September 8, 2008

Odd Finding of Gender Differences In Walking

gender gait.JPG

A story about a study which claims to find a relationship between the perception of gender-- are the walking dots men or women-- and the direction those dots are going-- towards you or away.



I.

The story is easily summarized: researchers find that the perceived direction of motion is gigantically influenced by our perception of its gender. 

Subjects watched "light point walkers," on a monitor, which have been standardized to exist on a continuum from extreme male to extreme female.

It is based on this computer model from this article.  Play around with it.

Subjects uniformly identified the walkers as the appropriate gender.  Interestingly, however, walkers judged as male were then judged to be walking towards them, while female walkers were judged to be walking away from them.

More interestingly, even when perspective information was added to the walker videos, it had no effect on perceived direction.  Men were still coming, and women going.

This effect existed for both male and female subjects.

II. 

It is "tempting to speculate" that this effect reflects the potential costs "of misinterpreting the actions and intentions of others," [study author van der Zwan] added.  "For example, a male figure that is otherwise ambiguous might best be perceived as approaching to allow the observer to prepare to flee or fight. Similarly, for observers, and especially infants, the departure of females might signal also a need to act, but for different reasons."

Yes, it is tempting, in the same way it is tempting for evolutionary biologists to default to Lamarck when Darwin doesn't seem to fit the data.    As with all "cool" science, it pays to read the actual study.

Though not shown in the paper itself, the online version offers links to the videos themselves.

First, there were only five subjects, 3 women and 2 men.  This is important because of my next surprising observation: am I insane, or does what they have labeled as "extreme male" look like a super sexy woman, and what they have labeled as "extreme female" look like a male Zinjanthropus?

mmc4.JPG
mmc4.mov







mmc5.JPG
mmc5.mov



etc. No, I didn't copy those wrong.  There were several videos, and 80% of them looked (to me) to be the opposite gender of their label.   If these are indeed the videos watched by the 5 subjects, then it's not hard to see that not only is the study invalid, but those five subjects can never be called as witnesses.






Comments

Also, I have no problem per... (Below threshold)

September 8, 2008 6:20 PM | Posted by Brad: | Reply

Also, I have no problem perceiving either of those videos as moving toward or away from me.

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To me, both intially appear... (Below threshold)

September 8, 2008 7:04 PM | Posted by SusanC: | Reply

To me, both intially appear to be walking away. But the effect is rather like viewing the Necker Cube - I can flip between two alternate interpretations.

It's clear which motion is "male" and which is "female" -- but it's also clear that they are too exaggerated to be real, a cartoonist's caricature of real movement.

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I had to re-read this a few... (Below threshold)

September 8, 2008 7:05 PM | Posted by Fargo: | Reply

I had to re-read this a few times just to make absolutely sure that you mentioned you didn't screw up and flip those around.

Heavy.

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To me the first one looked ... (Below threshold)

September 8, 2008 10:25 PM | Posted by dr. bean: | Reply

To me the first one looked like it was supposed to be "female,", and the second was "male." The real scandal is, how did they get published with N=5?

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Yes, but could you tell how... (Below threshold)

September 9, 2008 12:01 AM | Posted by xon: | Reply

Yes, but could you tell how they orgasm?

http://www.scienceblog.com/cms/female-orgasm-ability-related-walking-style-17315.html

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Top one has the shoulders n... (Below threshold)

September 9, 2008 6:27 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Top one has the shoulders not only small but the exact same size as the hips. Defiantly female.

Bottom has very wide shoulders and narrow hips. Certainly male.

Looks to me like they switched them around. Be interesting to find out how that happened.

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The only error I see in thi... (Below threshold)

September 9, 2008 9:45 AM | Posted by Jack Coupal: | Reply

The only error I see in this post is in the title.

Accurate wording would be: Odd Finding in Sex Differences in Walking.

Gender is a political term, not a clinical or technical one.

Alone's response: you know, I hadn't thought of that, and you're absolutely right. I had merely switched the words around the original story's title "Odd Gender Differences Found In Walking" to be clever, not thinking about the use of the word gender.

So Iooked back at the original Biological Sciences article, as well as other articles throughout the history of this field, and the only one that uses "sex" not gender is the German author Troje, who first descibed the model. Everyone else, since 1978, uses gender.

And it's technically inaccurate, because the subject is trying to guess the sex of the person, not their own self-described gender. So what happened? Did the gender wars extend all the way into this?

But on a separate point, you didn't think there was anything wrong with the videos?

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5 as in five?!? and ... (Below threshold)

September 9, 2008 5:46 PM | Posted by Trei: | Reply

5 as in five?!?
and they call this "science" in America? LOL

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The male (mmc5.mov) is defi... (Below threshold)

September 10, 2008 2:05 PM | Posted by Trey Jackson: | Reply

The male (mmc5.mov) is definitely walking away - the size of the foot dots goes from large to small while the foot is in the air. If you ignore that, sure you can see the figures walking either toward or away, but when you actually look at the perspective, the gait is unambiguous (in direction).

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I think the mov videos are ... (Below threshold)

September 13, 2008 10:42 AM | Posted by mark p.s.2: | Reply

I think the mov videos are mixed up as well. Count the four dots from the head down and notice their relative position.

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The mixup has since been fi... (Below threshold)

January 26, 2014 9:01 PM | Posted by cavendishtimothy: | Reply

The mixup has since been fixed in the article.

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