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When Gender Matters in Scientific Communication: The Role of Generic Language

Abstract

Prior research has documented gender differences in self-presentation and self-promotion. For example, a recent analysis of scientific publications in the biomedical sciences reveals that articles with women in lead author positions (first and last) included fewer positive words to describe their results than articles with men in lead author positions. Here we examined the role of gender in peer-reviewed publications in psychology, with a focus on generic language. When authors describe their results using generic statements (e.g., “Introverts and extraverts require different learning environments”), those statements gloss over variability, frame an idea as broad, timeless, and universally true, and have been judged to be more important. In a sample of 1,149 psychology articles published in 2015–16 from 11 journals, we found that women in lead author positions were less likely to employ generic language than men in lead author positions, and that publications with more generic language received more citations (as did publications authored by men). We discuss how a subtle gender difference in self-presentation may have direct consequences for how a scientific finding is interpreted and cited, with potential downstream consequences for career advancement for women and men.

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Available on the Open Science Framework: https://osf.io/v8nqe (see “Author gender category” folder).

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Acknowledgements

This research was supported in part by a Templeton Foundation grant #61445 to Gelman. We thank Ella Kanter, Olivia Waelchli, Hannah Meloche, Alaa Al-Kahalah, Isabelle Orlan, Caroline Boger, Luke Dula, Lily Moore, and Sarah Pettus for coding assistance and Julie Lumeng for initial conversations.

Funding

This research was supported in part by a Templeton Foundation grant to the last author.

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All authors contributed to the study conception and design. The first and second authors performed and supervised coding. The first author performed the statistical analysis and all authors consulted on interpretation. All authors contributed to writing the first draft, commented on manuscript drafts, and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Jasmine M. DeJesus.

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DeJesus, J.M., Umscheid, V.A. & Gelman, S.A. When Gender Matters in Scientific Communication: The Role of Generic Language. Sex Roles (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-021-01240-7

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Keywords

  • Gender
  • Psychology
  • Generic Language
  • Scientific Communication
  • Metascience
  • Citations