Friends of the Nonverbal Communication Blog, this week we present the paper “Gender affects body language Reading” de Sokolov, A. A.; Krüger, S.; Enck, S.; Krägeloh-Mann, I. y Pavlova, M. A. (2012), they carried out one of the first studies about the different abilities of men and women to understand nonverbal language.

Reading body language has an immense importance when it comes about adaptive social behavior and communication in general. This skill is part of the core of social competences.

Those people who can infer emotions in others, represented by body movements, are likely to be more successful in interacting with other people.

In addition, it is possible to discriminate between deception and truth by observing the body and all the nonverbal information that the person transmits to us, considering it as a whole and analyzing its consistency.

The dynamic body expressions, gestures and actions of others are a very rich and valid source to pay attention to in our social interactions.

It is known from previous literature that emotions expressed by dynamic bodies, compared to faces, elicit greater activation in several areas of the brain, including the superior temporal sulcus, which is critically important in the social brain.

But how do you know who to trust? These judgments are vital to social interaction, and it appears that men and women differ in the cues they pay attention to.

According to generalized beliefs, women show greater sensitivity to nonverbal signals: they better discriminate friendship from sexual interest and are more competent in recognizing emotions on the face. Even women with Asperger’s syndrome would better recognize the emotions of dynamic faces than men.

In addition, women tend to recognize emotions better from faces than from voices, while men show the opposite trend.

Surprisingly, however, the impact of gender on reading body language is largely unknown. In a study carried out in the early 1980s, the superiority of women in reading it was pointed out, but there is not much more literature on the matter, as there is with other aspects of nonverbal communication.

The article tries to fill the gap and clarify whether the gender of the perceiver affects the recognition of emotional expressions conveyed by the actions of others and, if so, how it does. More specifically, authors ask whether gender affects the recognition of emotions represented by body movement, or, in other words, whether females excel at recognizing emotional actions.

To this end, authors gathered 34 healthy adults between the ages of 20 and 36 who were enrolled in the study.

Authors used light dot screens depicting a person knocking on the door with different emotional expressions (happy, neutral, or angry) and showed this to the subjects. They had to infer which was the emotion of the person in that moment.

The light spot technique was used because it helps to isolate the information revealed by the appearance of other signals. The perceivers saw only a few bright spots placed on the joints of an arm, that, otherwise, would be completely invisible.

The results yielded interesting information. It seems that the effect of gender would be related to the emotional content of the actions.

Women tend to excel at recognizing angry actions, while men excel at recognizing the happy ones.

Additionally, females outperform males in recognizing emotionally neutral hits.

Women have been socially associated with a high sensitivity to emotional cues and subtle details; the reverse occurring with men, who may have a better performance in recognizing negative threatening expressions.

These assumptions are based on the different evolutionary and sociocultural roles of both genders.

The data is consistent with findings showing that men appear to exhibit stronger brain activation in response to positive images (depicting landscapes, sports activities, families, or erotic scenes) than women.

Finally, women have an advantage in recognizing neutral movements. It suggests that they are better attuned to the lack of emotional content in bodily actions.

Authors point out that future research should be directed at uncovering sex differences in brain activity during body language reading. Such research would also shed light on sex differences in neuropsychiatric conditions characterized by deficits in social cognition, such as autism spectrum disorders, depression, or schizophrenia.

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