June 22, 2010
Gay Male Facial Recognition More Like Female Speed

Homosexual men can recognize faces faster than heterosexual men. Apparently women are faster than men at facial recognition.

TORONTO, June 22, 2010 Gay men can recall familiar faces faster and more accurately than their heterosexual counterparts because, like women, they use both sides of their brains, according to a new study by York University researchers.

I'm curious to know how homosexual women score on facial recall speed. Are they slower at the task than heterosexual women?

I'm also curious to know what the adaptive advantage was for women to recall faces faster than men. Why would facial recognition speed provide a selective advantage for producing offspring that would survive?

The study, published in the journal, Laterality: Asymmetries of Body, Brain and Cognition, examined the influence of gender, sexual orientation and whether we're right-or-left-handed on our ability to recognize faces. It found that when memorizing and discriminating between faces, homosexual men show patterns of bilaterality the usage of both sides of the brain similar to heterosexual women. Heterosexual men tend to favour the right hemisphere for such tasks.

"Our results suggest that both gay men and heterosexual women code faces bilaterally. That allows for faster retrieval of stored information," says study lead author Jennifer Steeves, Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, Faculty of Health.

To put it another way: What was the selective advantage for men to use less of their left hemisphere for facial recognition? What does the left side of the male brain do instead of facial recognition?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2010 June 22 11:03 PM  Brain Sex Differences

Fat Man said at June 23, 2010 9:39 AM:

"What does the left side of the male brain do instead of facial recognition?"

The rest of the body.

Bruce Dunn said at June 23, 2010 10:09 AM:

It is possible that good facial recognition in women might have arisen in our ancestors as part of a mechanism to figure out who was the father of children in a tribal group. A young female would have an interest in bearing children who would survive to adulthood, and not succumb to disease or starvation. If that female had good facial recognition, she might be able to judge the fitness of different potential mates by looking at their track record in producing healthy children in her tribal group. If a male had numerous offspring, this might indicate better genes, or a predisposition on his part to provide food to the offspring of females that he had mated with. An ability in women to judge the fitness of potential mates and act accordingly would then be selected for.

jam said at June 23, 2010 3:25 PM:

" Why would facial recognition speed provide a selective advantage for producing offspring that would survive?"

Could be spillover from a trait that is more adaptive, like the ability to differentiate edible plants from inedible ones. If food gathering tasks were gender-specific during much of our evolution (female plant gatherers and male hunters) that would explain the gender difference. This seems plausible given the differences in the physical characteristics of the eyes of men and women.

erin said at June 23, 2010 9:22 PM:

Because women are people-oriented ( they are the social organizers, the facilitators of nuclear and extended family/tribe interactions) it seems reasonable that they would likely lock in on a new person's face since future social interactions depend upon their skill in this area.

Men seem to be object and action-oriented on the other hand so that facial recognition might not be as speedy as in women.

It would interesting to see if women score lower than men in object or object-in-space recognition tests.

I once belonged to a faculty/staff of approx. 150 people and each day substitutes knew to us would wander into the faculty room. I used to watch the reaction of regular staff to these strangers. Women rarely ignored the strangers; instead, they greeted them. Men looked up briefly from what they were doing (scoring papers, reading the newspaper, etc.) and then dropped their heads quickly, disinterested. They "stared" only when a very attractive woman came in or when a very physically imposing male walked in.

I don't know the particulars of this study. Were the numbers greatly different or slightly different between straight men and gay men? Of course, in childhood, gender atypical boys spend a lot of time with girls. It's hard to know, if what the researchers say is true, if this facial recognition pattern is innate or learned--and it's hard to know if the brain is organized this way by birth or in the neonate period or after much socialization with girls in gender atypical activities.

For those who are convinced that uterine hormonal washes are responsible for the "gay brain" it's been a long slog and still, it seems, there are no firm conclusions. I am not arguing against their hypotheses at all, but even if fetal or even neonatal hormonal actions are finally understood, the question will remain--what triggers such actions? The mother's body knows she is carrying an XY and so what happens that the male fetus receives hormone baths that render him, in a manner of speaking, infertile, in that he doesn't wish to mate with a female?

erin said at June 23, 2010 10:15 PM:

Um, "'new' to us," not "'knew' to us."
I hate when I do that.

Lou Pagnucco said at June 24, 2010 5:19 PM:

Perhaps related is this recent press release:

Prisoners 'Have Problems Judging Facial Expressions'

Or these relating ability to recognize facial expression to empathy:

Empathy and recognition of facial expressions of emotion in sex offenders,
non-sex offenders and normal controls

Individual differences in empathy: The role of facial expression recognition

On the neural networks of empathy: A principal component analysis of an fMRI study

I wonder how people who have lost the ability to recognize faces (even family members) score on these tests -
also, whether facial recognition and emotion recognition correlate.

Chris T said at June 25, 2010 1:41 PM:

Men are more competitive due to individual males being far more expendable from an evolutionary standpoint than women. Having a lower ability to recognize faces would serve as an advantage when winning came at the expense of another man because any emotional difficulty would be less. Once you remember the face of someone, they become human; keeping competitors faceless becomes advantageous.

Randall Parker said at June 27, 2010 9:10 AM:


Interesting about the prisoners. My guess is that prisoners are more masculine than the average male. I wonder whether prisoners are further out on the autistic spectrum than the population as a whole.

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