Under the Hood

Men Process Visual Motion Faster Than Women, Study Says

Are there differences in how men and women see things?

Over the years, researchers have conducted numerous experiments to identify gender differences in cognitive tasks. Now, "serendipitous" findings have been revealed in a study, which examined how men and women see motion. 

The study titled "Sex Differences in Visual Motion Processing" was published in the journal Current Biology on Aug. 16.

Despite a trend of similar performances by both sexes on cognitive tasks, the research team noted there have been a few exceptions.

"In meta-analyses, females were found to excel in verbal fluency and reading achievement, while males tended to excel in measures of visual-spatial ability," they wrote.

To conduct their test, the researchers used a visual motion task that involved identifying whether the black and white bars on a screen were moving toward the left or the right.

They found both male and female participants were good at doing so, usually needing a tenth of a second or less to choose the correct answer. But when comparing the speed, women often took somewhere between 25 to 75 percent longer than men. 

"We were very surprised," said Scott Murray, an associate professor in the department of psychology at the University of Washington. "There is very little evidence for sex differences in low-level visual processing, especially differences as large as those we found in our study."

However, it was also stated this may not necessarily reflect better visual processing in men. Similar enhancements in this task have been observed in those diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), older individuals, and people suffering from depression.

In fact, the current study was aimed at individuals who were on the spectrum to study processing differences. It is known that there has been a large sex bias in terms of ASD prevalence. As per estimations, males are diagnosed with the disorder nearly 3 to 4 times more than women

The researchers then decided to include sex as a factor when analyzing control individuals i.e. the participants of the study who did not have ASD. In their findings, they saw a clear difference between the male and female participants in their visual perception of motion.

This pattern was also observed when they looked at data from other studies which used the same visual task for other experiments. However, they could not identify the mechanism to explain the differences, nor were they apparent in brain scans of important motion-processing areas.

The researchers wanted to conduct further studies and hopefully gain a better understanding of this discrepancy between the sexes. This may involve examining other parts of the brain or using another technique to measure differences. Potentially, they said, it could provide an answer as to why autism is more common among males.