Online images boost gender bias: Study sounds alarm

By
Web Desk
The image shows gender bias while showing males as doctors and females as nurses. — Pexels.
The image shows gender bias while showing males as doctors and females as nurses. — Pexels. 

Have you ever wondered about the subtle ways online images shape our perceptions? 

A recent study from the University of California, Berkeley, explores the alarming revelation that online images contribute significantly to reinforcing gender stereotypes, leaving a lasting impact on societal biases.

In a world where media, communication, and social interactions are increasingly dominated by visuals, the study, published in the journal Nature, uncovers a concerning trend that exacerbates gender bias by under-representing women in various social categories. Lead author Douglas Guilbeault emphasises the potential consequences, particularly for women, as these images may unwittingly reinforce harmful stereotypes.

The researchers meticulously sifted through more than a million images from global online platforms, including Google, Wikipedia, and IMDb, alongside billions of words on these platforms. 

The study focused on nearly 3,000 social categories, revealing that professions like doctors and lawyers were consistently over-represented by men, with images displaying an even more pronounced gender bias than text.

Guilbeault notes a particularly striking example: the stereotype associating women with nursing was consistently stronger in images than in the accompanying text. This imbalance raises concerns about the psychological impact on individuals, especially children exploring professions online. 

Solene Delecourt, a co-author of the study, stresses that such biases may make individuals feel excluded, impacting their sense of belonging and potential career aspirations.

The research challenges the perception that gender bias is confined to specific regions or platforms, highlighting a global and pervasive issue. To measure the psychological impact, the researchers conducted a test involving 450 participants searching online for specific jobs. Those exposed to images exhibited a more pronounced and lasting gender bias compared to their text-exposed counterparts.

As we navigate the digital landscape, it becomes crucial to acknowledge the inadvertent influence of online images in shaping societal attitudes. 

The study calls for collective action, urging online platforms to take responsibility for fostering more inclusive and balanced representations.

In the evolving era of image-based communication, Guilbeault raises a concern about the lack of attention paid to this shift. He underscores the need for heightened awareness and proactive measures to mitigate the unintended consequences of online images, urging society to reflect on the silent yet powerful influence these visuals wield in perpetuating gender stereotypes.