Gender in Facial Representations: A Contrast-Based Study of Adaptation within and between the Sexes

Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada.
PLoS ONE (Impact Factor: 3.53). 01/2011; 6(1):e16251. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0016251
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Face aftereffects are proving to be an effective means of examining the properties of face-specific processes in the human visual system. We examined the role of gender in the neural representation of faces using a contrast-based adaptation method. If faces of different genders share the same representational face space, then adaptation to a face of one gender should affect both same- and different-gender faces. Further, if these aftereffects differ in magnitude, this may indicate distinct gender-related factors in the organization of this face space. To control for a potential confound between physical similarity and gender, we used a Bayesian ideal observer and human discrimination data to construct a stimulus set in which pairs of different-gender faces were equally dissimilar as same-gender pairs. We found that the recognition of both same-gender and different-gender faces was suppressed following a brief exposure of 100 ms. Moreover, recognition was more suppressed for test faces of a different-gender than those of the same-gender as the adaptor, despite the equivalence in physical and psychophysical similarity. Our results suggest that male and female faces likely occupy the same face space, allowing transfer of aftereffects between the genders, but that there are special properties that emerge along gender-defining dimensions of this space.

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