Gender Research

The CITEC working group “Applied Social Psychology and Gender Research", headed by Professor Dr. Friederike Eyssel, was founded in 2009. A central research objective of the group is to investigate the perception of gender roles in the development of robots and other technical systems that are intuitive to operate. The working group empirically demonstrates how gender is culturally constructed, and examines what role the category of gender plays when it comes to using robots and other technical systems. The group also examines the social perception of humans and machines – how, for instance, typically human characteristics such as emotions get ascribed to non-human entities like robots or virtual characters. In addition to this, we investigate how and when people dehumanize or sexually objectify others. To study these phenomena, eye tracking is used, among other methods. The working group also places an important focus on classic topics in socio-psychological gender research. Researchers study such questions, for instance, of how threating someone’s masculinity or femininity impacts the attitudes and behavior of the person being threatened. Furthermore, we analyze how gender stereotypes influence language perception and investigate the factors that lead to sexual harassment.

Ascribing Gender Stereotypes
Both women and men are subject to the influence of gender stereotypes – these stereotypes can be so powerful, in fact, that they even influence how humans perceive robots. The working group headed by Prof. Eyssel was able to show, for instance, that when robots are assigned a visually generated gender role, this gender role in turn influences the user’s expectations of the robot. Its appearance thus connotes a kind of set of instructions for operating the robot. Yet, expectations of gender roles do not inevitably have to be fulfilled. Robots that look stereotypically female, for instance, could be used to a greater degree for training in technical occupational fields, and “male” robots could be preferentially used for activities primarily associated with female gender roles, such as housekeeping. In this way, stereotypical expectations could be broken down. In attempting to defy gender-stereotypical expectations, the group had a “female” robot explain typically “male” learning tasks, and had a “male” robot explain stereotypically “female” tasks. It turned out that when the robot’s gender did not correspond to the stereotypical gender association of the task, this lead to a greater willingness for future learning interactions. This knowledge could be used, on the one hand, to facilitate the introduction of robots into daily life, and on the other hand, to address gender stereotypes in a targeted way.

Gender Stereotypes, Eye Tracking, and Language Processing
At the interface of gender research, psycholinguistics, and social robotics, researchers are investigating how gender stereotypes influence language processing using eye tracking in the context of the “visual world paradigm” (Cooper, 1974). Using this paradigm, the working group also examines to what extent robots assigned a “gender” are then associated with gender-stereotypical activities and occupations, and whether the same gender stereotypes used for humans are also activated for robots. 

Sexual Objectification and Intimidation
Sexual objectification is understood as an act that reduces a person to their body and/or exploits that person as a sexual resource (Bartky, 1990). The working group examines the causes behind this phenomenon in their research on sexual objectification. It has been demonstrated that sexual objectification fulfills functions at the level of the individual, interpersonal relations, and society at large. For instance, experiments have shown that many men whose masculinity was threatened more strongly sexual objectified women in order to feel more masculine about themselves again. The group is currently studying whether women whose femininity is threatened also more strongly sexually objectify the people around them.

Sexual Harassment and Sexism
In their research on sexual harassment and sexism, the working group attempts to elucidate both the behavior of the perpetrator of sexual harassment or sexism, but also the behavior of the person targeted. In this dynamic, personal characteristics (e.g. misogynist attitudes, learned stereotypes, acceptances of myths around sexual harassment) and situational variables (e.g. interpersonal power relations) both play a significant role. The working group addresses this dynamic from the side of the perpetrator by researching the motives that underlie sexual harassment and sexist behavior. From the perspective of the victim of such actions, the group is particularly interested in what circumstances people experiencing sexual harassment or sexism can actively respond and act to protect themselves. In addition to this, the working group investigates the circumstances in which assertions of discrimination or sexual harassment are considered to be believable by third parties, and what the chances of success are and how successful the victim might be in remedying the situation. 


Prof. Dr. Friederike Eyssel

Room: 2.222
Tel: 0521-106-12044