Facial expressions are one of the most recognizable things about a person's face, one can often tell whether another is happy or sad simply by observing, but do we notice better whether the face is male or female? Furthermore, do other factors such as one’s own gender or personality effect how they process another’s face?
The human face consists of many interesting features, one of which is the emotion being expressed. For human beings, the importance of interpreting emotions is unchallenged. The ability to understand the feelings expressed by others is thought to be a natural part of growing up. From the early age of 6 months, infants have been reported to show facial expression recognition and discrimination (Ahrens, 1954; Charlesworth & Kreutzer, 1973). Ekman, a psychologist interested in the relationship of emotions and facial expression, carried out cross-cultural research and found that the expressions associated with some emotions, such as happiness and sadness, were basic or biologically universal to all humans (Ekman et al, 1969). Further evidence indicates neural mechanisms are involved where the comprehension of emotions are largely facilitated by the right hemisphere (Bryden et al, 1979).
Another interesting aspect and one of the initial things identified in a face is the gender. Face gender identification is a cognitive process that occurs rapidly and efficiently. Previous research has found that when adults were presented with facial images that had been cropped to remove all cultural cues to gender (i.e. hairstyles and makeup); in almost 100% of the cases participants accurately identified the gender of the face (Bruce et al, 1998). Further evidence has found that 80% of the time, children as young as 7 also accurately classified the faces (Wild et al, 2000). This demonstrates that the biological cues present in the anatomy of a face are sufficient for gender identification to occur efficiently and this ability is acquired during early childhood. Male and female faces can be differentiated between by the shape and texture, which act as cues for identifying the gender of a face. From a front view, identification relies on the texture of the face, which is more noticeable than shape, whereas the reverse occurs when a face is viewed from the back (Bruce et al, 1994). Individual features and their orientation also play an influential role in determining the gender of a face, especially the eye area and the outline of the face (O’Toole et al. 1998).
However the question lies whether classification of these facial aspects is an ability that is universally relative or does it differ amongst categorical groups, e.g. gender and personality.
Gender differences in face classification have produced controversial findings. Everhaurt et al (2001) found that girls and boys use different neuronal systems in processing faces and facial affect, findings that were consistent with the sex differences in visuo-spatial...