[Below is the original script. But a few changes may have been made during the recording of this audio podcast.]
One signature detail we use when we recognize people we know—one that is often overlooked—is their walk. Past studies show that we can discern gender, mood, personality traits by just watching animated simple point-figures…meaning, points of light marking joint positions on amblers, such as knees, elbows, hips, etc.
A group from the Southern Cross University in Australia published a fascinating result in the journal Current Biology, after they manipulated the light points of walkers, making figures appear more feminine or masculine.
If they made the point-form body appear male, subjects perceived that figure as walking toward them—regardless of its actual direction. If the walker seemed female, the subjects reported it was walking away from them.
Curiously, gender-neutral figures tended to appear to be moving toward the viewer. "It was only when walkers had characteristics consistent with being female did the observers begin to perceive them more often as facing away," the researchers reported.
Further, even when the researchers included perspective cues that enhance a stroller's directionality, they found subjects saw males as coming toward them more than half the time, and nearly always viewed females as in retreat.
The researchers speculate that these misperceptions may signal deeper evolutionary factors: "…a male figure that is otherwise ambiguous might best be perceived as approaching to allow the observer to prepare to flee or fight. Similarly…especially for infants, the departure of females might signal a need to act…"
Hm. Not sure, but that’s the thing in science… fascinating proven results are often left waiting for their counterpart explanations to catch up.
- Christie Nicholson