New psychology research finds people feel more attached to technology based on gender

A new study published in Journal of Experimental Social Psychology questions the implications of gendered technology. The findings suggest that gendered technology reinforces harmful gender stereotypes while also increasing individual love for anthropomorphic technology. The latter resulted in marketing opportunities for tech companies.

Researchers Ashley Martin and Malia Mason claim that 90% of virtual assistants are initially programmed with a female gender binary. This fits with the negative stereotype of women as compatible and serviceable. If the consequence of gendered technology is to support negative gender stereotypes, why do companies continue to produce gendered technology? The research team hypothesized that gendered technology creates affection, which increases individual desire for these products.

An initial study mined Amazon customer reviews for evidence of gendered technology coupled with attachment language. The researchers analyzed 9,767 reviews. “We tested whether reviewers who referred to their anthropomorphized gap with a gendered pronoun were (i) more likely to use attachment language in their reviews and (ii) rated their gaps higher than reviewers who did not refer to their gaps with gender terms,” ​​they explained.

Martin and Mason then conducted four separate studies with a total of 1,013 participants (mean age 36 and 55% female). Participants were asked about feelings towards technology based on gender.

First, participants were asked to talk about their robotic vacuum cleaners and rate their feelings from indifference to love. A second group had to describe the virtual assistants with gender and the assistants without gender, and were then asked to rate these descriptions on how human they were.

Finally, participants were presented with one of three options, a new female-gendered car, a male-gendered new car, or a non-gendered new car. They were then asked to rate the humanness of the car, and the researchers assessed gender stereotypes associated with gendered cars.

The results of these studies found that when participants owned or thought about technology in terms of gender, they were more likely to view the object as more human. If they owned a gender-specific technology item, participants felt more attached to the item. Gendered cues also led to more negative gender stereotyping. Amazon’s survey of reviewers found that when people gendered their products, they used more attributive language.

The research team argues that companies produce and will continue to use gendered technology because it increases customer attachment to the product. The promise of adherence can also be an incentive to purchase a product. Martin and Mason state, “Our sense is that the benefits of technological device equality are mostly accrued by the companies that sell them while the costs (ie, stereotypes) are shared by society at large.”

The researchers acknowledge that the participants were all from the United States, and it is possible that these results may not apply to all cultures where gendered technology exists. Also, the study focused on attachment as a variable. It is possible that other variables influence the purchase of gender technology – for example, price or corporate loyalty.

This research supports a move toward de-gendering technology while also investigating other mechanisms for increasing technology attachment. Indeed, future research will need to demonstrate the benefits of genderless technology to drive change in the business sector.

The study, “Hey Siri, I love you: People feel more attached to technology based on gender,” was authored by Ashley Martin and Malia Mason.

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