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Is the generic pronoun he still comprehended as excluding women?

MEGAN M. MILLER and LORI E. JAMES
The American Journal of Psychology
Vol. 122, No. 4 (Winter 2009), pp. 483-496
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/27784423
Page Count: 14
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Is the generic pronoun he still comprehended as excluding women?
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Abstract

We investigated whether the use of he as a generic masculine (GM) pronoun affects comprehension. Participants read sentences containing GM or sex-specific pronouns and indicated whether each sentence could refer to a female. GM sentences were less accurately interpreted than sex-specific sentences, indicating that the sex-specific function of masculine pronouns dominates in comprehension. We also varied sentence antecedents, and participants made fewer errors on sentences with predominantly female than predominantly male or neutral antecedents. In another experiment, we tested male and female participants under conditions of time pressure. Participants of both sexes evidenced the error pattern of Experiment 1. Findings support the hypothesis that GM pronouns reduce the likelihood of thoughts of females in what are intended to be non–sex-specific instances.

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