Stereotyping in the digital age:Male language is “ingenious,” female language is “beautiful” – and popular

Meier, Tabea and Boyd, Ryan L and Mehl, Matthias R. and Milek, Anne and Pennebaker, James W. and Martin, Mike and Wolf, Markus and Horn, Andrea B. (2020) Stereotyping in the digital age:Male language is “ingenious,” female language is “beautiful” – and popular. PLoS ONE, 15 (12). ISSN 1932-6203

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The huge power for social influence seen in digital media may come with the risk of intensifying common societal biases, such as those based on gender and age stereotypes. Speaker’s gender and age also behaviorally manifest in language use, and language may be a powerful tool to shape impact. The present study took the example of TED, a highly successful knowledge dissemination platform, to study online influence. The goal of this study was to investigate how gender- and age-linked language styles – beyond chronological age and identified gender – link to talk impact. In a pre-registered study, we collected transcripts of TED Talks along with their impact measures, i.e. views and ratios of positive and negative talk ratings, from the TED website. We scored TED Speakers’ language (N = 1,095) with gender- and age-morphed language metrics to obtain measures of female versus male, and younger versus more senior language styles. Contrary to our expectations and to the vast literature on gender stereotypes, more female language was linked to higher impact in terms of quantity, i.e. more talk views, and this was particularly the case among talks with a lot of views. Regarding quality of impact, language signatures of gender and age predicted different types of positive and negative ratings above and beyond main effects of speaker’s gender and age. The differences in ratings seemed to reflect common stereotype contents of warmth (e.g., “beautiful” for female, “courageous” for female and senior language) versus competence (e.g., “ingenious”, “informative” for male language). The results shed light on how stereotypical verbal behavior may contribute to social evaluations. They also illuminate how, within new digital social contexts, female language might be uniquely rewarded and thereby an underappreciated but highly effective tool for social influence.

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02 Dec 2020 16:25
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16 Sep 2023 02:14