Processing gender stereotypes in dementia patients and older healthy adults: a self-paced reading study

Daniel Müller-Feldmeth 1 , Katharina Ahnefeld 1 , and Adriana Hanulíková 2
  • 1 University of Freiburg, Freiburg, Germany
  • 2 University of Freiburg, Department of German – German Linguistics, 79098 Freiburg, Germany
Daniel Müller-Feldmeth, Katharina Ahnefeld and Adriana Hanulíková
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  • University of Freiburg, Department of German – German Linguistics, 79098 Freiburg, Germany
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Abstract

We used self-paced reading to examine whether stereotypical associations of verbs with women or men as prototypical agents (e.g. the craftsman knits a sweater) are activated during sentence processing in dementia patients and healthy older adults. Effects of stereotypical knowledge on language processing have frequently been observed in young adults, but little is known about age-related changes in the activation and integration of stereotypical information. While syntactic processing may remain intact, semantic capacities are often affected in dementia. Since inferences based on gender stereotypes draw on social and world knowledge, access to stereotype information may also be affected in dementia patients. Results from dementia patients (n = 9, average age 86.6) and healthy older adults (n = 14, average age 79.5) showed slower reading times and less accuracy in comprehension scores for dementia patients compared to the control group. While activation of stereotypical associations of verbs was visible in both groups, they differed with respect to the time-course of processing. The effect of stereotypes on comprehension accuracy was visible for healthy adults only. The evidence from reading times suggests that older adults with and without dementia engage stereotypical inferences during reading, which is in line with research on young adults.

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