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Automatic Gender Categorization is a Function of Familiarity

posted on 2023-06-07, 18:35 authored by Ruth Habibi, Beena Khurana
Automatic facial categorization along dimensions such as familiarity, gender, race, expression and age facilitates social exchange. Here we focus on familiarity and gender in order to gauge their independence. Previous experiments are equivocal as to whether these dimensions are processed independently or not (Bruce and Young, 1986; Goshen-Gottstein and Ganel, 2000). If familiarity and gender were independent then facilitation or inhibition of one should not affect future performance on the other. Famous and unfamiliar faces were presented in a series of go no-go tasks. External features were removed ensuring that both famousness and gender decisions were based on the internal features of a face. Faces were presented in paired blocks such that a gender block (e.g., go male, no-go female) was followed by a familiarity block (e.g., go famous, no-go unfamiliar) or vice versa. The first block of each pair consisted of five famous males, five famous females, five unfamiliar males, and five unfamiliar females (each presented twice) in a random order. The second block consisted of the previously seen faces from the first block (old) with an additional 20 new faces (five of each type) so that every block contained 20 go and 20 no-go stimuli. An experimental session consisted of 16 counterbalanced block pairs. Results indicate that only unfamiliar faces solicit automatic gender categorization. When observers made a no-go decision on unfamiliar faces based on familiarity they were subsequently slower to determine the gender of those faces compared to previously unseen faces. However, if they made a no-go decision on unfamiliar faces based on gender, subsequently they were faster to determine the unfamiliarity of those faces relative to previously unseen faces. This interaction was not found for famous faces. Since in the present studies familiarity and famousness were correlated, at this juncture it is not clear whether the results will hold for familiar but not famous individuals. We conclude automatic gender categorization is part and parcel of the `identity' of 44 unfamiliar faces. Familiarity results in the differentiation of identity from gender. In others words, unfamiliar individuals are automatically coded as male or female whereas Madonna is not.


Publication status

  • Published

Presentation Type

  • paper

Event name

10th Gathering Of the Association for the Scientific Study of Conscousness

Event location

Oxford University, Oxford, UK. 23rd to 26th June, 2006

Event type


Event date

Saturday, June 24th, 17:30-19:30: Poster Session 1

Department affiliated with

  • Psychology Publications

Full text available

  • No

Peer reviewed?

  • Yes

Legacy Posted Date


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