Children's memory for gender-neutral pronouns

Katie Vasquez, Rodney Tompkins, Kristina R. Olson, Yarrow Dunham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Are there disparities in children's memory for gender-neutral pronouns compared with gendered pronouns? We explored this question in two preregistered studies with 4- to 10-year-old children (N = 168; 79 boys, 89 girls, 0 gender-diverse). Participants were presented with a memory task. An experimenter read an illustrated story about a target character. Participants were asked to verbally repeat the story to measure spontaneous pronoun use and then to explicitly recall the characters’ pronouns. In Study 1 the story characters had typically feminine or typically masculine appearances (determined by independent raters), whereas in Study 2 the characters had gender-neutral appearances. In both studies, targets were referred to with gendered or gender-neutral pronouns. In both studies, children more accurately recalled gendered pronouns than gender-neutral pronouns. However, on most tasks, children only used “they” if a character had gender-neutral pronouns, and almost never used “they” if a character had gendered pronouns. We also found some evidence suggesting that older children more accurately recall gender-neutral pronouns compared with younger children.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number105589
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
StatePublished - Mar 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


  • Gender
  • Gender inclusive language
  • Gender-neutral pronouns
  • Language development
  • Nonbinary inclusive language
  • Pronouns
  • Social cognitive development


Dive into the research topics of 'Children's memory for gender-neutral pronouns'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this