It has been said that a human infant can recognise gender from as young as six months old. However, as human development continues gender attribution ends up being applied to neutral objects such as clothes, toys and even actions, although these associations are more prominent in men.
Gender attributions have now been suggested to extend to numbers, whereby people will perceive an odd number to be masculine and women in particular view an even number to be feminine. Research conducted by James Wilkie and Galen Bodenhausen for the journal Frontiers in Psychology attempted to study this phenomenon by focusing on whether people will attach a gender to numbers, if they will show an emotional preference for certain numbers and if the gender of the participants affect their gender associations.
“Overall, the present results point to the potency of gender as a reference point for understanding and conceptualizing the world around us,” the researchers wrote. “Even something as basic and abstract as number parity can carry connotations of gender. Gender research has often been marginalized and treated as a specialty niche of lesser importance, but gender is fundamental to the human mind. The present findings underscore the pervasiveness of gender in our lives. Even our numbers are gendered.”
One hundred and nineteen participants were recruited for the experiment, in which their single digit number associations were tested. As an additional research question, the experimenters also wanted to see whether the participants would also associate typically masculine or feminine traits with odd or even numbers.
As anticipated, participants predominantly perceived odd numbers to be masculine and even numbers to be feminine. However, more interestingly, they also associated odd numbers with stereotypical male traits such as “autonomous” and even numbers with stereotypical female traits such as “nurturing”.
Due to these associations it was also reported that participants viewed even numbers as “nicer”. This effect was shown throughout both genders, however it was found to be more prominent in females.
In order to see whether these gender attributions extended past single digits, the researchers conducted a follow-up experiment that employed the same method as the first. For this follow-up study, 196 participants were used and the results revealed that double odd numbers (like 59) and double even numbers (like 24) were both perceived as overly masculine, particularly by the male participants who appeared to view any large number as male irrespective of whether it was odd or even.
“Comparisons between even and odd numbers consistently revealed that odd numbers seem more masculine than feminine, but the tendency to see even numbers as more feminine than masculine was only consistently found among women,” the researchers explained. “For men, single-digit even numbers seemed more feminine than masculine, but when it came to 2-digit numbers, men regarded them to be generally more masculine than feminine, regardless of whether they were even or odd.”
Research such as this one may appear to have very low applicability to real world environments, however it does actually provide extremely interesting leads for areas such as advertising. For example, companies have been using the techniques such as colour association for many years in order to attract certain demographics, meaning that the gender attributions to numbers may also be beneficial for companies wanting to increase their sales.