Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Johnny Depp, Reconsidered: How Category-Relative Processing Fluency Determines the Appeal of Gender Ambiguity

Individuals that combine features of both genders–gender blends–are sometimes appealing and sometimes not. Heretofore, this difference was explained entirely in terms of sexual selection. 

In contrast, we propose that part of individuals’ preference for gender blends is due to the cognitive effort required to classify them, and that such effort depends on the context in which a blend is judged. In two studies, participants judged the attractiveness of male-female morphs. Participants did so after classifying each face in terms of its gender, which was selectively more effortful for gender blends, or classifying faces on a gender-irrelevant dimension, which was equally effortful for gender blends. In both studies, gender blends were disliked when, and only when, the faces were first classified by gender, despite an overall preference for feminine features in all conditions. Critically, the preferences were mediated by the effort of stimulus classification. 

The results suggest that the variation in attractiveness of gender-ambiguous faces may derive from context-dependent requirements to determine gender membership. More generally, the results show that the difficulty of resolving social category membership–not just attitudes toward a social category–feed into perceivers’ overall evaluations toward category members.

Below:  Examples of stimuli used in Study 1 as a percentage of the female parent

Below:  Examples of face blends used in Study 2

Full article at:

1Department of Psychology, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand
2Department of Psychology, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, California, United States of America
3Behavioural Science Group, Warwick Business School, University of Warwick, Coventry, United Kingdom
4Department of Psychology, University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Warsaw, Poland
Brock University, CANADA
Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.
Conceived and designed the experiments: HO JH PW. Performed the experiments: HO JH PW. Analyzed the data: HO JH PW EC. Contributed reagents/materials/analysis tools: HO JH PW EC. Wrote the paper: HO JH PW EC.

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