Research Uncovers Reduced Consumer Connection with Gender-Neutral Technology
In recent years, gender-neutral technology has become a big trend. It is becoming increasingly important to eliminate gender prejudices and stereotypes from tech-related products and services as technology considering the way tech is embedded into our daily lives. A trend to make new technology gender-neutral has emerged as they become more human-like.
Last year, Apple’s Siri included a gender-neutral option, and more recent gender-neutral interactive products like Q and Replika have also hit the market. When asked about their gender identities, the AI chatbots ChatGPT and Google Bard both respond with “I do not have a gender.”
Research on Gender and Object Connections
To avoid reinforcing cultural preconceptions, the United Nations and the World Economic Forum have issued statements against gender-specific technology. This opinion is shared by Ashley Martin, an associate professor of organizational behavior at Stanford Graduate School of Business. People “tend to stereotype their gendered objects in very traditional ways,” the author claims.
It might seem like a straightforward answer to completely remove gender, but Martin’s study shows that gender is crucial to how people relate with objects, particularly those intended to portray human characteristics.
Growing Movement for Gender-Neutral Technologies
Martin recently looked at how individuals react when actual or hypothetical objects are given a gender or no gender in a study she co-wrote with Malia Mason from Columbia University and had published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.
In one study, Amazon.com reviews were examined to determine how consumers felt about the anthropomorphization and gendering of robotic vacuums. Participants in two other tests were asked to rate how attached they were to male, female, and gender-neutral variations of a computerized voice assistant and a self-driving vehicle called “Miuu.”
Exploring User Reactions: Assigning Gender or No Gender
Martin and Mason discovered that throughout the experiments, a user’s gender boosted their attachment to these products and desire in purchasing them.
In comparison to voice assistants with male or female voices, participants claimed they would be less likely to buy one with a genderless voice. These studies suggest that gender labeling a product may increase sales or increase patron loyalty. Martin and Mason write that “Gender facilitates owner-attachment to devices, an outcome that companies spend billions of dollars annually chasing.”
Gendering Technology and Societal Stereotypes
However, while highlighting gender may be useful for marketing, it can also promote damaging or out-of-date ideas about identity and power. By emphasizing gender stereotypes, Martin claims, “we are probably reinforcing men’s greater power in society.”
Men’s stereotypes, such those of dominance and competition, are valued more highly than stereotypes of women. Martin says that while men are perceived as being kind, friendly, and affectionate, “in leadership domains, those are the qualities we see and want in our leaders.” These are excellent traits, but leadership does not place as much weight on them. Then, products that have been given a gender are projected with these characteristics.
Challenges of Creating Gender-Neutral Objects
People “describe male and female voice assistants in completely different ways,” according to Martin’s study. While female voice assistants are praised for their helpfulness, male voice assistants are praised for their effectiveness and speed in locating information. Martin asserts that giving a gender to a gender-neutral tool like ChatGPT would unquestionably change how users see and interact with it.
Martin’s research, though, also ran into difficulties making gender-neutral products. For instance, participants continued to assign a gender to an object even when its name, like Miuu, was meant to seem gender-neutral. They assumed Miuu was either a “he” or “she.” “Even if I removed gendered information, people still use gender,” Martin explained. The fact that many people have asked ChatGPT about its gender further emphasizes the significance of gender to individuals.
Leveraging Anthropomorphism to Challenge Stereotypes
Martin does, however, find a benefit to anthropomorphism, noting that it “offers a chance to reduce or reverse stereotypes.”
Women who hold executive roles in businesses or who instruct STEM subjects help to dispel harmful preconceptions about women. Similar to this, anthropomorphized devices might be developed to play roles that defy gender or sex preconceptions, such a male robot helping with nursing or a female robot doing math.
The Evolving Landscape of Gender-Neutral Tech
Martin hopes that future research will explore methods to enhance people’s attachment to objects without relying on gender norms. Some progress has already been made by challenging gender stereotypes and gender identity.
Martin strongly feels that we are going towards a culture that is increasingly erasing gender, and whether these techniques will eventually abolish or at least diminish its cognitive influence is still an open subject.