There is evidence showing that stereotypical gender associated with certain occupations and characteristics is incorporated into speakers’ representations, and that such information is difficult to suppress during on-line language processing (Cacciari & Padovani, 2007; Oakhill, Garnham, & Reynolds, 2005). However, relatively little is known about the neural correlates involved in, and the time course of, the processing of such information. Existing studies have shown that different neural processes may engage in the processing of gender stereotypes (Irmen, Holt, & Weisbrod, 2010; Osterhout, Bersick, & McLaughlin, 1997; White, et al., 2009). The aim of the present ERP study was to investigate the activation of gender stereotypes in Italian using a paradigm adapted from Banaji and Hardin (1996). Specifically, our goal was to establish how early such information becomes available to the reader. Participants were presented with a prime, such as: (1) masculine stereotypical gender nouns (conducente “driver”); (2) feminine stereotypical gender nouns (insegnante “teacher”); (3) masculine biological gender nouns without associated stereotypes (pensionato “pensioner”); (4) feminine biological gender nouns without associated stereotypes (passeggera “passenger”); or (5) bi-genders without associated stereotypes (conoscente “acquaintance”). Each prime was followed by either a masculine or a feminine personal pronoun (Lui “he” vs. Lei “she”). Participants decided whether the pronoun was masculine or feminine, while their RTs and ERPs were recorded. Participants were faster to judge the gender of the pronoun (as masculine or feminine) when it was preceded by a gender-congruent prime, compared to a gender-incongruent one. This was found in biological and stereotypical conditions. The ERP results suggest two different effects. First, a larger negativity between 200 and 380 ms peaking around 300 ms (most prominent across frontal/central sites) was observed when masculine and feminine pronouns were preceded by biological gender-incongruent vs. biological gender-congruent primes. When primes had a stereotypical connotation, this negativity was found only for masculine pronouns preceded by stereotypical gender-incongruent primes compared to stereotypical gender-congruent ones. Second, an increased positivity between 380 and 500 ms peaking around 420 ms (most prominent across frontal/central sites) was observed when pronouns followed biological, but not stereotypical, gender-incongruent primes. Our results for biological gender violations appear to be comparable to those reported by Barber and Carreiras (2003), who observed negativity around 400 ms for gender-incongruent conditions in word pairs. Our seemingly early and more frontal effect could be due to the use of function words (pronouns) rather than content ones used by Barber and Carreiras (2003). The positivity around 420 ms for biological gender violations appears to be in line with the P300 effect, observed in Barber and Carreiras (2003) together with N400 which preceded it. Crucially, our findings provide further support for online effects of stereotypical gender in language comprehension. The presence of a large negativity for the masculine but not feminine pronoun suggests that when the gender stereotype conveyed by the prime was feminine, the brain registered a mismatch in response to a stereotype-violating pronoun (insegnante “teacher” – lui “he”). In sum, male and female gender-stereotypes affected the processing of pronouns differently.
Electrtophysiological investigation of biological and stereotypical gender violations in a gender-marked language / Anna Siyanova, Chanturia; Pesciarelli, Francesca; Cacciari, Cristina. - (2011), pp. 11-11.