Gender Picture Priming: It Works with Denotative and Connotative Primes


Lemm, Kristi, Marilyn Dabady, and Mahzarin Banaji. “Gender Picture Priming: It Works with Denotative and Connotative Primes”. Social Cogition 23.3 (2005): , 23, 3, 218-241. Web. Copy at
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When physical objects or words are encountered, to what extent is their primary semantic meaning also accompanied by secondary social category associates of semantic meaning? Does such an effect occur without conscious control over the activation of secondary meaning as is true of primary meaning? Automatic priming of the social categories “female” and “male” was demonstrated in two experiments using picture and word stimuli as primes and targets. Experiment 1 used a mixed–modality priming design to provide a stringent test of priming. Primes were words consistent with gender–stereotypic roles (e.g., mechanic, hairdresser) or words containing gender–specific suffixes (e.g., congressman, congresswomen). Targets were pictures of male and female faces that communicated gender as primary meaning. Even though modalities were mixed, gender priming effects were obtained, with stronger effects with female than male primes. Having established the presence of gender priming with items that denote gender primarily (male/female faces), Experiment 2 included a broader set of pictures, using them both as primes and targets to explore the critical hypothesis that even when gender is not the primary meaning communicated by the picture, that mere association to gender leads to systematic and automatic activation of “maleness” or “femaleness.” Although, as expected, the strongest priming effects were observed with pictures that unambiguously denoted gender, the effect was also present for pictures that merely connoted gender through association (e.g., oven mitt vs. baseball mitt). The results are interpreted as evidence for the importance of social category knowledge in knowing and understanding.

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Last updated on 08/20/2014