Updated 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Gender differences in recognition of toy faces

In most psychology papers, either women are better than men at identifying faces or there is no gender difference. But it turns out that there is one type of face that men are better at identifying than women: the faces on Transformer toys.

By testing people’s ability to identify the faces of the toys they played with as children, and assuming that men played more with Transformers then Barbies when they were younger, and vice versa for women, they confirmed by surveying people about their experience playing with these toys and then designed a study that compared men’s and women’s ability to recognize male faces, female faces, Barbie doll faces, Transformer faces and, as a control category, different kinds of cars.

In the test, led by a team of researchers at Vanderbilt University, volunteers were given six images to study, then shown groups of three images and asked to identify which of the three appeared in the initial six. They did this with male faces, female faces, Barbie doll faces, Transformer faces and different types of car.

The researchers administered the test to 295 people: 161 men and 134 women. Some took the test in a laboratory and some took it online through the Amazon Mechanical Turk crowd-sourcing website that psychologists have begun using to conduct large studies. One advantage of the online platform is that the researchers can sample a more diverse population in terms of age, ethnicity and socio-economic status, relative to laboratory studies that generally test undergraduate students.

"We found that women had a small but statistically significant advantage at identifying Barbie faces while men had a small but statistically significant advantage in identifying Transformer faces,” said Isabel Gauthier, who led the research “This is the first category of faces where men do better than women.”

The reason, the researchers believe, is because of the toys that participants played with as children. “Women had much more experience studying Barbie faces and men had much more experience studying Transformer faces.” said Gauthier. "We believe that experience plays a major role in facial recognition."

"Clearly, the faces you experience as a child leave a trace in your adult memory," Gauthier said. "It is unlikely that this effect is limited to these particular toys."

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