Men and women really do see things differently, according to a new study which compares the way each gender looks at images.
Researchers from the University of Bristol found marked differences in eye movements between men and women presented with a picture. The gap is even more pronounced when they are looking at images of other people.
With photos of heterosexual couples, both men and women preferred looking at the female figure rather than the male one. However, this preference was even stronger for women.
While men were only interested in the faces of the two figures, women’s eyes were also drawn to the rest of the bodies – in particular that of the female figure.
The study, published last night, concluded that there is a “sex-divergent gaze”, a discovery that they claim could have implications for the development of profiling and security technology.
The findings also showed that there was a significant divergence between the way women and men looked at faces. Women focused on the nose or mouth, while men looked directly at the eyes.
Researchers conducted the study using 80 images from five different types of film, programme or art: action movie stills, romance movie stills, wildlife documentary stills, surrealist art pieces, and non-surrealist art pieces.
The films included Planet Earth and The Blue Planet, Die Another Day, Apocalypse Now: Redux, Transformers, The Thin Red Line, Love Actually, Kate & Leopold, Ghost, The Sound of Music, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and He’s Just Not That Into You.
The eye movements of 52 participants were tracked when they looked at an image, including how long they looked and what part they focused on.
The observers also rated how much they liked an image based on evaluation (nice/awful, beautiful/ugly and clean/dirty), potency (light/heavy, weak/strong and small/large), and activity (slow/fast, passive/active and dull/sharp).
Results from the study found women made fewer eye movements, but also tended to be more exploratory, looking beyond the face. Men made more eye movements but looked more at faces. Men and women also found different things interesting in the images, and the majority of both genders focused on female figures.
Felix Mercer Moss, from the department of computer science at the University of Bristol who led the study, said gender is a personal attribute that affects eye movement behaviour.
He said: “We already know that eye movements are affected by the structure of an image, and the task of the observer. Our study indicates that in addition to this, the enduring characteristics of the observer affects where people look.
“We have established a link between who you are and where you look – in this case, whether you are a man or a woman.
“Images with people in particular seem to elicit very different patterns between men and women.
“Women make fewer eye movements but they’re more adventurous and exploratory. Men make more eye movements but to fewer places.”
Mr Mercer Moss said viewers gathered a great deal of information from looking at a person’s face, but until now the different ways men and women took in that information had not been explored.
“Particularly in western culture, we have this ‘are you looking at me’ attitude. We speculated women are not as happy with making eye contact as men are,” he added.