Facial Recognition: Relative Ability Between Genders?

Ermintruder

Existential pixelfixer
Joined
Jul 13, 2013
Messages
4,529
Likes
5,260
Points
209
#1
With no objective basis for believing this proposition (other than a half-remembered and possibly-false memory, but underpinned by my own witnessed experience), I am of the deeply-held opinion that most men are better at recognising faces than women are.

Utter subjectivity, sweeping generalisation, but (in my opinion) demonstrably and frequently true.

I have witnessed this apparent gender-based skills differential being demonstrated time and again over many years, and have increasingly had the subconscious feeling that this is indeed the case.

Before going into more detail, I'd be interested to hear thoughts and experiences of others on the forum about this. Please remember, I am talking in general/trend terms, not in solid absolutes.

I'd also be interested to see if anyone is aware of any formal scientific / peer-reviewed research having been done in this area. Or is this a unique and utterly baseless misperception?

On a related note, pun intended, I also have a suspicion that men would be better, on a raw statistical basis, at facially recognising hitherto-unknown-to-them family members as being related to them, than women would be.

This is not a trivial gender-sniping, nor is it voodoo anthropology, but us an earnest entreaty for shared opinion.
 

Loquaciousness

The misuse of the word "fact" annoys me
Joined
Sep 3, 2011
Messages
1,321
Likes
1,089
Points
159
#2
It's actually the other way round - women are generally better at recognising faces than men http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131120081356.htm
Generally, the idea is that we the gender are born with equal abilities, but that through gender labelling and subsequent differential treatment of the genders, females develop these better skills. So female gender roles tend to be associated with being more emotional, communicative, nurturing, etc. all of which involve recognising faces and emotions shown on faces. This is also further backed up by the fact that women are better at recognising emotion on faces ( Baron-Cohen ). And yes, that Baron-Cohen is the cousin of the comedian!
 

Ermintruder

Existential pixelfixer
Joined
Jul 13, 2013
Messages
4,529
Likes
5,260
Points
209
#3
Now that's very interesting. Close to the exact opposite of what I've seen being exhibited so many times. What is outlined there in that study resonates very-much with what the majority of people might've predicted for outcomes, almost as an embodiment of pre-expected stereotype. I'm sure they'll have attempted to avoid any level of bias towards conventional expectations, but I wonder if in so doing they're failing to pick-up on the angle I'm trying to illustrate here?

I'm not convinced. Or, I need to try and explain more exactly what I believe can frequently be seen as another strand running within in this process (not always, but often).

Whilst the study you've referenced states that women are better than men at recognising faces 'if all other factors are normalised' (I paraphrase, will reread it to confirm exactly what's being said there) I really do not think this is the whole story.

Let me firstly write down some opinionated, contestable but valid, assertions:

- (The majority of) woman would undoubtedly score much higher than men in recognising emotion from facial expressions. I strongly suspect that this is a lot more innate than is politically correct to admit to. Conversely, I am personally convinced that a significant proportion of men are incredibly bad at recognising emotion graphically, or from many other cues. Am I more right than wrong? (nb this is not intended to be destructively-sexist, at all, nor is it for/against either primary gender)

- To clarify, I believe (such a loaded term) strongly that, irrespective of the main thrust of that proffered citation, there could be statistically-relevant data gathered via observation to show that men are better than women in recognising faces that are not about the place for a long time, are initially unfamiliar, or are seen in a skewed context. To explain my postulation by example: take circumstances such as a non-famous actor appearing in a new movie following previous limited appearances. It will tend more often to be men that will succeed in recognising and retrocontextualising that 'unfamiliar' face. Or say in circumstances where there is an identity parade scenario taking place - again subjectively, but I think males would tend to give a more-accurate identification based upon just a brief exposure to a 'new face', and no other form of interaction had taken place.

- Similarly, I genuinely have seen men being better at women in being able to recognise kin characteristics, spotting previously-unseen/unintroduced relations than women, eg at large suprafamily events wedding/funerals etc. I am generalising massively, here, and would stress that I am asserting here conformance to a perceived trend based around gender, not sexual identity.

(Attempts to summarise argument) - Where facial recognition relies upon gleaned clues, or detection of subtle/slight hints (ie 'when it's in circumstances that are challenging or inferred') my assertion is that men would score higher on accuracy than women. Further summary of my assertion: 'Succeeds often at recognising difficult faces. An ability at the edge of usefulness. Primal'

Conversely, if facial recognition is based upon experientially-acquired familiarity of specific faces and eg the welcome-home acceptance a reintroduced missing face (following time apart) women would consistently outshine men for accurately recognising faces. Let's call this "friend's face from a crowd". Further summary of my assertion: 'Succeeds consistently at recognising familiar or learnt faces. An ability at the core of human interaction. Socially essential'.

Am I perceiving a valid/measureable gender specialisation, perhaps a supported evolutionary difference? Some level of hunter/gatherer selectivity, thumbnailed down to 'Mr Detector of Difference' versus 'Mrs Recogniser of Registered Relation' ??

(More to follow)
 
Last edited:

Loquaciousness

The misuse of the word "fact" annoys me
Joined
Sep 3, 2011
Messages
1,321
Likes
1,089
Points
159
#4
I think one of the most important things about the study though was that it was a meta analysis,one that's drawn together most of the research in the area and and drawn conclusions based on this.
 

Ermintruder

Existential pixelfixer
Joined
Jul 13, 2013
Messages
4,529
Likes
5,260
Points
209
#5
I think one of the most important things about the study though was that it was a meta analysis,one that's drawn together most of the research in the area and and drawn conclusions based on this.
Ah, was oblivious to that substantial fact.

I will try to read their full research (now, ideally that won't need an ATHENS login, or the equivalent thereof)
 

Rosebud

Ephemeral Spectre
Joined
Apr 10, 2011
Messages
439
Likes
523
Points
99
#6
All the males in my family are much better than the females at recognizing actors on TV. We often get in to "Isn't that so-and-so who was in that series...?" and it is usually the boys who accurately identify the person.
 

GNC

King-Sized Canary
Joined
Aug 25, 2001
Messages
24,498
Likes
7,985
Points
284
#7
Apparently a good test is to watch the film The Departed and see how long it takes you to notice Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio are not the same person. A lot of people didn't notice the difference until about an hour in, though I couldn't say if women were worse than men.
 

Ermintruder

Existential pixelfixer
Joined
Jul 13, 2013
Messages
4,529
Likes
5,260
Points
209
#9
All the males in my family are much better than the females at recognizing actors on TV. We often get in to "Isn't that so-and-so who was in that series...?" and it is usually the boys who accurately identify the person.
This is precisely my point...I will go so far as to say that I have never heard a female be able to outgun a male in this respect.

I do take Loquaciousness' point that the research example cited does represent the integrated outcomes of multiple corrected experiments, and must be taken very seriously.

But I still stand by my empirical experience and subjective opinion that men are better at accurately identifying difficult faces than women (snap judgement, oblique/obscured/badly-lit), and that women are much better than men in identifying or discriminating faces that already familiar, and/or can be processed without anti-factors (cogitated choice, straight-on view, unconflicting backdrop)

I've just remembered a classic personal experience, that may help shed some serious light on this. But since my main proposition is not supported by the findings of mainstream research (a point I do acknowledge), I'll not say my next piece on this, yet, until we get a few more straw pollers blowing in with their thoughts. My next testimony on this will genuinely be interesting and relevant...but I'll wait a bit before posting
 
Last edited:

Iris

Justified & Ancient
Joined
May 22, 2004
Messages
1,434
Likes
1,347
Points
169
#10
"On a related note, pun intended, I also have a suspicion that men would be better, on a raw statistical basis, at facially recognising hitherto-unknown-to-them family members as being related to them, than women would be."
Ermintrude when I was young whenever I went out with my Dad, usually by public transport, he would start talking to a stranger.
The strange part was that they usually turned out to be some remote relative.
 

gattino

Justified & Ancient
Joined
Jul 30, 2003
Messages
1,623
Likes
2,295
Points
184
#11
I've not observed the need to recognise faces happening among people to the point of spotting any difference in genders! You only tend to comment on people you do recognise,rather than those you don't. :/

I do believe I personally....and possibly most people here who are drawn to curiosity about/interest in the "paranormal"..have a hyper developed sense of pattern spotting.

Beyond noting coincidences far more than others and correlations between dreams and events etc, I am forever spotting people's resemblance to other people..which often isn't noticed till I point it out. I have a gallery on my facebook matching friends and contacts to celebrities. I spot a likeness that isn't apparent to them or others, then find matching photos to prove it...and 9 times out of 10 it takes them by surprise to see it's true.

When it comes to forteans a sceptic would call a heightened pattern recognition faculty "overdeveloped" and credit it with people seeing connections which aren't there (like a conspiracy theorist may)...but I would contend its as likely to be the opposite. That it enables you to spot connections which ARE there and others are blind to.
 

Schrodinger's Zebra

Increasingly unlikely
Joined
Mar 8, 2018
Messages
1,208
Likes
1,814
Points
153
#12
Just to skew the data slightly the other way... I've just asked Mr Zebra "who do you think is better out of us at recognising faces" and he immediately said I was.

And I must agree - I'm forever annoying Mr (long-suffering) Zebra when we watch a telly programme or old film by suddenly pointing out "oh that's so-and-so who was in such-and-such".

(I really should try to shut up when we're watching films :D )

The latest one was probably last year when watching our new "Fry and Laurie" DVD box-set when I suddenly said "he's the one from House". (Mr Zebra knew that already and just rolled his eyes).
 

Swifty

doesn't negotiate with terriers
Joined
Sep 15, 2013
Messages
21,342
Likes
22,140
Points
284
#13
Just to skew the data slightly the other way... I've just asked Mr Zebra "who do you think is better out of us at recognising faces" and he immediately said I was.

And I must agree - I'm forever annoying Mr (long-suffering) Zebra when we watch a telly programme or old film by suddenly pointing out "oh that's so-and-so who was in such-and-such".

(I really should try to shut up when we're watching films :D )

The latest one was probably last year when watching our new "Fry and Laurie" DVD box-set when I suddenly said "he's the one from House". (Mr Zebra knew that already and just rolled his eyes).
I've often got faces wrong (although I still to this day reckon I did see Alison Moyet walk into McDonalds in Lichfield in the early 90's with a couple of big black blokes) ... my Mum took the piss out of me for some time over that incident .. the Mrs has a running joke at my expense because I kept confusing older brunette women with Linda Bellingham on TV .. so if I see any actor of any age or gender now and say "Is that that bloke who was in .. ?..", she'll answer with "No, it's Linda Bellingham".
 

EnolaGaia

I knew the job was dangerous when I took it ...
Staff member
Joined
Jul 19, 2004
Messages
8,342
Likes
7,625
Points
294
Location
Out of Bounds
#16
It's actually the other way round - women are generally better at recognising faces than men http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131120081356.htm ...
I think it's important to point out that the Herlitz & Lovén study focused on one particular type of 'facial recognition' task, whereas some of the discussion here pertains to 'facial recognition' in one or more senses that aren't necessarily covered within the scope of either their meta-analysis or the studies they surveyed.

The cited article specifically characterizes facial recognition tasks as follows:

"... a series of male and female faces are presented one by one, and participants are later asked to indicate among target faces (previously presented) and distractor faces (not previously presented) whether they remember having seen the faces before or not."
In other words, the 'facial recognition' addressed in the meta-analysis is the recognition of whether a given facial image has been previously seen or not. That's it; that's all ...

This doesn't subsume, nor does it necessarily shed light upon, other issues such as (e.g.):

- whether one can identify whose face it is;
- whether one can 'place' the face (contextualize it; associate it with other factoids or encounters); or
- how well one can discriminate among similar faces.
 

Eponastill

Abominable Snowman
Joined
Aug 2, 2002
Messages
578
Likes
513
Points
124
#17
Yes I'm sure the task set in these experiments is very important. I'm terrible with faces (probably even worse with names), to the point that people have got very upset when they thought I should have recognised them. So I have adopted strategies of smiling at everyone and talking to people in a casual and friendly fashion to give me time to figure out whether I've spoken to them before. I'm alright after seeing them a few times. I'm sure it's to do with my brain not taking any notes on people I casually see. (I can do an entire shop without "seeing" anyone in the supermarket, I don't know if that's normal. probably not). If I sit down with someone the first time I meet them and talk to them, it's fine afterwards but only so long as I see them reasonably soon afterwards. I do meet a lot of people in my job, so that probably makes things seem worse.

I've taken tests online and they show I'm quite bad but not as poor as I perceive myself to be. I think that's because the situations are very artificial and they make me concentrate to get a better mark, eg to consciously look at the shape of people's noses - isolated features - to try and match them in the next question. I don't think people normally look at other people like that!

I can certainly recognise super-famous faces (another common question in these tests) but I think that's the habituation thing kicking in.

I have problems with films sometimes though - more than once I've watched a film and mistaken two different people for a single character (that makes the storyline a little confusing as you can imagine), and I think I probably conflate people I meet as well sometimes. I'm sure this happens but I guess it takes a while for me to realise it's happening!

As you say, Enola, context is also important, as I'd be less likely to recognise a neighbour if I saw them at the train station or something.

Also I think I rely quite a lot on what people are wearing or their hairstyle and it confuses me when I see them with something different on or their hair up/down.

I could go on. I suppose at least I can recognise myself and my family and friends and colleagues - it must be very tiring to have severe face blindness.

Often I just fess up early on when I meet people to avoid later awkwardness.

On the other hand, Ermintruder, my OH (male) is incomparison awesomely good. For example, the other night we were in a town and a woman asked me for some change. I gave her some and as we walked away Mr E noted that we'd seen her before, in the neighbouring city, about a year previously, begging for change in a car park we'd been in. (Of course I had no way of agreeing or disagreeing but I imagine he was correct :)
 

Swifty

doesn't negotiate with terriers
Joined
Sep 15, 2013
Messages
21,342
Likes
22,140
Points
284
#18
I have the useful skill or being able to recognise people I know from a distance just by the way they walk .. one friend in particular, although he's a great bloke, walks like a twat as though he's a 14 year old trying to look hard although nothing could be further from the truth when you talk to him. I also bumped into an old friend a couple of years back and he said "I bet you didn't recognise me because I've lost a load of weight" but, again, I'd recognised him straight away because of his body language.
 

Mythopoeika

I am a meat popsicle
Joined
Sep 18, 2001
Messages
31,508
Likes
15,336
Points
284
Location
Inside a starship, watching puny humans from afar
#19
I have the useful skill or being able to recognise people I know from a distance just by the way they walk .. one friend in particular, although he's a great bloke, walks like a twat as though he's a 14 year old trying to look hard although nothing could be further from the truth when you talk to him. I also bumped into an old friend a couple of years back and he said "I bet you didn't recognise me because I've lost a load of weight" but, again, I'd recognised him straight away because of his body language.
A career in the police service awaits!
 

Eponastill

Abominable Snowman
Joined
Aug 2, 2002
Messages
578
Likes
513
Points
124
#20
Another example, last night I was watching Poldark and there's a character who is a Baddie but when he's with a certain other character he's all nice and fawning over her. Despite him having quite a distinctive hairstyle I only realised after some thought that they must actually be the same person. This is not very impressive is it.

And another one, the other day I was out walking with my sister in the countryside and we passed two men. They were dressed quite interestingly - I noticed they were dressed in a similar style and looked similar, and realised they would be brothers. But my sister had to point out that they were actually twins. (This twin issue has happened before. And that's quite weird isn't it).

But this isn't really in line with your thread, Ermintruder. I don't think I'm bad at recognising emotions. But who knows.
 

Ermintruder

Existential pixelfixer
Joined
Jul 13, 2013
Messages
4,529
Likes
5,260
Points
209
#21
Let me firstly write down some opinionated, contestable but valid, assertions:

- (The majority of) woman would undoubtedly score much higher than men in recognising emotion from facial expressions. I strongly suspect that this is a lot more innate than is politically correct to admit to. Conversely, I am personally convinced that a significant proportion of men are incredibly bad at recognising emotion graphically, or from many other cues. Am I more right than wrong? (nb this is not intended to be destructively-sexist, at all, nor is it for/against either primary gender)
Similarly, I genuinely have seen men being better at women in being able to recognise kin characteristics, spotting previously-unseen/unintroduced relations than women, eg at large suprafamily events wedding/funerals etc. I am generalising massively, here, and would stress that I am asserting here conformance to a perceived trend based around gender, not sexual identity.
(Attempts to summarise argument) - Where facial recognition relies upon gleaned clues, or detection of subtle/slight hints (ie 'when it's in circumstances that are challenging or inferred') my assertion is that men would score higher on accuracy than women. Further summary of my assertion: 'Succeeds often at recognising difficult faces. An ability at the edge of usefulness. Primal'
Am I perceiving a valid/measureable gender specialisation, perhaps a supported evolutionary difference? Some level of hunter/gatherer selectivity, thumbnailed down to 'Mr Detector of Difference' versus 'Mrs Recogniser of Registered Relation' ??
Conversely, if facial recognition is based upon experientially-acquired familiarity of specific faces and eg the welcome-home acceptance a reintroduced missing face (following time apart) women would consistently outshine men for accurately recognising faces. Let's call this "friend's face from a crowd". Further summary of my assertion: 'Succeeds consistently at recognising familiar or learnt faces. An ability at the core of human interaction. Socially essential'.
 

AlchoPwn

Abominable Snowman
Joined
Nov 2, 2017
Messages
806
Likes
964
Points
94
#22
I have the useful skill or being able to recognise people I know from a distance just by the way they walk .. one friend in particular, although he's a great bloke, walks like a twat as though he's a 14 year old trying to look hard although nothing could be further from the truth when you talk to him. I also bumped into an old friend a couple of years back and he said "I bet you didn't recognise me because I've lost a load of weight" but, again, I'd recognised him straight away because of his body language.
I agree Swifty. My eyesight is bad but I can often pick out friends in the distance by their gait. I have noticed that you can also read the "body language" of cars and predict what they are going to do next by micro-changes in their direction. This sensitivity has saved me from accidents on a few occasions. It also comes in handy in paintballing to be able to guess from gait clues what another party will do next. I don't think these skills are particularly unusual either, I'm sure most people do these things, they just may not have noticed that they do them. Mysteries of the "human brian" etc.

- (The majority of) women would undoubtedly score much higher than men in recognising emotion from facial expressions. I strongly suspect that this is a lot more innate than is politically correct to admit to. Conversely, I am personally convinced that a significant proportion of men are incredibly bad at recognising emotion graphically, or from many other cues. Am I more right than wrong? (nb this is not intended to be destructively-sexist, at all, nor is it for/against either primary gender)
A factor here that would explain the dichotomy of masculine face reading issues. The first being Aspbergers syndrome, which seems related to testosterone, and has been described as a form of hyper-masculinism by some researchers.

If we are talking about the recognition or non-recognition of faces, it is probably worth mentioning prosopagnosia, which is the inability to detect the differences in faces:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prosopagnosia#Cause
 

Swifty

doesn't negotiate with terriers
Joined
Sep 15, 2013
Messages
21,342
Likes
22,140
Points
284
#23
I agree Swifty. My eyesight is bad but I can often pick out friends in the distance by their gait. I have noticed that you can also read the "body language" of cars and predict what they are going to do next by micro-changes in their direction. This sensitivity has saved me from accidents on a few occasions. It also comes in handy in paintballing to be able to guess from gait clues what another party will do next. I don't think these skills are particularly unusual either, I'm sure most people do these things, they just may not have noticed that they do them. Mysteries of the "human brian" etc.



A factor here that would explain the dichotomy of masculine face reading issues. The first being Aspbergers syndrome, which seems related to testosterone, and has been described as a form of hyper-masculinism by some researchers.

If we are talking about the recognition or non-recognition of faces, it is probably worth mentioning prosopagnosia, which is the inability to detect the differences in faces:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prosopagnosia#Cause
Exactly.

For example AlchoPwn, I can tell by the way you use your walk you're a woman's man .. 3 .. 2 .. 1

 

Mythopoeika

I am a meat popsicle
Joined
Sep 18, 2001
Messages
31,508
Likes
15,336
Points
284
Location
Inside a starship, watching puny humans from afar
#24
I don't think I have prosopagnosia, but I do have problems with remembering some people's faces. It's more likely to be a problem when somebody looks non-distinctive (i.e. they may look like many other people).
I first noticed this when I was a kid. When I watched the TV series 'The Invaders', everybody in it looked the same - it was difficult to follow the plot because so many actors in it were very alike.
 

Schrodinger's Zebra

Increasingly unlikely
Joined
Mar 8, 2018
Messages
1,208
Likes
1,814
Points
153
#25
I have noticed that you can also read the "body language" of cars and predict what they are going to do next by micro-changes in their direction. This sensitivity has saved me from accidents on a few occasions.
Oh yes, this is definitely a thing, and it's a pity more drivers aren't able to do this to be honest. :) Both me and Mr Zebra can do this, and as you say it does help prevent accidents.
 

Schrodinger's Zebra

Increasingly unlikely
Joined
Mar 8, 2018
Messages
1,208
Likes
1,814
Points
153
#26
I don't think I have prosopagnosia, but I do have problems with remembering some people's faces. It's more likely to be a problem when somebody looks non-distinctive (i.e. they may look like many other people).
I first noticed this when I was a kid. When I watched the TV series 'The Invaders', everybody in it looked the same - it was difficult to follow the plot because so many actors in it were very alike.
I get that a lot when watching telly sometimes - there'll be two, say, dark-haired male characters of similar age and I'll spend the majority of the programme time thinking they're either the same person or getting the two of them mixed up.
 

catseye

For the greater good
Joined
Feb 1, 2010
Messages
500
Likes
1,035
Points
139
Location
York
#28
I'm quite good at recognising different faces - I work with customers and have to 'differentiate' quite quickly in order to know what to say to them. But there are a couple who are very similar (not related) and I sometimes get them mixed up - it's as if my brain has got a setting for 'tall, lanky man, not much hair' and anyone who slots into that setting must be one person?
 
Top