Image courtesy of McMaster University
Do you have a hard time remembering the names and faces of new people you meet? Or are you one of those people who effortlessly remembers names and faces? If you fall into the second group, a new study suggests that you are probably female.
Researchers at McMaster University in Canada set out to determine whether gender has a role in how well people recognize and remember people they have just met. The team used a computer screen to show randomly ordered photographs of faces to the test subjects.
Eye tracking technology monitored where the subjects looked when seeing a face for the first time. The software recorded whether the subjects spent more time looking at the eyes, nose or mouth of the pictured face. Test subjects were also asked to remember a name associated with each face.
The researchers divided the study into two groups. One group was tested over the course of one day. The second group was tested over four days.
The team concluded that in general, men and women have different patterns in where they look when meeting someone new. Women appear to spend more time than men actively looking at the features of a new face. This allows many women to retain a richer and more complete memory of the face and have an easier time remembering it later.
The team also concluded that the men and women in the study were not consciously aware of where they were looking.
Jennifer Heisz, a research fellow at the Rotman Institute at Baycrest and newly appointed assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology at McMaster University co-authored the research paper which was published in the journal Psychological Science.
Heisz said, “We found that women fixated on the features far more than men, but this strategy operates completely outside of our awareness. Individuals don’t usually notice where their eyes fixate, so it’s all subconscious.”
The team believes the results are encouraging for people with memory difficulties and suggest that consciously scanning a face while concentrating on the features may be a simple way to improve face recognition.