Spatial Cues Influence the Visual Perception of Gender

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Spatial localization is a basic process in vision, occurring reliably when people encounter an object or person. Yet the role of spatial-location in the visual perception of people is poorly understood. We explored the extent to which spatial-location distorts the perception of gender. Consistent with evidence that the perception of objects is constrained by their location in visual scenes, enhancing perception for objects in their typical location (e.g., Biederman et al., 1982), we hypothesized that people would see relatively greater femininity in faces that appeared lower in space. On each of many trials, participants briefly viewed a pair of faces that varied in gender-ambiguity. One face appeared higher than the other, and participants identified the 1 that looked more like a woman’s face (Study 1) or indicated whether the 2 faces were the same (Study 2). Across 2 experiments, participants perceived greater femininity in faces seen lower (vs. higher) in space. These effects seem to be perceptual—changes to spatial location were sufficient for altering whether 2 faces looked identical or different. Thus, spatial-location modulates visual percepts of gender, providing a biased foundation for downstream processes involved in gender biases, sexual attraction, and sex-roles.

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