Richard Russell of Harvard University has won third prize in the 2009 Best Visual Illusion of the Year Contest with his illusion of sex submission. The faces to the right both were created by averaging male and female faces to create an androgynous substrate that was then modified to exhibit the typical contrast differences found between female and male faces (below right). While the face is the same in both images, people typically see the face on the left as a woman’s and the face on the right as a man’s. This is because the underlying identical, androgynous face has been tonally modified to exhibit typical sex differences.
The image to the right shows these typical tonal differences. The leftmost image to the right (the predominantly white one) shows that areas around the eyes and lips are typically darker in women than men, and that skin tone is typically lighter. The rightmost image shows that the typical male- relative to the typical female – has lighter areas in the eyes/lips and darker skin.
Russell asserts two interesting things:
- these characteristic tonal differences influence our perception of sex, and
- the typical, recommended use of cosmetics by women enhances female characteristics.
I have not been able to access the full-text of Russell’s (2009) preprint article and it appears that the link to it at his web page has been severed. The references/links below provide some additional detail.
Why Cosmetics Work: More Depth To Facial Differences Between Men And Women Than Presumed. (n.d.). . Retrieved October 25, 2009, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/10/091020153100.htm.
Richard Russell – Research. (n.d.). . Retrieved October 25, 2009, from http://public.gettysburg.edu/~rrussell/research.html.
Tonal graphic from:
Frost, P. (2009, October 1). Facial color and sex recognition. Evo and Proud. Retrieved October 25, 2009, fromhttp://evoandproud.blogspot.com/2009/10/facial-skin-color-and-sex-recognition.html.
Joshua Foster (2008) conducted a study that expands on the research that explores the role of visual and olfactory cues in attractiveness ratings. Previous studies – which found that olfactory cues may be as influential or more influential in evaluating attractiveness – have relied on retrospective reports from participants. Foster’s design utilized real-time, in-the-moment attractiveness ratings made by women (n=44/mean age=24) of young men’s (n=21/mean age=23) worn t-shirt odors and facial photographs. Foster compared the ratings of normally cycling (labelled “fertile”) and atypically cycling women (i.e., pregnant/taking hormonal contraceptives – labelled ‘infertile’). Separate ratings were made on pleasantness, sexiness, and attractiveness – which all loaded onto a single component – so the ratings were averaged in the regression calculations.
Both the visual cues in the facial photographs and the olfactory cues in the worn t-shirts contributed to overall attractiveness ratings. Visual cues, however, were significantly more important in determining attractiveness ratings than were olfactory cues. There was a trend in the data suggesting that olfactory cues played a larger role in normal cycling women’s ratings, though, this study lacked the power to unequivocally capture this possible phenomenon.
- Utilized a real-time, rather than retrospective methodology
- Nice checks for odor confounds
- Atypical use of the terms fertile/infertile – reference seems to be to normal cycling or pregnant/using hormonal contraceptives
- Visual stimuli limited to facial attractiveness
Photo courtesy of Snorky/Wikipedia Commons
Foster, J. (2008). Beauty Is Mostly in the Eye of the Beholder: Olfactory Versus Visual Cues of Attractiveness The Journal of Social Psychology, 148 (6), 765-774 DOI: 10.3200/SOCP.148.6.765-774