September 2021
Volume 21, Issue 9
Open Access
Vision Sciences Society Annual Meeting Abstract  |   September 2021
Sex differences in visual processing: Does it relate to other cognition or behaviors?
Author Affiliations
  • Yiming Qian
    The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, USA
  • Sheri Berenbaum
    The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, USA
  • Andrea Seisler
    The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, USA
  • Rick Gilmore
    The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, USA
Journal of Vision September 2021, Vol.21, 2134. doi:
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      Yiming Qian, Sheri Berenbaum, Andrea Seisler, Rick Gilmore; Sex differences in visual processing: Does it relate to other cognition or behaviors?. Journal of Vision 2021;21(9):2134.

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      © ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)

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Prior research has shown sex differences in various visual perception tasks (Shaqiri, et al., 2018; Abramov, Gordon, Feldman, & Chavarga, 2012; Murray et al., 2018), but the results are heterogeneous. This challenges efforts to explain what causes the observed sex differences (Newcombe, 2020) and how sex differences in elementary vision relate to other sex-differentiated characteristics. Here, we tested 132 adult participants (102 females) on two tasks involving low-level vision where prior research had shown sex differences—a contrast sensitivity task (Abramov et al., 2012), and a motion detection task (Murray et al., 2018). In addition, we included tasks that tap other sex-differentiated characteristics (mental rotation and hobby choice), and a control task where no sex difference was expected (vocabulary size). The results showed that, relative to males, females had higher contrast sensitivity thresholds, longer motion direction detection thresholds, lower mental rotation scores, lower interest in male-typed hobbies, and greater interest in female-typed hobbies, but no differences in vocabulary size. These findings replicate prior work. In addition, we found that individual performance on both visual tasks correlated with mental rotation scores (contrast sensitivity: r=.29, p<.01; motion duration threshold: r=.28, p<.01) and hobby interests in females. Particularly, contrast sensitivity thresholds were negatively correlated with females’ interest in masculine hobbies (r=.21, p<.05), while motion duration thresholds were positively correlated with females’ interest in feminine hobbies (r=.20, p<.05). The two visual measures did not correlate with one another in females (r=.09, n.s.) but did correlate in males (r=.54, p<.01). The results add to findings showing sex differences in visual perception that favor males, and they provide new evidence that sex differences in vision relate to other sex-typed characteristics. How low-level vision relates to sex differences in spatial cognition or hobby choices remains an important question for future research.


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