In 2015 scientists determined that there is no such thing as a specifically male or female brain. Gendered behaviors exist but not specific gendered neurological features. But there are still obvious differences between men and women — one of these being that men are really, really good at recognizing the faces of Transformers.
If that sounds like a ridiculous conjecture, Vanderbilt University researchers want to reassure you that it’s not. In a study released Wednesday in the journal Vision Research, the scientists announced that men were better than women at recognizing Transformer faces. Why does this matter? Because this represents the first time in a research experiment in which men have done better than women in a facial recognition task.
Prior work suggests that women are inherently better than men at recognizing faces. All humans are hardwired to look for and recognize faces; it’s just that women have always proven to be a lot better at it. Research conducted in 2013 determined that this is likely because women look at faces 10 to 40 percent more often than men, which means they are gathering more visual information.
With this previous research in mind, the Vanderbilt researchers set out to test whether this female advantage would hold up if they tested with toys stereotypically associated with each gender. They asked 295 participants to complete a series of facial recognition tasks where they were shown images of male faces, female faces, Barbie doll faces, Transformer faces and, as a control, different kinds of cars.
Of the 161 men and 134 women surveyed, both sexes performed equally well with human faces. This wasn’t especially surprising — while women typically perform better at facial recognition tasks, there’s precedent for both sexes performing equally well in the past. In this experiment, however, women also recognized Barbie faces more readily, but — wait for it — men “had a small but statistically significant advantage in identifying Transformer faces.”
And there you have it — the first time men outperformed women in this task. (They also outperformed women in identifying cars, but cars don’t have faces.) When the researchers looked at the individual differences between the research subjects, they found that the men who were good at recognizing Transformers were also the men who were good at recognizing faces overall.
“Clearly, the faces you experience as a child leave a trace in your adult memory,” the study’s lead author, Isabel Guathier, Ph.D., said in a statement. “It is unlikely that this effect is limited to these particular toys.”