Sex Differences in Facial Scanning: Similarities and Dissimilarities Between Infants and Adults

Int J Behav Dev. 2013 Mar;37(2):111-117. doi: 10.1177/0165025412472411.


When face processing studies find sex differences, male infants appear better at face recognition than female infants, whereas female adults appear better at face recognition than male adults. Both female infants and adults, however, discriminate emotional expressions better than males. To investigate if sex and age differences in facial scanning might account for these processing discrepancies, 3-4-month-olds, 9-10-month-olds, and adults viewed faces presented individually while an eye tracker recorded eye movements. Regardless of age, males shifted fixations between internal and external facial features more than females, suggesting more holistic processing. Females shifted fixations between internal facial features more than males, suggesting more second-order relational processing, which may explain females' emotion discrimination advantage. Older male infants made more fixations than older female infants. Female adults made more fixations for shorter fixation durations than male adults. Male infants and female adults' greater encoding of facial information may explain their face recognition advantage.

Keywords: age differences; eye fixations; face perception; race; sex differences.