Postprint of: Gaetano, JM, Provost, S & van der Zwan, R 2015, 'Disentangling the study of person cue processing from face and body processing', Frontiers of Human Neuroscience: Event Abstract.
According to Freeman and Ambady’s (2011) theory of person construal, categorical information about someone (e.g. their sex and race) both mediates and is mediated by lower-order factors (e.g. specific patterns of light) and higher-order factors (e.g. stereotypes and task demands). It is possible then there exists a neural array which processes categorical sex signals in a generalised manner, irrespective of the particular dimorphism transmitting those signals (e.g. gait pattern, body region, voice, etc.). However, a survey of the sex perception literature reveals that mechanisms are invariably discussed in terms of the particular stimuli used, with the most popular contenders being images of female and male faces. Due to strong evidence that faces are processed via specialised routes in the brain, predictions about sex-specialised arrays cannot be tested without comparing sex discrimination performance across a range of dimorphic stimuli. We argue here that as a partial-body representation, the hand is one such comparable stimulus, and is so for several empirical reasons. First of all, physical measures of the hand diverge by sex, and our research shows that observers are sensitive to those differences. Second, sensitivity changes as a function of racial similarity between the hand and its observer – that is, observers have an advantage for own-race hands as they do for own-race faces (Meissner & Brigham, 2001). Third, sex after-effects have been documented utilising not just faces (Rhodes et al., 2004) but also hands (Kovács et al., 2006). Fourth and finally, sex response strategies tend to be male-biased when viewing hands; an effect observed previously using faces as stimuli (Wild et al., 2000). We conclude this presentation with suggestions on how such psychophysical data might be utilised for the furthering of neuropsychological studies on sex processing.