Gender Differences in Familiar Face Recognition and the Influence of Sociocultural Gender Inequality


Maruti Mishra, Jirapat Likitlersuang, Jeremy Wilmer, Sarah Cohan, Laura Germine, and Joseph DeGutis. 11/29/2019. “Gender Differences in Familiar Face Recognition and the Influence of Sociocultural Gender Inequality.” Scientific Reports, 9. Publisher's Version


Are gender differences in face recognition influenced by familiarity and socio-cultural factors? Previous studies have reported gender differences in processing unfamiliar faces, consistently finding a female advantage and a female own-gender bias. However, researchers have recently highlighted that unfamiliar faces are processed less efficiently than familiar faces, which have more robust, invariant representations. To-date, no study has examined whether gender differences exist for familiar face recognition. The current study addressed this by using a famous faces task in a large, web-based sample of  > 2000 participants across different countries. We also sought to examine if differences varied by socio-cultural gender equality within countries. When examining raw accuracy as well when controlling for fame, the results demonstrated that there were no participant gender differences in overall famous face accuracy, in contrast to studies of unfamiliar faces. There was also a consistent own-gender bias in male but not female participants. In countries with low gender equality, including the USA, females showed significantly better recognition of famous female faces compared to male participants, whereas this difference was abolished in high gender equality countries. Together, this suggests that gender differences in recognizing unfamiliar faces can be attenuated when there is enough face learning and that sociocultural gender equality can drive gender differences in familiar face recognition.