Sex Roles [sers] pp834-sers-464561 April 18, 2003 20:43 Style ﬁle version June 3rd, 2002
Sex Roles, Vol. 48, Nos. 11/12, June 2003 (
The Animal = Male Hypothesis: Children’s and Adults’
Beliefs About the Sex of Non–Sex-Speciﬁc Stuffed Animals
Jennifer R. Lambdin,
Kristen M. Greer,
Kari Selby Jibotian,
Kelly Rice Wood,
and Mykol C. Hamilton
The Animal = Male Hypothesis, a variation of Silveira’s People = Male Hypothesis (Silveira,
1980), was examined. In Study 1, children ages 3–10 years and adults told stories about a
gender-neutral stuffed animal, in Study 2 children ages 5–6 years told stories about 3 neutral
and 3 feminine animals, and in Study 3 children ages 5–7 years told stories about 2 neutral
animals, observed an adult model use feminine pronouns to refer to an animal, then told stories
about 2 more animals. Dependent variables were the pronouns participants used to refer to
the animals and what sex they believed the animals were. Results showed strong evidence
for an animal = male bias in all 3 studies among children and adults of both sexes on both
dependent measures. There were few sex-related differences. The modeling intervention was
not successful in reducing the bias.
KEY WORDS: language and gender; sex bias in language; sexist language; people = male hypothesis;
animal = male hypothesis.
Over the past 30 years, dozens of studies have
demonstrated that masculine generic terms such
as he and man create bias in the perceptions of
adults (e.g., Hamilton, 1988; Martyna, 1978; Moulton,
Robinson, & Elias, 1978) and children (e.g., Hyde,
1984; Switzer, 1990). For instance, many studies show
that masculine terms lead to more male than female
mental imagery (e.g., Hamilton, 1988; Hamilton &
Henley, 1982; Martyna, 1978; Switzer, 1990), oth-
ers reveal that perceivers do not think a woman
ﬁts in a sentence worded in the masculine generic
(e.g., MacKay & Fulkerson, 1979; Martyna, 1978;
Silveira, 1980), and yet others have highlighted con-
cretely harmful effects caused by masculine gener-
ics. The harmful effects are as diverse as lowered
job interest among women (Bem & Bem, 1973), bi-
ased beliefs about who will succeed in occupations
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Present address: University of Kentucky.
To whom correspondence should be addressed at Centre Col-
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(e.g., Hamilton, 1989; Hyde, 1984), and biased deci-
sions about a woman’s guilt in a mock murder trial
(Hamilton, Hunter, & Stuart-Smith, 1994). As Hyde
(1984) stated, “although his may be gender-neutral
in a grammatical sense, it is not gender neutral in a
psychological sense.” (p. 698).
Neutral generics (e.g., person, people, singular
or plural they) and inclusive generics (e.g., men and
women, he or she), according to some of these same
studies and other research, are less male-biased than
are masculine generics. But they are not perfect.
Silveira (1980) asserted a People = Male Hypothe-
sis, claiming that even gender-neutral terms such as
he or she and person are male-biased, in that a male is
thought of as a more typical person than is a female.
Put another way, there is a tendency to assume a per-
son is male unless there is speciﬁc information to the
Hamilton (1991) performed three studies to test
Silveira’s hypothesis. In Study 1, college students
heard one of two unbiased pronoun versions of a sci-
ence ﬁction story that described the lives of people of
the future. The neutral version contained phrases such
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