Are ‘person’ or ‘people’ gender-neutral concepts? New study finds male tilt in analysis of billions of words

The term “person” or “people”, despite its definition, is not gender neutral when it comes to how we use these terms. In fact, we tend to prioritize men when referring to people in general, shows a new study by a team of psychology and linguistics researchers.

The findings, which are reported in the journal The progress of scienceare based on an analysis of more than 630 billion words retrieved from web pages on the internet, using artificial intelligence to measure what words mean based on how they are used by millions of individuals.

“Many forms of bias, such as the tendency to associate ‘science’ with men more than women, have been studied before, but there has been much less work on how we view a ‘person,'” said April Bailey, a postdoctoral fellow at New York University. Department of Psychology and the main author of the thesis.

“Our results show that even when we use gender-neutral terms, we prioritize men over women,” adds co-author Adina Williams, a researcher at Meta AI and a graduate of NYU’s doctoral program in linguistics.

Bias at such a basic level – our word choices – are potentially consistent, the researchers note.

“Perceptions of ‘people’ form the basis of many societal decisions and policy-making,” states Andrei Cimpian, a professor at New York University’s Department of Psychology and the paper’s senior author. “Because men and women are each about half the species, prioritizing men in our common idea of ​​a ‘person’ creates injustice for women in decisions based on that idea.”

The research group investigated the meaning of words by considering how they are used by individuals. Specifically, the team studied how we use words that express the term “person” and its gender-specific equivalents, “woman” and “man”.

To test whether we are likely to think of men more often than women when writing about “humans”, the team used artificial intelligence algorithms that learn the meaning of words based on how they are used, based on a collected language archive. of the non-profit Common Crawl in May 2017. This archive included more than 630 billion mostly English-language words that appeared on nearly three billion web pages.

The researchers considered how the meaning of the word is related to the context and use of the word. For example, if you hear “every morning Joe boiled water in the balak for tea”, you might be guessing that “balak” means something like “kettle”, even though “balak” is unfamiliar, because the words next to “balak” “(” tea “,” boiled “and” water “) also often occur together with” kettle “.

In it The progress of science In three studies, the researchers examined the meaning of “person” and related words (eg “people”) by taking into account adjacent words – the linguistic context.

In the first study, they compared the similarity in meaning (initiated via linguistic context) between words for people (eg “individual”) and words for men (eg “he” and “man”) with the similarity in meaning between words for people and words for women (eg “she” and “woman”).

They found that words for humans were used more equally, and were thus more similar in their meaning, to words for men than words for women – and by a statistically significant margin. In other words, the collective term “people” overlapped more with the term “men” than with the term “women” in the words studied.

In the second study, instead of focusing on words for people, the team examined words that denote features that are central to this concept – specific words for characteristics which usually describes what people are like. They compared hundreds of catchwords identified in previous research as common descriptors of humans (eg, “extroverts,” “analytics,” and “superstitious”) with the same lists of words for women and men from the paper’s first study.

They found that the meaning of these descriptive words in the second study was generally more similar to the meaning of words for men than the meaning of words for women, with a statistically significant difference between the two. That is, common words that describe what people are like (eg, “extroverts”) are also used more in the same way as words for men than words for women.

In a third study, the researchers studied the use of verb – A reasonable area for exploration given the initial results. Specifically, if the collective term “people” overlaps more with the term “men” than with the term “women”, words that describe what people do and what is done to them (eg “love”, “irritate”) may also be more likely in their contextual sense to resemble words denoting men than words denoting women.

In this study, they compared the similarities of meaning between more than 250 verbs that describe actions performed by humans (eg, “facilitate,” “smile,” and “threaten”) and words for men vs. men. words for women.

As with the second study, which focused on common words that describe how people are, words that describe what people do (eg “running”) were also used more similarly for men than words for women – a difference that was again statistical significant.


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