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Men and Women “See” the World Differently

New research offers insights into how gender affects our perception of the world.

--by Suzanne Boothby Couple watching TV

The Gist

Men are from Mars; Women are from Venus. He said; she said. Gender differences have produced many popular sayings about how men and women perceive the world. But new research published this week in PLoS ONE reveals that women and men literally look at the world in different ways.

Using eye movement research methods, University of Bristol researchers tracked where men and women looked while viewing film stills and pieces of art. They found that women made fewer eye movements than men, and that they were longer and to more varied locations.

Specifically, researchers showed study participants images of heterosexual couples, and both men and women preferred looking at the female figure rather than the male one. While men were only interested in the faces of the two figures, women's eyes were also drawn to the rest of the bodies—in particular those of the female figures.

Eye movement research collects visual information, offering insights about how people perceive the world. When individuals have different interpretations of the world, this affects the information they seek and, consequently, the places they look. This new research suggests that men and women look at different things because they interpret the world and others around them in different ways.

The Expert Take

While men and women may live in the same environment, what they see in this environment is reliably different, according to the authors.

“The study represents the most compelling evidence yet that, despite occupying the same world, the viewpoints of men and women can, at times, be very different,” lead author Felix Mercer Moss, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Bristol, said in a press release. “Our findings have important implications for both past and future eye movement research, together with future technological applications.”

The Takeaway

Gender differences in perception offer great insights into the lived experiences of men and women.

While men made direct eye contact with faces in the pictures, especially when primed to look for a threat, women averted their gaze downward slightly, toward the nose and mouth.

The researchers say this may be caused by women being more sensitive to the negative consequences of making direct eye contact. So, they have adapted their behavior to reflect this social norm—shifting their gazes downward.

Source and Method

The study authors examined the fixation distributions of 52 women and men while viewing 80 natural images, and found systematic differences in their spatial and temporal characteristics.

Other Research

Another recent study involving eye movement research found that looking just below the eyes is optimal for facial recognition tasks. University of California Santa Barbara researchers determined that maintaining good eye contact carries significant social value and allows for the extraction of information about gaze direction.

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Tags: Awareness , Latest Studies & Research

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The Healthline Editorial team writes about the latest health news, policy, and research.