Gender Picture Priming: It Works With Denotative and Connotative Primes

Physical objects and words encountered in every-day life evoke social meanings around gender.


Words and images can evoke stereotypic notions about gender. Research indicates that knowledge about the attributes associated with social categories, such as gender, can influence judgments and behaviors toward members of social groups. Even inanimate objects, such as oven mitts or baseball mitts, evoke identities related to masculinity and femininity, and some words, such as engineer or nurse, or power tools and kitchen utensils, activate gender concepts because of their frequency of use by either men or women. Other images, such as a furry kitten or growling dog may also activate gender concepts because of the attributes of the object, such as soft and delicate, or aggressive and strong. This study uses two experiments to examine how images encountered every day evoke social group meaning, and how verbal and visual cues to gender can activate knowledge of gender and influence subsequent cognitive processing.  In both experiments, study participants were shown a series of images or words and asked to submit a response about the gender associated with the image.


Words and images that convey gender conceptseither through association with a stereotype or gender–specific suffixes—conjure male and female images and judgements based on gender.

  • While masculine words were perceived as masculine, they only scored a 2.7 out of 7 on a scale ranking the perceived gender stereotypicality, versus 6.26 out of 7 for feminine words.
  • Feminine occupation words and words with feminine-specific suffixes (like, “-woman”) were found to be strongly associated with women, whereas masculine occupation words and words with male-specific suffixes were less strongly associated with men.
  •  The average rating of a word with “-man” suffix was 2.65, significantly more masculine than the neutral 4.0. Gender-neutral words, words with a “-person” suffix, had an average rating of 3.74.
  • The gender of study participants did not affect how participants viewed the gender association of different images or words.
  • Pictures that connote gender only through stereotypic associations produced significant effects, showing that masculinity and femininity can be activated even by stimuli that are not primarily intended to communicate that knowledge.

In short, pictures and words encountered in every-day life evoke social meanings around gender.


This study consisted of two experiments with undergraduate students in the United States. In the first experiment, 31 female and 30 male undergraduate students ranked gender on a seven-point scale for nine words denoting masculinity, six words denoting femininity, and nine gender-neutral words. They were then given 36 black and white drawings to identify as male and female. In the second experiment, 20 female and 20 male undergraduates participated in a pre-test to create normative rankings of 900 black and white line drawings and photographs. Then, 39 female and 25 male undergraduates ranked the gender of 100 pictures on a seven-point scale.

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