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A research from the University of Granada shows that nouns are processed faster if their gender is the same than that of the person who pronounces them

Spanish version: sl.ugr.es/nombres

French version: sl.ugr.es/nombres_FR

The research has analyzed the reaction of the human brain when people of different gender pronounce masculine or feminine words

The University of Granada (UGR) has determined in a recent study that male nouns are processed faster by the brain if the voice that pronounces them is that of a man, while female nouns are processed more easily if they are said by a woman.

Alba Casado, a psychologist from the UGR and researcher at the Mind, Brain and Behavior Research Center (CIMCYC, from its abbreviation in Spanish) belonging to the UGR, is the author of this research, which she has carried out using an electroencephalogram. With it, she has studied the reaction of the human brain to the emission of masculine or feminine words related to people, pronounced by women voices as well as by men ones.

The research was carried out with the participation of 16 women during a stay in the University of Lille 3, France. The results, contrasted with other studies in men, indicate that this evidence could have applications in the learning of foreign languages.

The researcher, Alba Casado, has indicated in an article signed with professor Angèle Brunellière that “it would be productive to relate the feminine words with women voices and the masculine words with men voices in order to strengthen the learning of those concepts in a natural way, thus taking advantage of the intrinsic connections between the concepts of sex and gender”.

In the study, the participants watched a silent film that they had to summarize, while the sound of 5 men and 5 women was heard in the background, saying in French the nouns for “male singer” (chanteur) and “female singer” (chanteuse), based on the principle that Spanish and French use masculine as “neutral gender”.

The test was divided into four blocks, in a real communication context, in which the so-called Mismatch Negativity (MMN) response was measured by introducing a “strange word” in each block. After the research, it has been determined that if a woman pronounces a female noun, the listener processes it more quickly than if the same word is pronounced by a man. Unconsciously, a series of words that correspond to the gender of the speaker are pre-activated.

It has been proven that the masculine grammatical gender functions as a “neutral gender”, comprehending the generic representation of entities, persons or animals. This way, the word “cantante” (“singer”, in Spanish, which uses the same word for both a male and a female singer), would represent both genders, at least when processed by women.

Contact:

Alba Casado

Mind, Brain and Behavior Research Center, UGR

E-mail: albam.casado@gmail.com