Is that man coming or going?

14 September 2008


Australian researchers have uncovered an interesting mental bias in the brains of us all - that we're pre-programmed to think that men are coming towards us and women are walking away.

Dashing war veteran and cadets.The findings, published in Current Biology this week, are the work of Anna Brooks and colleagues at Southern Cross University, NSW.  The team recorded 13 subjects walking and turned the sequences into point-light displays (lights indicating where the major body parts are moving rather than images of the subjects themselves).  These sequences were then shown to volunteers who were asked to judge the sex of the figures they were watching and whether they thought the individual was walking towards them or away from them.

The results were striking: the walkers whom subjects thought were women were all viewed as walking away from the observer whilst those they thought were men were all viewed as approaching.  This suggests that there is some kind of conserved innate behaviour hard-wired into us all to do this. Why is a mystery but the team think that it is probably an evolutionary trait bred into us by the consequences of misinterpreting the actions and intentions of others.

"A male might best be perceived as approaching to allow the observer to prepare to flee or fight," say the researchers. The departure of a female, on the other hand, might also signal a need to act, especially on the part of infants, albeit for different reasons.


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