Tag Archives: Sexual dimorphism

Computer algorithm links facial masculinity to autism

This is certainly an interesting study, and I can’t see any obvious problem with the way it was done, but as with any study of autism, I believe questions about the validity of the diagnosis of autism must raise questions about the validity of any study of people (adults or children) who have been given that diagnosis.

Is autism a coherent, consistent, clearly-defined, clearly-delineated, natural category that explains purported cases better than alternative forms of diagnosis such as medical, genetic or sensory diagnostic categories? I doubt it. Let’s be clear; autism is nothing more than a multi-faceted description of behaviours, none of them unique to autism, and some quite common among people who have intellectual or sensory disability. There’s no biology, medicine or psychophysics in the core definitions of autism. I know of no validated, objective test designed to measure any of the sensory aspects of autism. Sure thing, autism is associated with countless congenital and genetic disorders, but the scientific validity of those categories doesn’t rub-off onto autism as a scientific category.

I’m a skeptic about the category of autism and I also have questions about diagnostic processes relating to autism and related disorders. We know that children who are purely and solely cases of prosopagnosia can be misdiagnosed with autism, and the literature on gifted and talented children includes many claims that the same can happen to G&T kids. I suspect that intelligence levels are a confounding factor in many studies that are supposed to explore autism or a broader autism phenotype, and I question whether the trend of identifying children as autistic when in the past they might have been identified as intellectually disabled was the great step forward that it is supposed to have been. There’s also the fact that the “testosterone theory of autism” has been around for many years now and has been widely popularized. It is certainly possible that parents and clinicians have been influenced to expect to see “autistic” behaviour in children who are perceived as more masculine than their peers, due to facial appearance or other traits. This conceivably could have a flow-on effect of increasing the chances that a boy or girl with masculine features might be identified as autistic, and this could be behind the effect found in this study.

These kinds of doubts are why in this blog I have never explored autism in terms of facial phenotypes or in terms of face perception deficits in any depth or with much interest. It’s not that I don’t see a problem or problems in these cases. I do, but I believe it is probable that one day in the distant future scientists will look back on the history of the sciences of the mind and wonder why we spent so much time and money researching autism, a concept that was a long, dark, gold-paved dead-end in the journey of scientific progress, while disability remained a constant issue.

Computer algorithm links facial masculinity to autism.  25 August 2017.

http://www.news.uwa.edu.au/201708259876/international/computer-algorithm-links-facial-masculinity-autism

Hypermasculinised facial morphology in boys and girls with Autism Spectrum Disorder and its association with symptomatology.
Diana Weiting Tan, Syed Zulqarnain Gilani, Murray T. Maybery, Ajmal Mian, Anna Hunt, Mark Walters & Andrew J. O. Whitehouse
Scientific Reports 7, Article number: 9348 (2017)
doi:10.1038/s41598-017-09939-y
Received:
06 March 2017
Accepted:
31 July 2017
Published online:
24 August 2017

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-017-09939-y

 

 

It’s more than just face recognition

You would have to be a fool to think that the abilities of super-recognizers are limited to face memory and face recognition. I strongly suspect that another part of the parcel of ability is the highly sensitive recognition of body language, and by that I mean the total package of facial expressions and head and body movements and probably the associated vocal expressions that is characteristic, but not completely unique, to a person. Of course, these things are intimately linked with the static appearance of the face, and very often when I detect two individuals who have a strikingly similar physical expressive personality they will also have faces that are similar in many ways. My point is, that faces and people are not static objects, and judging super-recognition with tests that use photos probably does not begin to explore the total package of ability.

Not often, but now and then I’m struck and fascinated by the resemblance between the expressiveness of a person I know and some famous person, and also sometimes the similarity can be seen between famous people. One example would be when I was watching the Australian comedian Wil Anderson being interviewed in the One Plus One TV show. In this show he was much more animated than his usual TV appearances, probably because his style of comedy requires a quite cool, straight face, while in the interview he was responding to personal questions and was recounting personal stuff. I was struck by how much his expressive personality or body language seemed the same as the Australian comedy and straight role actor Garry McDonald AO. Do they have similar faces also? I think when you remove the differences in age and hair and facial hair and acting roles, there is a basic facial similarity, but I feel that it goes beyond that. There’s more to it than mere eyes and noses and mouths.

Perhaps you are wondering how researchers could test my proposition that supers are also specifically and separately super at recognizing or interpreting body language, without mixing up face recognition and body language recognition? I guess one could use computer generated images of human silhouettes or outlines as was done in this interesting piece of research about the ability to judge sexual orientation from body language. I’ll bet supers would gun such a test!

 

University of Western Australia researchers’ model of face gender published in PLoS ONE

Garland, Carys Face ‘model’ accurately weighs gender points. ScienceNetwork WA. July 6th 2014.

http://www.sciencewa.net.au//topics/social-science/item/2931-face-model-accurately-weighs-gender-points

The mathematical model of face gender that these UWA researchers have come up with seems like a sensible enough idea to me (and who am I to criticise?) but I’m very doubtful of just about everything stated about face gender and its relation to autism that is written in the Science Network article.

Gilani SZ, Rooney K, Shafait F, Walters M, Mian A (2014) Geometric Facial Gender Scoring: Objectivity of Perception. PLoS ONE 9(6): e99483. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0099483

 

Making children’s television even more annoying

The Annoying Orange is now a TV show, “The High Fructose Adventures of Annoying Orange”, which is currently being broadcast on ABC3. It’s another example of a personified object and personified foodstuff in a comedy show. Why do at least some of us love to see food with human characteristics in sculpture or funny TV shows? What’s the surreal appeal of things that behave like people? Are these quirks of popular culture in any way related to personification synaesthesia or the mental modelling of faces, genders and personalities that gives rise to facial recognition?

Some interesting aspects of the Annoying Orange’s TV show are that it highlights two facts about the visual recognition of people – that dentition can be used to visually identify individuals just like faces can, and that there is one aspect of dentition that can in many cases indicate the gender of the person who owns the teeth. In other words, dentition displays sexual dimorphism, and I suspect that while the Annoying Orange has a male voice that matches his male teeth, one of the other fruity characters in his TV show might not have the correct gender of dentition for their voice and character. Do you know which aspect of human dentition sometimes displays sexual dimorphism?

Annoying Orange  http://annoyingorange.com/

Sex differences in faces? Of course, but where?

I often like to check the stats for this blog, and one of the stats that WordPress makes available is which searchers led readers to my blog. I’ve noticed that this is one recent search: “can one tell difference between gender from face”. This is an interesting question. There must be differences between men and women, and girls and boys that can be detected in faces, because other people and myself are making judgements all the time about the gender of people based on faces alone. I’m sure that for many people a fair proportion of male-to-female transexuals can be picked on their faces alone. Now and then I find that I notice androgynous individuals whose appearance catches my eye because their apparent face gender conflicts with other features of their appearance. This is a thing that I wouldn’t notice at all if faces did not have gendered features that I could detect.

But what are the specific facial features that differ between the sexes? It appears that this is not such a simple question. I see an overall difference, but I’m not completely sure what the different details are. I guess this is a clue that face gender is processed in the brain in at a level where lots of details are integrated, but the individual details alone are not normally consciously perceived. A few years ago there was a fair amount of media coverage of research linking facial width-to-height ratio (WHR) to sexual dimorphism in humans, which is just a fancy scientific term for sex differences. Larger ratios have been linked with maleness, higher levels of aggression in men, and success in competitive pursuits, but it appears that there is conflicting evidence, and this is another scientific theory that might be ready for the recycle bin. My intuition is that the more obvious sex differences in the adult human face can be seen in the jawline and in the eyes and in the browline, males having brow-bones that stick out more but with eyebrows that are lower and closer to the eyes. Women exaggerate this gender difference when they pluck their eyebrows to enlarge the space between the eye and the brow. I have no idea if there is any scientific evidence supporting my beliefs, but it’s common sense really.

Some journal papers about facial width-to-height ratio

Ozener, Baris Facial width-to-height ratio in a Turkish population is not sexually dimorphic and is unrelated to aggressive behaviour. Evolution & Human Behavior. In press. Received 10 July 2010; accepted 22 August 2011. published online 07 November 2011.   http://www.ehbonline.org/article/S1090-5138(11)00082-1/abstract

Carre, Justin M. and McCormick, Cheryl M. In your face: facial metrics predict aggressive behaviour in the laboratory and in varsity and professional hockey players. Proc. R. Soc. B. 22 November 2008 vol. 275 no. 1651 2651-2656. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2008.0873.  http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/275/1651/2651.full