Friday, 29 May 2015

Gendered Numbers

Both animate and inanimate objects are associated with a gender, products are associated with a gender depending on the question whether more men or women are seen using it more often but also depending on the perceived quality … such as the so-called gentle (hence) feminine product. Gender is also associated with "highly abstract and ostensibly nonsocial concepts", such as numbers.

Historically, numbers have been linked to a gender for a long time and there are examples from ancient Greece and Chinese philosophy. Traditionally, odd numbers used to be seen as masculine, even numbers as feminine. While some may argue that this is just an arbitrary ascription, some scholars say that "representations of abstract concepts must be extrapolated from concrete ones, even when there is little superficial similarity between the two". In other words, there is more to it. And that is where it gets interesting.

In their first study, Wilkie and Bodenhausen investigated gender connotations of "1" and "2". They presented a US-American sample foreign names, i.e. ambiguous stimuli and expected them to be rated more masculine when presented with the number "1" than when paired with the number "2". Results showed that, as predicted, Bulgarian names paired with "1" were rated as more masculine (M = 5.51 vs. M = 5.17). The same was true for Spanish names paired with "1" (M = 4.51 vs. M = 4.29).

In a second study, participants had to evaluate the Bulgarian names paired with three-digit numbers with digits that were either completely even or completely odd. Again there was a tendency to rate names presented with odd numbers as more masculine (M = 5.43 vs. 5.15). In their third study, the stimuli were babies' faces (that are often ambiguous) instead of names, presented with numbers. Here too, babies were more often rated as masculine when presented with the number "1" than with "2" (M = 3.79 vs. M = 3.47). The authors come to the conclusion that "numbers are indeed gendered".

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And now for something completely different. Jazz Numbers (1969): WATCH
For more about the "free jazz, Yellow Submarine-style surrealistic animation" see: Open Culture

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- Wilkie, J. E. B. & Bodenhausen, G. V. (2011). Are Numbers Gendered? Journal of Experimental Psychology, 1-5
- photograph of Veruschka von Lehndorff, Max Brunell, Carlo Ortiz and a beautiful Fiat Dino (1969) via

This posting originally appeared on Science on Google+ on 15 March 2015.