Gender is not simply a matter of black and white, or is it?

Semin G. R., Palma T., ACARTÜRK C., Dziuba A.

PHILOSOPHICAL TRANSACTIONS OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY B-BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES, vol.373, no.1752, 2018 (SCI-Expanded) identifier identifier identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Article
  • Volume: 373 Issue: 1752
  • Publication Date: 2018
  • Doi Number: 10.1098/rstb.2017.0126
  • Journal Indexes: Science Citation Index Expanded (SCI-EXPANDED), Scopus
  • Keywords: grounding gender, colour and gender categorization, eye tracking, disambiguating amorphous stimuli, HUMAN-SKIN COLOR, SOCIALLY SITUATED COGNITION, SEXUAL SELECTION, DIMORPHISM, EVOLUTION
  • Middle East Technical University Affiliated: Yes


Based on research in physical anthropology, we argue that brightness marks the abstract category of gender, with light colours marking the female gender and dark colours marking the male gender. In a set of three experiments, we examine this hypothesis, first in a speeded gender classification experiment with male and female names presented in black and white. As expected, male names in black and female names in white are classified faster than the reverse gender-colour combinations. The second experiment relies on a gender classification task involving the disambiguation of very briefly appearing non-descript stimuli in the form of black and white 'blobs'. The former are classified predominantly as male and the latter as female names. Finally, the processes driving light and dark object choices for males and females are examined by tracking the number of fixations and their duration in an eye-tracking experiment. The results reveal that when choosing for a male target, participants look longer and make more fixations on dark objects, and the same for light objects when choosing for a female target. The implications of these findings, which repeatedly reveal the same data patterns across experiments with Dutch, Portuguese and Turkish samples for the abstract category of gender, are discussed. The discussion attempts to enlarge the subject beyond mainstream models of embodied grounding.