Converging evidence of ubiquitous male bias in human sex perception

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Gaetano, J, van der Zwan, R, Oxner, M, Hayward, WG, Doring, N, Blair, D, Brooks, A 2016, ‘Converging evidence of ubiquitous male bias in human sex perception’, PL o S One, vol. 11, no. 2, February.

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Visually judging the sex of another can be achieved easily in most social encounters. When the signals that inform such judgements are weak (e.g. outdoors at night), observers tend to expect the presence of males–an expectation that may facilitate survival-critical decisions under uncertainty. The present aim was to examine whether this male bias depends on expertise. To that end, Caucasian and Asian observers targeted female and male hand images that were either the same or different to the observers’ race (i.e. long term experience was varied) while concurrently, the proportion of targets changed across presentation blocks (i.e. short term experience change). It was thus found that: (i) observers of own-race stimuli were more likely to report the presence of males and absence of females, however (ii) observers of other-race stimuli–while still tending to accept stimuli as male–were not prone to rejecting female cues. Finally, (iii) male-biased measures did not track the relative frequency of targets or lures, disputing the notion that male bias derives from prior expectation about the number of male exemplars in a set. Findings are discussed in concert with the pan-stimulus model of human sex perception.

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