Language, Gender, & Cognition

Spring 1997 Graduate Seminar
Psychology 607, J. Freyd
Mondays 13:00-14:50, 156 Straub

Course Outline

Do men and women use language differently? Do men and women think differently from one another? These are popular topics in current culture. Although we will acknowledge these questions, the primary focus of this seminar is on a different set of empirical questions that are often confused with the first set: What, if any, are the ways in which language reflects and perpetuates sexism. And if the language we hear and speak does play a role in supporting sexism, can we uncover the psychological mechanism mediating this relationship? That is, how do facts about (sexist) gender representation in language impact cognition and ultimately social behavior? In consciously changing language do we subvert oppression and if so what are the causal (and presumably largely unconscious) mechanisms that then support social change? To approach these questions we will explore basic facts about gender representation in language, and then delve into an understanding of the cognitive processes and mental representations that may be impacted by the sexism in language. We will evaluate the empirical evidence linking sexism in language to biases in mental imagery and memory. We will articulate a scientific psychology research agenda for exploring the unknown in this area. If we have time we may even ask what role language and cognition have in perpetuating the popular belief that men are from Mars and women are from Venus.

Course Materials

Jennifer Freyd, 23 May 97