the study of gender similarities and differences. Current Directions in Psychological Sciences, 16, 259–263.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Kimura, D. (2002). Sex hormones influence human cognitive pattern. Neuroendocrinology Letters Special Issue, 23(Suppl. 4), 67–77.Google Scholar
  17. Kolb, B., & Wishaw, I. Q. (1985). Fundamentals of human neuropsychology (2nd ed.). New York: W. H. Freeman and Co.Google Scholar
  18. Laws, K. R. (1999). Gender affects naming latencies for living and nonliving things: Implications for familiarity. Cortex, 35, 729–733.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Linn, M. C., & Petersen, A. C. (1985). Emergence and characterization of sex differences in spatial ability: A meta-analysis. Child Development, 56, 1479–1498.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Palomares, N. A. (2009). Women are sort of more tentative than men, aren’t they? How men and women use tentative language differently, similarly, and counterstereotypically as a function of gender salience. Communication Research, 36, 538–560.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Rhodes, M., & Gelman, S. A. (2009). Five-year-olds’ beliefs about the discreteness of category boundaries for animals and artifacts. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 16, 920–924.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Spreen, O., & Strauss, E. (1991). A compendium of neuropsychological tests. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Voyer, D., Voyer, S., & Bryden, M. P. (1995). Magnitude of sex differences in spatial abilities: A meta-analysis and consideration of critical variables. Psychological Bulletin, 117, 250–270.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Vickie Pasterski
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Karolina Zwierzynska
    • 2
  • Zachary Estes
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of PaediatricsAddenbrooke’s Hospital, University of CambridgeCambridgeUK
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of WarwickCoventryUK

Personalised recommendations