Men and women have very different gaits—and viewers tend to perceive stereotypically masculine motion as approaching, whereas a feminine saunter seems to move away. As reported in September in the journal Current Biology, volunteers were asked to guess the direction of motion of point-map figures, in which the image of a walker’s body is reduced to a few dots at his or her major joints (below). The figures are the same from the front and back—so they could theoretically be perceived as walking either toward or away from the viewer—but volunteers perceived the swaying hips and protruding elbows of a feminine walk as moving away, and they saw neutral and masculine gaits as coming nearer. The researchers suggest that because men offer more of a threat, our ancestors may have benefited from assuming that a male figure was walking toward them—that way the observer could get ready to flee or fight. But as children, early humans may have been better off assuming that a woman, perhaps their mother, was walking away—then, they would need to follow.
This article was originally published with the title "Its in His Walk" in SA Mind 19, 6, 8 (December 2008)