Your bitter aunts and uncles are right – men and women do see things differently.

Researchers from the University of Southern California (USC) found that the eyes of men and women wander in slightly different ways and focus on different things.

In a quite meta study, Dr. Laurent Itti and doctoral student John Shen from the University of Southern California watched people watch videos of people being interviewed. In the background of the visual frame distractions (people, bicycles, and pedestrians) walked past the interview subjects intending to pull participants away from what they were doing. They monitored the eye movements of the 34 participants as they watched the subject.

The researchers found that men tend to focus on the mouth of a person as they talk, and are distracted most often by distinctive movements occurring behind a person. Meanwhile, women's attention tends to be focused on the eyes of a person, and is more often divided between the face and body of a person speaking. Women also tend to most distracted by people entering the visual frame. For example, women would be more distracted at first by a bicyclist entering a frame, while men would be more distracted by said person falling off their bicycle behind the interview subject.

Itti and Shen say that their findings "can be attributed to a male preference for motion and a female preference for areas that may contain nonverbal information about the speaker." They did not speculate in the abstract why this preference would exist, but the research that indicates that women tend to be better at reading body language is probably interrelated.

Previous studies on attention had controlled for age, race and sex. This study challenges the way scientists currently think of sensory information, and attention, because the USC researchers have found a distinct difference in the way that men and women pay attention to other people and things. They also believe that their studies carry further implications "for studies of sex in nonverbal communication."

The article was published in the journal Vision Research.