Gender-Ambiguous Voices and Social Disfluency

"Gender-Ambiguous Voices and Social Disfluency," by Shahryar Mohsenin and Kurt Munz.

  2021 Bocconi Junior Research Grant

Recently, gender-ambiguous (non-binary) voices have been added to voice assistants to combat gender stereotypes and foster inclusion. However, if people react negatively to such voices, these laudable efforts may be counterproductive. In six preregistered studies (N = 2,424) we find that people do react negatively, rating products described by narrators with gender-ambiguous voices less favorably than when they are described by clearly male or female narrators. This is due to the voices creating a feeling of unease related to difficulty understanding the gender of the narrator, what we call social disfluency, that spills over to affect evaluations of the products being described. These effects are best explained by low familiarity with voices that sound ambiguous. Thus, initial negative reactions can be overcome with more exposure.