Walk this way? Masculine motion seems to come at you, while females walk away

September 08, 2008

You can tell a lot about people from the way they move alone: their gender, age, and even their mood, earlier studies have shown. Now, researchers reporting in the September 9th issue of Current Biology, a Cell Press publication, have found that observers perceive masculine motion as coming toward them, while a characteristically feminine walk looks like it's headed the other way.

Such studies are done by illuminating only the joints of model walkers and asking observers to identify various characteristics about the largely ambiguous figures.

"It's a really interesting thing," said Rick van der Zwan of Southern Cross University in Australia. "If you look at someone with just their joints illuminated when they aren't moving, it's difficult to tell what it is you are looking at. But as soon as they move, instantaneously, you can tell that it's a person and perceive their nature. You can tell if it's a boy or a girl, young or old, angry or happy.... You can discern all these qualities about their state, affect, and actions with no cues at all about what they look like--with no form at all, just motion."

Many previous studies of biological motion perception have relied on male figures as models, van der Zwan said. One of those earlier studies had noticed an interesting phenomenon: even though you can't really tell whether a so-called point-light figure is facing toward you or away, people seemed to perceive those figures always as facing in their direction.

Now, van der Zwan and his colleagues show that this isn't always true.

In their study, they allowed people to observe point-light figures representing a continuum from an extremely "girly girl" to a "hulking male." At the halfway point in between was a gender-neutral walker that observers judged as male half the time and female half the time.

Their results showed that walking male figures did indeed appear to face toward you. Female figures, on the other hand, seemed as though they faced away. The results are the first to show a link between the perception of gender from biological motion cues and the perception of orientation.

That same pattern emerged regardless of the gender of the person watching, a finding that van der Zwan considers an important clue about the behavior.

"Our data suggest that biological motion is an important cue for social organisms trying to operate in environments where other cues as to the actions or intentions of other organisms may be ambiguous," the researchers wrote. "Whilst the precise role of local cues in mediating these effects requires further explication, it is tempting to speculate that the orientation biases reported here reflect the development of perceptual mechanisms that weigh in the probable cost of misinterpreting the actions and intentions of others. For example, a male figure that is otherwise ambiguous might best be perceived as approaching to allow the observer to prepare to flee or fight. Similarly, for observers, and especially infants, the departure of females might signal also a need to act, but for different reasons."
-end-
The researchers are Anna Brooks, Laboratory of Perceptual Processing, Department of Psychology, Southern Cross University, Australia; Ben Schouten, University of Leuven, Leuven, Belgium; Nikolaus F. Troje, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada; Karl Verfaillie, University of Leuven, Leuven, Belgium; Olaf Blanke, Brain-Mind Institute, Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland; Rick van der Zwan, Laboratory of Perceptual Processing, Department of Psychology, Southern Cross University, Australia.

Cell Press

Related Perception Articles from Brightsurf:

Intelligent cameras enhance human perception
A team of FAU researchers has developed an intelligent camera that achieves not only high spatial and temporal but also spectral resolution.

New perception metric balances reaction time, accuracy
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have developed a new metric for evaluating how well self-driving cars respond to changing road conditions and traffic, making it possible for the first time to compare perception systems for both accuracy and reaction time.

Sweet-taste perception changes as children develop
While adults prefer levels of sweetness similar to typical soft drinks, children and adolescents are less sensitive to the taste and prefer concentrations that are 50% sweeter, according to research by professor of food science and human nutrition M.

Optogenetic odors reveal the logic of olfactory perception
Using optogenetic control, researchers have created an electrical signature that is perceived as an odor in the brain's smell-processing center, the olfactory bulb, even though the odor does not exist.

Vision loss influences perception of sound
People with severe vision loss can less accurately judge the distance of nearby sounds, potentially putting them more at risk of injury.

Why visual perception is a decision process
A popular theory in neuroscience called predictive coding proposes that the brain produces all the time expectations that are compared with incoming information.

How the heart affects our perception
When we encounter a dangerous situation, signals from the brain make sure that the heart beats faster.

Changing how we think about warm perception
Perceiving warmth requires input from a surprising source: cool receptors.

Rhythmic perception in humans has strong evolutionary roots
So suggests a study that compares the behaviour of rodents and humans with respect to the detection rhythm, published in Journal of Comparative Psychology by Alexandre Celma-Miralles and Juan Manuel Toro, researchers at the Center for Brain and Cognition.

Approaching the perception of touch in the brain
More than ten percent of the cerebral cortex are involved in processing information about our sense of touch -- a larger area than previously thought.

Read More: Perception News and Perception Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.