Men See Cars & Women See Birds, Study Shows

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Men are better at identifying pictures of vehicles they've studied while woman are better at recognizing birds and other objects of the natural world, the results of a visual recognition experiment suggest.

In the study, 227 participants (75 male and 82 female) with an average age of 23 took a test similar to the Cambridge Face Memory Task, which measures the ability to recognize faces. But instead of faces, this test measured recognition for eight categories of objects: leaves, owls, butterflies, wading birds, mushrooms, cars, planes and motorcycles.

The participants studied a number of images in these categories, and were then shown three pictures at a time. Only one of the three would be a picture they had seen before and they were asked to pick out which one was the one they had studied.

The researchers found that women were much better at recognizing the images of living things they studied while men were better at picking out the vehicles.  

Then after giving half of the participants a face recognition test, the researchers also found that men who were especially good at recognizing vehicles tended to be better at recognizing faces, while women who were better at identifying living things tended to be better at recognizing faces.

Vanderbilt University psychologist Isabel Gauthier, who led the study, chalked up these differences to cultural differences.

"These results aren’t definitive, but they are consistent with the following story," Gauthier said in a statement. "Everyone is born with a general ability to recognize objects and the capability to get really good at it. Nearly everyone becomes expert at recognizing faces, because of their importance for social interactions. Most people also develop expertise for recognizing other types of objects due to their jobs, hobbies or interests. Our culture influences which categories we become interested in, which explains the differences between men and women."

The results were published online Aug. 3 in the journal Vision Research.

Previous studies have shown that men and women see the world differently. A Sept. 4 paper in the journal Biology of Sex Differences showed that guys' eyes are more sensitive to small details and moving objects, while women are more perceptive to color changes. Another Vision Research study published earlier this year found sex differences in the way people focus in conversation. Men tend to fixate on the mouth of the person they're talking to and get distracted by movement behind that person, while women tend to shift their gaze between a speaker's eyes and body and are more likely to be distracted by other people, the researchers found.

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