And not only that, when human observers watched the walking motion of a male so-called "point light walker," they were more sensitive to the female attributes when watching the next figure in the sequence. This suggests that the human brain relies on specialized neurons that tell gender based on gait, report researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in the May 21 advance online edition of Nature Neuroscience.
"Our judgment of gender can adapt within seconds," says senior author Gene Stoner, a neuroscientist in the Vision Center Laboratory at the Salk Institute. "The gaits of males and females may vary geographically or culturally and this mechanism allows us to adapt very quickly to local ways of walking," he adds.
How humans move reflects, in part, gender-specific differences in shape such hip-to-waist ratio and the like. Such inherent differences in gait might then be exaggerated by an individual to emphasize their gender. "Our new data suggests that there are neurons selective for gender based on these motion cues and that they adjust their selectivity on the fly," Stoner explains.
Although much work has been done on how the brain represents so-called low-level features, such as "redness" or "left-moving," scientists have been unable to put their finger on more abstract concepts such as gender. "We wanted to know whether gender is represented in a similar way to low-level visual features such as color, or if it is a more semantic concept such as good and evil," says experimental psychologist and first author Heather Jordan, a former post-doc in the Vision Center
Contact: Mauricio Minotta