The 'default male' may be hardwired...
ErrolTheDragon · 31/01/2022 22:57
I'm not sure how seriously to take this piece of research...photos of things that look like people are identified as male far more often than female.
Link to the paper, unfortunately not free access so I can only see the Significance and Abstract not full text.
MedusasBadHairDay · 01/02/2022 11:43
Given the examples they've used, I suspect it's more that high profile men are more likely to have a unique look or "unusual" features. High profile women usually need to fit a mould of conventional beauty. And most of the examples of recognising faces in inanimate objects are more like caricatures, so reliant on unique features.
SirSamuelVimes · 01/02/2022 11:52
If that wasn't the case I doubt we'd be a sexually dimorphic species!
That's an interesting point, I'd not considered that yet.
I was thinking about this yesterday. Most famous women don't have particularly strong facial features. Partly because women tend to have finer and small facial features anyway, but add to that the attractiveness of a woman is often tied into having small, delicate facial features, and famous women are far more likely to be required to be physically attractive than famous men.
For eg, Taylor Swift. Incredibly famous woman. But does she have particularly defining facial features? She has a signature red lipstick thing going on but that's it, and that's not her face. So you're not going to be able to "see her face" in a pepper or a carrot or whatever, because her face isn't very remarkable.
Women with remarkable faces don't get famous. No female politician could get away with looking like Nixon. They'd never be taken seriously enough to get going.
Then you can add in the whole issue of the cost of a false positive Vs false negative in evolutionary terms. This is one explanation for why we are wired to see/hear things that aren't there - a shadow that looks like a monster, creaky floors that we think are footsteps, etc. If it's a false positive, the cost is zero. We thought we saw a danger, we got scared, it turned out to be nothing, nevermind, you're still alive. False negative the cost can be total - didn't recognise the danger, you've been eaten by a lion, no kids for you. Seeing faces in things can be seen as an example of a false positive. Is there an argument that we have evolved to see male faces as a defence mechanism? As males are more likely to be a threat?
KedgeIsland · 01/02/2022 12:06
I didn't look at the abstract, but the newspaper article isn't particularly convincing the house that 'looks like Hitler' in Wales, looks like Hitler because the little porch roof over the door vaguely resembles Hitler's iconic moustache, the frequency of Jesus in toasted cheese sandwiches is largely to do with the beard and long hair being more likely to be detectable in the mottled colourings of toast. Mother Teresa also comes up a lot again, the veil helps, and the distinctive outline of the media images of her, as well as strong features.
This is the Whoopi Goldberg onion --
There was a Kate Middleton jelly bean on eBay at one point. Apparently there are loads of Iggy Azalea foods.
I thought 'Wicked Witch of the West' from The Wizard of Oz for the Nixon bell pepper, personally.
User12398712 · 01/02/2022 12:33
Another factor may be that there are a lot more famous men than women, particularly historically, so people generally have a bigger bank of famous men in their heads to compare odd looking vegetables to.
Thanks for sharing, whatever the reasons behind it, it's very interesting.
chesirecat99 · 01/02/2022 13:01
It would be interesting to read the whole paper and see the examples they used.
I would guess that a factor could be that the vast majority of "faces" seen in inanimate objects lack something representing hair, therefore, we assume it is male because males are more likely to be bald or have short hair so it is not a defining feature of their head, we edit it out as not being important. Females tend to have longer hair and a wider variety of hair styles. The Whoopi Goldberg onion wouldn't look like her if it didn't have the correct hair style.
I believe some studies have shown hair colour/style is a significant factor in facial recognition. We look at the external features of the head/face before the internal features eg eyes, nose, mouth.
Plexie · 01/02/2022 13:23
I don't know what photos were used in the research but agree that the examples in the Times article are very limited - they've chosen ones where the object looks like a real person so of course you're going to recognise the man it looks like (although recognising the Cookie Monster as 'male' is a bit of a stretch).
I searched face pareidolia (I love this phenomenon but couldn't remember what it's called) to look at other images. After looking at a few and wondering if I interpret them as male or female, I realised that I don't actually see them as male or female at all. They're more like cartoon characters - I can see expressions (there are a couple that look like they're laughing, which makes me smile in response) but I don't see them as human, or male or female.
Which reminds me that psychologists need to be aware that by observing people they may unconsciously affect the behaviour of those they are observing. If you show people pictures of objects and ask whether they interpret them as male or female, you are suggesting that they could/should interpret them as male/female, which might not have occurred to them and might sway their responses. So instead of thinking "That door handle looks like a face" they think "That door handle looks like a face and I have to decide whether it's male or female".
Abitofalark · 04/02/2022 22:46
There's a bit more information about the experiments and methodology in an appendix here:
I haven't read it so I don't know how useful it is. I did a brief spot check at a couple of places and I noticed that they went for the default male themselves, referring to 'workers who self-identified as male or female.' That was figure S3.
The other was this: 'For each image, participants were asked “What gender is this face?” with the answer selected via radio buttons from three options "Male", "Female", or "Neutral".'
I forget where that was.
To comment on this thread you need to create a Mumsnet account.