Pronoun with Purpose


Andrea Glinoga, Amanda Zietzke

Faculty Mentor(s)

Tonya Buchanan (Psychology)


Pronouns with purpose: What Effects do Introductions Including (they/them) Pronouns have on Affect, Anxiety, and Self-Esteem for LGBTQ+/non-LGBTQ+ college students?

Research suggests LGBTQ+ members exhibit higher levels of anxiety and depression than non-LGBTQ+ peers (Borgogna et al., 2018). Allowing transgender youth to use preferred pronouns (e.g., she/her, they/them) and modify gender expression reduces anxiety and depression (Durwood et al., 2017). Among LGBTQ+ members, pronoun introductions may help remedy faulty assumptions and/or increase identity validation. Outside of this community, such introductions are not normative.

Across 2 experiments, effects of pronoun usage on self-esteem/anxiety/affect are explored. We expected that hearing introductions using they/them pronouns might improve self-esteem and anxiety for LGBTQ+ members. Due to a lack of familiarity/experience, this may increase anxiety for individuals outside of the LGBTQ+ community.

In Study 1, participants (N=118) watched a video of a peer, ostensibly as part of a memory study. Participants were randomly assigned to view introductions with or without they/them pronouns. After answering video content, participants completed measures of self-esteem, anxiety, and demographic information.

Although previous research suggests LGBTQ+ members exhibit lower levels of self-esteem and higher anxiety, the main effect of LGBTQ+ status on self-esteem and anxiety was not significant (p’s <.12). Further, our hypothesis was not supported as the effect of pronoun usage on self-esteem and anxiety depends on LGBTQ+ status, as the interaction was non-significant (p’s>.72).

In a second study (ongoing), we address Study 1 limitations, including a less subtle manipulation (i.e., pronouns mentioned multiple times) and active involvement (i.e., a writing activity that encouraged pronoun usage). Future research should include more LGBTQ+ participants and directly measure pronoun familiarity and bias.

Keywords: “pronouns” “LGBTQ+” “transgender” “diversity”


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