Not even robots immune to sexism

A study by the Journal of Applied Social Psychology has found that even robots are affected by gender stereotyping.

A study by the Journal of Applied Social Psychology has found that even robots are affected by gender stereotyping.

The Maschinenmensch from 1927 film Metropolis. (Credit: UFA)

It seems that even when the only difference between two robots is the facial signifiers that designate gender, people will assume that the "male" robot is more capable and proactive, whereas the "female" is more nurturing and friendly.

The study "(S)he's Got the Look: Gender Stereotyping of Robots", by junior professor Dr Friederike Eyssel and Dr Frank Hegel of Bielefeld University in Germany, used Flobi robots to determine how people perceived their capabilities based solely on longer or shorter hair and differently shaped lips.

The abstract of the study states:

Previous research on gender effects in robots has largely ignored the role of facial cues. We fill this gap in the literature by experimentally investigating the effects of facial gender cues on stereotypical trait and application ascriptions to robots. As predicted, the short-haired male robot was perceived as more agentic than was the long-haired female robot, whereas the female robot was perceived as more communal than was the male counterpart. Analogously, stereotypically male tasks were perceived more suitable for the male robot, relative to the female robot, and vice versa. Taken together, our findings demonstrate that gender stereotypes, which typically bias social perceptions of humans, are even applied to robots.

The robot heads were shown to 60 participants, who determined that the shorter-haired "male" robot was more suited to tasks such as repairs and guard duties, while the longer-haired "female" robot would be better suited to domestic chores and caring for children or the elderly.

The study went on to discuss whether it would be better to create genderless robots or gendered robots in order to break down the stereotype barriers. We're thinking the latter. What do you think?

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