Processing definitional and stereotypical gender in reference resolution: Evidence from eye-movements

Hamutal Kreiner, Patrick Sturt, Simon Garrod

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Readers immediately slow down when an anaphor (e.g. herself) refers to an antecedent that mismatches in stereotypical gender (e.g. minister). The mismatch-cost has been attributed to a clash between the gender of the pronoun and the gender associated with the stereotypical role noun. However, the nature of such stereotypical gender is still controversial; according to the mental models approach it is inferred from world knowledge, while according to a lexical view it is stored as part of the lexical representation. We report two eye-tracking experiments designed to investigate the processing of stereotypical gender. In these experiments stereotypical nouns (e.g. minister) are contrasted with definitional nouns (e.g. king) in which gender information is part of the definition of the word. Experiment 1 shows that in anaphora sentences, where the role noun is presented earlier than the reflexive that conveys gender information, stereotypical and definitional gender nouns lead to a similar mismatch-cost. Experiment 2 shows that in cataphora sentences, where the reflexive precedes the stereotypical noun, a mismatch-cost is exhibited only for definitional gender nouns. These results indicate that stereotypical gender can be overridden when gender is specified by prior discourse, unlike lexically defined gender. We discuss the differences between these noun types and their implications for the representation and processing of stereotypical gender.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)239-261
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Memory and Language
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2008
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We acknowledge the contribution of Peter Ward, who collected the data for the stereotypical gender norms in Glasgow University as part of a postgraduate project. We thank Christoph Scheepers, for helpful comments on earlier versions of this paper and Tessa Warren and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful reviews. Remaining errors are our own. Various portions of this research were presented at the 2005, AMLaP Conference, in Ghent, Belgium and at the 2006, CUNY Conference, in NY, USA. We thank the audiences of these conferences, in particular Fernanda Ferreira, for their helpful comments. The research was supported by an ESRC (Economic and Social Research Council) grant awarded to Patrick Sturt and Simon Garrod.


  • Anaphora
  • Cataphora
  • Inference
  • Stereotypical gender

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Artificial Intelligence


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