Men and women gaze differently

The journal Vision Researchhas published a new study by USC researchers showing that the eyes and attention of men and women meander in distinctly different ways.The article, authored by Laurent Itti and doctoral student John Shen, challenges the way scientists generally conceive of attention or how sensory information is prioritized. While previous studies of vision and attention had disregarded individual factors, such as sex, race and age, Itti and Shen demonstrated that men and women pay visual attention in different ways.

A screen grab from a video demonstrates how men and women prioritze sensory information. Dots on the screen indicate the male (blue) and female (red) gaze of participants.

Itti’s lab studied 34 participants as they watched videos of people being interviewed. Behind the interview subjects, within the video frame, pedestrians, bicycles and cars passed by — distractions included to pull attention away from the filmed conversation.

While participants watched and listened to the interview, another camera was pointed at participants’ eyes, recording the movement of their pupils as they glanced across the screen.

Researchers discovered the following:

• Men, when focused on the person being interviewed, parked their eyes on the speaker’s mouth. They tended to be most distracted by distinctive movement behind the interview subjects.

• By contrast, women shift their focus between the interview subject’s eyes and body. When they were distracted, it was typically by other people entering the video frame.

Itti, associate professor of computer science at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, runs USC’s iLab, which is dedicated to gaining insight into biological brain function through the use of computational modeling.

Shen, who also is based at iLab, is a PhD student at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences who conducted the research as part of his doctoral thesis and USC Provost Neuroscience Fellowship.

Funding for the project came from the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Army Research Office.

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