Categorizing sex and identity from the biological motion of faces

Curr Biol. 2001 Jun 5;11(11):880-5. doi: 10.1016/s0960-9822(01)00243-3.


Head and facial movements can provide valuable cues to identity in addition to their primary roles in communicating speech and expression [1-8]. Here we report experiments in which we have used recent motion capture and animation techniques to animate an average head [9]. These techniques have allowed the isolation of motion from other cues and have enabled us to separate rigid translations and rotations of the head from nonrigid facial motion. In particular, we tested whether human observers can judge sex and identity on the basis of this information. Results show that people can discriminate both between individuals and between males and females from motion-based information alone. Rigid head movements appear particularly useful for categorization on the basis of identity, while nonrigid motion is more useful for categorization on the basis of sex. Accuracy for both sex and identity judgements is reduced when faces are presented upside down, and this finding shows that performance is not based on low-level motion cues alone and suggests that the information is represented in an object-based motion-encoding system specialized for upright faces. Playing animations backward also reduced performance for sex judgements and emphasized the importance of direction specificity in admitting access to stored representations of characteristic male and female movements.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Communication
  • Cues
  • Face*
  • Head / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Judgment*
  • Motion Perception*
  • Movement*
  • Sex Characteristics*