Sexual stereotypes: The case of sexual cannibalism

Liam R. Dougherty, Emily R. Burdfield-Steel, David M. Shuker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


There is a long-standing debate within the field of sexual selection regarding the potential projection of stereotypical sex roles onto animals by researchers. It has been argued that this anthropomorphic view may be hampering research in this area, for example by prioritizing the study of male sexual adaptations over female ones. We investigated how males and females are described in the sexual cannibalism literature. Sexual cannibalism is a specific form of sexual conflict and is highly gendered, with females generally cannibalizing males. We found that females were more likely to be described using active words and males with reactive words. This is contrary to recent results from a survey of the sexual conflict literature. While this reversed gender bias may arise from the nature of sexual cannibalism, our results nevertheless indicate an alternative form of sexual stereotyping. A number of the words used to describe cannibalistic females were highly loaded and suggestive of a negative stereotype of sexually aggressive females. To make progress we suggest first that animal behaviour researchers recognize both the costs and benefits of looking for general patterns as part of the scientific method. Although necessary, the search for general patterns may validate existing stereotypes or provide the basis for new ones. Additionally, we suggest that the field of sexual behaviour research is neither wholly bad nor good in terms of language use but that we should work towards a consensus of how and when we use particular terms to describe sexual behaviour.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)313-322
Number of pages10
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2013
Externally publishedYes


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