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Original Research ARTICLE Provisionally accepted The full-text will be published soon. Notify me

Front. Psychol. | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02615

The comprehension of metaphorical descriptions conveying gender stereotypes. An exploratory study.

  • 1University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, Italy
  • 2Department of Biomedical, Metabolic and Neural Sciences, University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, Italy

In this adjective elicitation study, we investigated the comprehension of Italian sentences where a metaphorically intended noun (e.g., butterfly, nightmare) was used to describe a gender-stereotyped or stereotype-neutral individual (e.g., flute player, engineer, person). Specifically, we explored whether and to what extent meaning availability and the affective valence of these metaphorical descriptions (e.g., This flute player is a butterfly) varied as a function of the stereotypical or stereotype-neutral nature of the sentential subject, the male vs. female direction of the stereotype, and the grammatical gender marked in the subject noun phrase. Our goals were to test whether the meaning of metaphorical descriptions was equally available regardless of the presence and direction of the gender stereotype and of the grammatical gender of the subject, and whether the adjectives expressing the sentential meaning had the same affective valence no matter who was the subject. The results showed that it was easier (i.e., more adjectives came up to mind) to express the sentence meaning when the sentences described male stereotyped individuals than female stereotyped or stereotype-neutral individuals. The adjective valence did not significantly change according to the subject type. Participants produced adjectives with the wrong grammatical gender more often for males in stereotypically female occupations than for females in stereotypically male occupations. These gender errors occurred also when the sentences described females engaged in stereotypically female occupations. Overall, these results extend to metaphorical descriptions previous findings showing that a social group (males) is seen as more normative than another (females), and acts as the unmarked normative group.

Keywords: metaphor, Gender stereotype, Grammatical Gender, Comprehension, Adjective

Received: 27 Jun 2019; Accepted: 05 Nov 2019.

Copyright: © 2019 Borelli and Cacciari. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: PhD. Eleonora Borelli, University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, Modena, 41121, Emilia-Romagna, Italy,