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How Readers Spontaneously Interpret Man-Suffix Words: Evidence from Eye Movements

Abstract

This study investigated whether readers are more likely to assign a male referent to man-suffix terms (e.g. chairman) than to gender-neutral alternatives (e.g., chairperson) during reading, and whether this bias differs as a function of age. Younger and older adults’ eye movements were monitored while reading passages containing phrases such as “The chairman/chairperson familiarized herself with…” On-line eye fixation data provided strong evidence that man-suffix words were more likely to evoke the expectation of a male referent in both age groups. Younger readers demonstrated inflated processing times when first encountering herself after chairman relative to chairperson, and they tended to make more regressive fixations to chairman. Older readers did not show the effect when initially encountering herself, but they spent disproportionately longer looking back to chairman and herself. The study provides empirical support for copy-editing policies that mandate the use of explicitly gender-neutral suffix terms in place of man-suffix terms.

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Correspondence to Meredyth Daneman.

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Khan, M., Daneman, M. How Readers Spontaneously Interpret Man-Suffix Words: Evidence from Eye Movements. J Psycholinguist Res 40, 351 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10936-011-9173-3

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Keywords

  • Man-suffix words
  • Language comprehension
  • Eye movements
  • Reading