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Running Head: Gender Stereotype Priming in Students

The Automaticity of Priming and Gender Stereotyping in Students


Olivia Kang
Texas A&M University
Gender Stereotype Priming in Students

Abstract
Students participated in the Stereotype and Automaticity module to test if there is automaticity in
gender stereotyping. The hypothesis is that when a gendered prime word is shown before a target
name with the opposite gender of the prime word, it takes longer to identify the gender of the
target name thus causing a longer reaction time. College students were asked to identify the
gender of target names after reading a certain prime word. They first had to read the prime word,
which would either be feminine, masculine, or neutral, and then identify the gender of the
following target name, which would either be female or male. The reaction time of how long it
took to identify the gender of the target name was measured. The results displayed that
participants did have a longer reaction time to identifying a non-stereotypical pairing, but it was
not statistically significant. Ultimately, there is some level of automaticity in gender
stereotyping, but it is not significant in this group of participants.

Introduction

Automaticity refers to how certain social cues can invoke certain reactions from people

and how some mental processes can become reflexive over time. For example, when we see a

red light, we immediately slow down our cars. This is how automaticity works. When we see a

certain signal, our brain comes up with an immediate response without us having to think about

it.

Many experiments have been conducted to research and establish the prominence and

automaticity of gender stereotyping in people. In their social cognitive research, Fiske and

Taylor (1984) described the theory of automaticity as that people essentially tend to rely on

categorical knowledge structures to make sense of an individual instead of making individual

judgements for that person. Due to limited processing abilities, stereotyping was a means of

coping in order for people to make sense of a complex world even though it was extremely

unfair towards individuals. In a sense, the brain automatically took a shortcut instead of the long

way around.

This is also supported by Macrae and Bodenhausen (2001). Macrae et al. (2001) stated

that people shape their memories, evaluations, and impressions with their pre-existing beliefs of
Gender Stereotype Priming in Students

the world around them. The perception of people is controlled by schematic thinking. Schematic

thinking allows the brain to process information in a consistent and efficient manner, which is

what creates stereotypical conceptions of others.

Bartlett and Burt (1993) tested the theory of schematic thinking by having their

participants read a Native American story and relay it back to them. When the participants told

the story, they added in things that never happened in the original story. These errors were

characterized, and it was found that the errors had the characteristics of typical English fairytales.

This was due to the fact that the backgrounds of the participants were very different from the

cultural context of the Native American story, hence they changed the details that they could not

comprehend. The claim was developed that memory is a process of reconstruction and that

overall, it is a social act.

Herz and Diamantopoulos (2012) investigated country cues that have underlying

stereotypes and how they influence consumers’ evaluations on brands. Participants were exposed

to product attributes and asked to give their impression and rate the perceived quality of the

brand. They found that the country-of-origin cues found in the product attributes automatically

trigger pre-conceived stereotypes, which impacted the brand evaluations and impressions. If the

format of advertising execution matched the stereotypical cue, the evaluations and impressions

were more positively enhanced. However, if the advertising format countered the stereotypical

cue, the evaluations and impressions of the participants were adversely affected. The fact that the

stereotypical products gained more positive reactions in comparison to the counterstereotypical

products demonstrates that it is easy for people to process and accept things that line up with

their preconceptions of the world than things that counter it.


Gender Stereotype Priming in Students

Blair, Judd, and Fallman (2004) researched automaticity in race and social judgement.

When participants were asked to look at pictures of people’s faces and rate the probability of

given descriptions, the results were that photos of people with Afrocentric features had higher

probability ratings with more stereotypic descriptions and lower probability ratings with

counterstereotypic descriptions compared to those with European features. The study supported

the fact that people conjure up certain thoughts and judgements based on appearance.

In an experiment conducted by Bargh, Chen, and Burrows (1996), they researched

automaticity in social behavior by measuring the level of hostility in a participant after being

shown pictures of either African American faces or Caucasian faces. Participants were asked to

complete 130 computerized visual tasks. Before each trial, the computer would flash a picture of

either an African American face or a Caucasian face. After the 130th trial, the computer would

say that there was a save error. While watching for the participant’s reactions, the experimenter

would come in and say that the participant would have to redo the trial but then say that the

computer actually saved it all. Afterwards, the participants were asked to fill out two

questionnaires related to race and racism. Based on the experimenter’s ratings of the participant’s

reactions to the “save error” and the results of the questionnaires, the results displayed that

participants who were shown the pictures of African Americans reacted with more hostility than

those who were shown pictures of Caucasians.

Similar results were found in an experiment conducted by Park and Kim (2015) to study

activation of racial categories. Korean participants were asked to play a video game. They played

as an American police officer and had to shoot targets (Black or White, armed or unarmed).

When participants were assigned to play as a White police officer, they displayed more racial

discrimination against Black targets, and when participants were assigned to play as a Black
Gender Stereotype Priming in Students

police officer, the racial bias decreased. This is presumed to be because a Black officer would

not target those of his own racial group. As seen in Bargh et al. (1996), cultural stereotypes were

very much prevalent in the results of the participants.

Oakhill, Garnham, and Reynolds (2005) conducted an experiment where they gave their

subjects a passage where it asked how it was possible that a surgeon could be the parent of the

wounded son when the father died. The subjects struggled to figure out the answer, but the

answer was simply that the surgeon was the son’s mother, the other parent. The subjects’

inability to figure out the riddle supported that there was gender stereotyping. They had assumed

that the surgeon was male, inferring that there is a stereotype of doctors being primarily male.

Essentially, the previous research demonstrated that people can be subconsciously

stereotypical based on their reaction time to stereotypical pairs versus non-stereotypical pairs. An

experiment was conducted on a group of students in a lab to support evidence for the concept of

automaticity. The purpose of this experiment was conducted to test the concept of automaticity

in stereotyping with a specific focus on gender priming. The experiment would reveal gender

stereotype priming by the length of the students’ reaction time to identifying a same-gendered

prime and target name and a different-gendered prime and target name (Blair & Banaji, 1996).

The prediction was that the students would take longer to identify female target names if the

priming word beforehand was masculine and male target names if the priming word beforehand

was feminine.
Gender Stereotype Priming in Students

Methods
Participants

We had 20 participants who were all college students. Ages ranged from 19-22 years old. 85% of

the participants were female and 15% of the participants were male. 55% of the participants were

Caucasian, 25% were Latino, 10% were African American, and 10% were Asian.

Measures

Blair and Banaji’s (1996) Stereotype and Automaticity experiment measured whether the amount

of time it took to identify the gender of target names was affected by the type of priming word

that came beforehand. The independent variables were the type of prime word (feminine,

masculine, or neutral) and the target name (male or female) shown after the prime word. The

dependent variable measured was the reaction time of identifying the gender of the target name.

Materials

Materials used were the Microsoft Program (Microsoft Corporation, Redmond, WA, USA), the

PsychMate Software (Psychology Software Tools, Sharpsburg, PA, USA), SPSS (IBM, Armonk,

North Castle, NY, USA), type of prime, gender of the target name, the order of the target names,

and the amount of time given for the prime word before the target name.

Design

The Stereotype and Automaticity Experiment used a 3x2 mixed factorial design with Prime Type

(masculine, feminine, or neutral) and Gender of Target Names (male or female). The prime word

whether it would be masculine, feminine, or neutral, would come before the target name, and the

students would identify either female or male for the gender of the target name after being

exposed to the prime word for an allotted time.


Gender Stereotype Priming in Students

Procedure

Participants were in the Milner computer lab and ran the Stereotype and Automaticity module

through the PsychMate software. For about five seconds, they were given a prime word that was

either feminine, masculine, or neutral. After the allotted time given, the prime word was taken

down, and the participants were given a target name that was either male or female, and they

were asked to identify the gender by pressing the number 1 key for male or the number 2 key for

female. The reaction time of how long it took to identify the gender of the target name was

measured.

Results
The results were obtained from the Stereotype and Automaticity task as shown in Figure

1. The average reaction times are listed here: FemMale (M = 651.444, SD = 123.423), MaleMale

(M = 641.778, SD = 128.101), NeutFem (M = 627.889, SD = 115.117), NeutMale (M = 653.111,

SD = 115.060), FemFem (M = 608.667, SD = 124.172), and MaleFem (M = 680.333, SD =

148.510). FemFem had the shortest average reaction time, and MaleFem had the longest average

reaction time, but the results were not statistically significant. We also ran a Factorial ANOVA,

and the results revealed that there was no significant main effect of the prime gender on reaction

time F(5, 102) = .562, p = .572, and there was no significant main effect of the gender of the

target name on reaction time F(5, 102) = .163, p = .687. There was also no significant interaction

effect between prime word and gender of the target name on reaction time F(5, 102) = 1.053, p =

.359. Ultimately, the results are contrary to what we hypothesized.


Gender Stereotype Priming in Students

Figure 1
Mean Correct RT as a Function of PrimeGender and NameGender

700
680
Reaction Time (ms)

660
640 female

620 male

600
580
560
female male neutral

PrimeGender

Discussion

The hypothesis was that pairings with an opposite prime word and target name would result in

participants having a longer reaction time in identifying the gender of the target name. The

hypothesis was not supported by the results. This is surprising as previous studies have all said

that their experiment displayed significantly different results between stereotypical parings and

pairings that contrast stereotypes.

As seen in the experiment by Bargh et al. (1996), participants who were shown the

pictures of African Americans reacted with more hostility than those who were shown pictures of

Caucasians, and Blair et al. (2004) found that when participants were asked to look at pictures of

people’s faces and rate the probability of given descriptions, photos of people with Afrocentric

features had higher probability ratings with more stereotypic descriptions and lower probability

ratings with counterstereotypic descriptions compared to those with European features.

A possible reason why the current results contrasted the previous studies could be that the

previous studies were conducted before 2010. Nowadays, the younger generation is much more
Gender Stereotype Priming in Students

accepting of differences between people. Janmaat and Keating (2017) have found that tolerance

towards racial minorities and different sexual orientations have risen among the younger

generation. The explanation is that the world is so connected via social media and immigration,

so the younger generation is more exposed to differences. With this in mind, it would make sense

if the results of the class were not significant because the younger/newer generation is more

aware and not as likely to stereotype as the older generation. As time goes on, it may not be

beneficial to solely test for automaticity in stereotyping. We could also test for how exposed each

student was to different races, culture, and background differences by taking surveys that ask

questions related to how many different things they were exposed to and see if there is a

correlation between high exposure and reaction times to stereotype and automaticity exercises. A

limitation of this experiment would be the sample size because 21 people is not a lot. I feel that

with a bigger sample size of the same age group, you would have a better gist of whether the

newer generation is more tolerant to other differences.


Gender Stereotype Priming in Students

References

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of trait construct and stereotype activation on action. Journal of Personality and Social

Psychology, 71, 230-244.

Bartlett, F. C., & Burt, C. (1933). Remembering: A Study In Experimental And Social

Psychology. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 3, 187-192.

Blair, I., & Banaji, M. (1996). Automatic and controlled processes in stereotype priming. Journal

of Personality and Social Psychology, 70, 1142-1163.

Blair, I., Judd, C., & Fallman, J. (2004). The automaticity of race and afrocentric facial features

in social judgments. Journal of Personality And Social Psychology, 87, 763-778.

Fiske, S., & Taylor, S. (2013). Social Cognition: From Brains to Culture (2nd ed., p. 15).

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Herz, M.F., & Diamantopoulos, A. (2012). Activation of country stereotypes: automaticity,

consonance, and impact. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 41, 400-417.

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young people in Britain. Ethnicities, 1-17.

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Gender Stereotype Priming in Students

Park, S.H., and Kim, H.J. (2015). Assumed Race Moderates Spontaneous Racial Bias In A

Computer-Based Police Simulation. Asian Journal of Social Psychology, 18, 252-257.