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Beena Khurana, Graham Hole; Face recognition: What's sauce for the goose is not sauce for the gander. Journal of Vision 2004;4(8):428. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/4.8.428.
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Background: Given the primacy of face processing in mental life, face representation and recognition are likely to be invariant features of human cognition. However even fundamental abilities can still vary as a function of dissimilarities in brains, individual or group needs, or aptitudes. Here we investigate one group difference that might affect face processing: the gender of the observer. Research indicates that females exhibit a preference for faces and eye contact. Does this proclivity influence their ability to process facial information? Methods: In three separate experiments equal numbers of women and men viewed male faces that were either (a) complete, (b) limited to internal features, or (c) limited to external features, in order to decide whether the faces were familiar or not, as quickly and as accurately as possible. Both reaction times and accuracy were measured. Results: While both genders were equally accurate, women were overall faster than men. Men were quickest with complete familiar faces and relatively disadvantaged when presented with internal or external features of both familiar and unfamiliar faces. Women on the other hand, were equally adept with complete faces or their internal features, regardless of familiarity with performance being compromised only in the presence of external features. Conclusions: Familiarity with a face gives rise to a representation biased toward internal facial features that then becomes the basis for face recognition. Here we suggest that women's general predisposition to attend to the internal geometry of faces, familiarity notwithstanding, underlies their efficacy in face processing.
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