May 30, 2009

Coloring, or makeup, provides gender cues

The brain is wired to identify gender based on facial cues and coloring, which may explain why women wear makeup, Canadian researchers said.

Psychology Professor Frederic Gosselin and his University of Montreal team found the luminescence of the eyebrow and mouth region is vital in rapid gender discrimination.

As teenagers, dimorphism -- systematic difference between sexes -- increases in the nose, chin, mouth, jaw, eyes and general shape of faces, lead author Nicolas Dupuis-Roy said in a statement. Yet we aren't conscious of how our brain recognizes those differences.

The researchers showed photos of 300 Caucasian faces to some 30 participants. Subjects were asked to identify gender based on images in which parts of faces were concealed.

The study, published in the Journal of Vision, found that eyes and mouths are paramount in identifying gender. The investigation found the shades of reds and greens around mouths and eyes led to faster gender discrimination.

Studies have shown that an androgynous face is considered male if the skin complexion is redder, and considered female if the complexion is greener, Dupuis-Roy said. However, it is the opposite for the mouth. A woman's mouth is usually redder. Our brain interprets this characteristic as female.