Sexism affects robots

The Journal of Applied Social Psychology has just pubished a study that is both bizarre and profound. It reports on two experiments that show gender stereotyping extends to robots.

(S)he’s Got the Look: Gender Stereotyping of Robots

F. Eyssel and F. Hegel

Journal of Applied Social Psychology

Previous research on gender effects in robots has largely ignored the role of facial cues. We fill this gap in the literature by experimentally investigating the effects of facial gender cues on stereotypical trait and application ascriptions to robots. As predicted, the short-haired male robot was perceived as more agentic than was the long-haired female robot, whereas the female robot was perceived as more communal than was the male counterpart. Analogously, stereotypically male tasks were perceived more suitable for the male robot, relative to the female robot, and vice versa. Taken together, our findings demonstrate that gender stereotypes, which typically bias social perceptions of humans, are even applied to robots. Implications for design-related decisions are discussed.

Sadly, the study is locked behind a paywall, which is a pity because the discussion about “implications for design-related decisions” is a sort of parallel-world look into android gender politics.

The authors discuss whether it is better to create gender free robots to fight social stereotypes or whether we should create robots that comply with society’s prejudices to make them more acceptable.

Personally, I’m all for genderqueer robots. That would really throw a spanner in the works. Or a works in the spanner.

Link to locked study (via @hysell)

11 thoughts on “Sexism affects robots”

  1. Some people are of the opinion all these studies will eventually be offered for free. Researchgate and all that. It is too bad this isn’t free online. Fascinating.

    A techie friend of mine insisted that advanced robots have “feelings”. After I was done laughing and listened to his rambling for a while, I started to get dizzy. Those guys can be convincing. Another strange idea.

    Having said that, some people are up in arms saying that Siri is sexist. I haven’t seen this myself although I did notice that devices like the iPad on autocorrect are far more likely to recognize the name of baseball players than the names of evolution scientists and female pioneers. 😉

  2. From a quick reading of the study, here’s what they did:

    They showed 30 German undergraduates pictures of a long-haired robot (stereotypically male) and a short-haired robot (stereotypically female).

    Then they asked them questions about how they perceived the two robots and what tasks they’d assign to them.

    The participants tended to perceive the long-haired robot as female; see it as affable, friendly, polite and affectionate; assign it household tasks; and want it to help with verbal tasks.

    They perceived the short-haired robot as male; see it as assertive, dominant, determined and authoritative; assign it technical tasks; and want it to help with mathematical tasks.

    Simply put, they gender-stereotyped the robot.

    1. Can you (or someone else) give us the exact citation? I have database access to the journal, including the newest issues, but can’t find the article.

  3. First of all, Graham is right. They made the robots sppear to have different sexes (gendre actually pertains purely to the psychological, not the physical) and thus made the study completely irrelevant.

    As for all the offensive drivel surrounding the boring study, here’s a good sociological question: why do we think it’s wrong for men and women to be different? This self-evidently both defines and therefore perpetuates disrespect, as does labelling it “sexism”. The real issue is the fact that one role was, until recently, given less respect by society. You seem to believe differences should cease to exist instead of different people respecting one another. Such differences have zoological roots, let alone anthropological, that must be understood before respect and equality can truly follow. I’m not even referring to different roles, here. It’s fine if a man wants a job that used to be considered “womanly”, such as teaching children. Again, here’s the relevant question: why is teaching children less valued by society than, say, designing guns?

    Here’s a relevant biological question for you: do you really think all social differences between men and women stem from social stereotyping? You know we have different bodies, right? Perhaps it’s time for some of you “mindhacks” to get out of the lab and/or away from the keyboard, if you take my meaning.

  4. It would certainly be remarkable if, perhaps uniquely in the animal kingdom, human males and females showed no instinctive behavioural differences, but that is not the subject of this research. It simply showed that humans are prepared to ascribe robots a gender, with the human implications that implies. This sounds as profound as thinking store mannequins have attractive feminine or masculine figures that make clothes more appealing, or that children’s toys can be male or female and dress or act accordingly. Robots are immediately recognised as made by humans, so it could be expected that whoever made a robot look female did so to give users cues to its purpose or nature.

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