Propagation of societal gender inequality by internet search algorithms

Madalina Vlasceanu, David M. Amodio

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Humans increasingly rely on artificial intelligence (AI) for efficient and objective decision-making, yet there is increasing concern that algorithms used by modern AI systems produce discriminatory outputs, presumably because they are trained on data in which societal biases are embedded. As a consequence, their use by human decision makers may result in the propagation, rather than reduction, of existing disparities. To assess this hypothesis empirically, we tested the relation between societal gender inequality and algorithmic search output and then examined the effect of this output on human decision-making. First, in two multinational samples (n = 37, 52 countries), we found that greater nation-level gender inequality was associated with more male-dominated Google image search results for the gender-neutral keyword “person” (in a nation's dominant language), revealing a link between societal-level disparities and algorithmic output. Next, in a series of experiments with human participants (n = 395), we demonstrated that the gender disparity associated with high- vs. low-inequality algorithmic outputs guided the formation of gender-biased prototypes and influenced hiring decisions in novel scenarios. These findings support the hypothesis that societal-level gender inequality is recapitulated in internet search algorithms, which in turn can influence human decision makers to act in ways that reinforce these disparities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2204529119
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number29
StatePublished - Jul 19 2022


  • AI
  • algorithm
  • bias
  • gender
  • inequality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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