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Male or female? Coloring provides gender cues

Universite de Montreal study published in the Journal of Vision

University of Montreal


IMAGE: In the Université de Montréal study, subjects were asked to identify gender based on images where parts of faces were concealed using a technology called Bubbles. view more

Credit: Nicolas Dupuis-Roy -- Université de Montréal / Journal of Vision

Montreal, May 27, 2009 -- Our brain is wired to identify gender based on facial cues and coloring, according to a new study published in the Journal of Vision. Psychology Professor Frédéric Gosselin and his Université de Montréal team found the luminescence of the eyebrow and mouth region is vital in rapid gender discrimination.

"As teenagers, dimorphism (systematic difference between sexes) increases in the nose, chin, mouth, jaw, eyes and general shape of faces," says Nicolas Dupuis-Roy, lead author of the study. "Yet we aren't conscious of how our brain recognizes those differences."

To discover those reference points, Dupuis-Roy and colleagues showed photos of 300 Caucasian faces to some 30 participants. Subjects were asked to identify gender based on images where parts of faces were concealed using a technology called Bubbles.

The investigation found that eyes and mouths, specifically their subtle shading or luminance, are paramount in identifying gender. Unlike previous studies, which found the gap between the eyelid and eyebrow as essential in gender ID, this investigation found the shades of reds and greens around mouths and eyes led to faster gender discrimination.

"Studies have shown that an androgynous face is considered male if the skin complexion is redder, and considered female if the complexion is greener," says Dupuis-Roy. "However, it is the opposite for the mouth. A woman's mouth is usually redder. Our brain interprets this characteristic as female."

"A man's face usually reflects less light around the eyebrows. This is because they are usually thicker. The same applies to the upper lip and chin, which are hairier areas," he adds, noting people clearly use colour to rapidly identify gender.


Partners in research:

This research was supported by the Fonds québécois de la recherche sur la nature et les technologies and Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. PhD student Isabelle Fortin and Professor Daniel Fiset also participated in the study.

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About the Université de Montréal:
About Université de Montréal's Department of Psychology:
About the cited Journal of Vision article:
Text adaptation by Marc Tulin; original French version by Daniel Baril can be consulted at

Media contact:
Sylvain-Jacques Desjardins
International press attaché
Université de Montréal
Telephone: 514-343-7593

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