Online images may be turning back the clock on gender bias, research finds

Online images may be turning back the clock on gender bias, research finds

Berkeley Haas:

A paper just published in the journal Nature finds that online images show stronger gender biases than online texts. Researchers also found that bias is more psychologically potent in visual form than in writing.

A picture is worth a thousand words, as the saying goes, and research has shown that the human brain does indeed better retain information from images than from text.

These days, we are taking in more visual content than ever as we peruse picture-packed news sites and social media platforms. And much of that visual content, according to new Berkeley Haas research, is reinforcing powerful gender stereotypes.

Through a series of experiments, observations, and the help of large language models, professors Douglas Guilbeault and Solène Delecourt found that female and male gender associations are more extreme among images retrieved on Google than within text from Google News. What’s more, while the text is slightly more focused on men than women, this bias is over four times stronger in images.

“Most of the previous research about bias on the internet has been focused on text, but we now have Google Images, TikTok, YouTube, Instagram—all kinds of content based on modalities besides text,” says Delecourt. “Our research suggests that the extent of bias online is much more widespread than previously shown.”

Not only is online gender bias more prevalent in images than in text, the study revealed, but such bias is more psychologically potent in visual form. Strikingly, in one experiment, study participants who looked at gender-biased images—as opposed to those reading gender-biased text—demonstrated significantly stronger biases even three days later. [Continue reading…]

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