Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Individual Differences in the Processing of Novel, Gender-Stereotyped Metaphors

Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Individual Differences in the Processing of Novel, Gender-Stereotyped Metaphors

Article excerpt

Over the last 40 years, there have been numerous studies investigating how readers comprehend metaphors (e.g., the whiskey was medicine and the dancers were graceful swans, Colston & Katz, 2004; Gibbs & Colston, 2012). Some metaphors are conventional, becoming part of daily language use, and others are novel, being generated spontaneously during language production. There has been little or no research investigating whether metaphors can be associated with gender stereotypes during language processing and whether readers gender stereotype during the comprehension of sentences containing those metaphors (see Blasko, 1999 for discussion). In other words, do some metaphors invoke gender stereotypes during reading (e.g., the dancers were graceful swans as female stereotyped)? Further, do these gender stereotyped metaphors affect processing of other gender information during reading? No prior study, to our knowledge, has explored whether readers can use gender information associated with metaphors; however, there are numerous studies showing that gender stereotypes are associated with nouns and used by readers during the processing of words in priming tasks (Banaji & Hardin, 1996; Blair & Banaji, 1996) and sentence comprehension in Spanish (Carreiras, Garnham, Oakhill, & Cain, 1996), English (Kennison, 2016; Kennison & Trofe, 2003), Italian (Cacciari Carreiras, & Cionini, 1997), French and German (Gygax, Gabriel, Sarrasin, Oakhill, & Garnham, 2008) and Finnish (Pyykkonen, Hyona, & van Gompel, 2010). The aim of the present research was to investigate the processing of gender stereotyped metaphors and to explore the extent to which individual differences in the personal characteristics of readers were related to their processing time.

The notion that metaphors can become associated with specific genders has been discussed by other researchers (Hayden, 2003; Hegstrom & McCarl-Nielsen, 2002; Koller, 2004). Using corpora analysis, Koller (2004) found that the businesswomen are warriors and businesswomen are cheerleaders/nurturers metaphors are commonly applied to women in the workplace. Similarly, Hayden (2003) identified both maternal and paternal metaphors related to differences between conservative and liberal political ideology. Examples included strict father morality, a metaphor emphasizing traditional parenting and raising adept children, and the maternal nurturing parent metaphor emphasizing equally distributed power (see also Lakoff, 1996).

In the present research, we reasoned that during language processing, there are many times when the gender of a discourse entity is ambiguous. Inferences about the gender of ambiguous discourse entities are likely to be drawn as soon as relevant information becomes available. In prior research, most of the investigations have examined how readers use gender stereotype information associated with nouns (Carreiras et al., 1996; Garnham, Oakhill, & Reynolds, 2002; Kennison, 2016; Kennison & Trofe, 2003; Gygax et al., 2008; Oakhill, Garnham, & Reynolds, 2005; Pyykkonen et al., 2010). Some of the studies have shown that the gender stereotype of the noun influences processing downstream when the reader encounters a pronoun (e.g., he and she) that refers to the noun. Across these studies, the results showed that when the gender of the pronoun differed from the gender stereotype of the antecedent, readers took longer than when the pronoun's gender and the antecedent's gender stereotype were the same. Hereafter, we will refer to this pattern of processing as the gender mismatch effect.

Theories of discourse processing provide reasonable accounts of the gender mismatch effect. For example, the mental model approach claims that during discourse processing, readers construct mental representations of the discourse that include general knowledge about the world and the information from the discourse (Carreiras et al., 1996; Johnson-Laird, 2001; MacWhinney, 1989; Oakhill & Garnham, 1996). …

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