Sex Differences in Adults’ Relative Visual Interest in Female and Male Faces, Toys, and Play Styles
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An individual’s reproductive potential appears to influence response to attractive faces of the opposite sex. Otherwise, relatively little is known about the characteristics of the adult observer that may influence his or her affective evaluation of male and female faces. An untested hypothesis (based on the proposed role of attractive faces in mate selection) is that most women would show greater interest in male faces whereas most men would show greater interest in female faces. Further, evidence from individuals with preferences for same-sex sexual partners suggests that response to attractive male and female faces may be influenced by gender-linked play preferences. To test these hypotheses, visual attention directed to sex-linked stimuli (faces, toys, play styles) was measured in 39 men and 44 women using eye tracking technology. Consistent with our predictions, men directed greater visual attention to all male-typical stimuli and visual attention to male and female faces was associated with visual attention to gender conforming or nonconforming stimuli in a manner consistent with previous research on sexual orientation. In contrast, women showed a visual preference for female-typical toys, but no visual preference for male faces or female-typical play styles. These findings indicate that sex differences in visual processing extend beyond stimuli associated with adult sexual behavior. We speculate that sex differences in visual processing are a component of the expression of gender phenotypes across the lifespan that may reflect sex differences in the motivational properties of gender-linked stimuli.
KeywordsSex differences Sex-linked play Toy preferences Face perception
The author thanks Julia Makkaoui and Jennifer Armstrong for help with behavioral testing. This research was supported by National Institute of Mental Health grant MH071414.
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