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Men are red, women are green

My monthly award for the best news release title goes to Brown University. It says that two of its researchers have discovered a difference in skin tone associated with gender. 'They determined that men tend to have more reddish skin and greenish skin is more common for women.' And don't think it's just another exotic research project. According to the research team, this 'information has a number of potential industry or consumer applications in areas such as facial recognition technology, advertising, and studies of how and why women apply makeup.' Interesting, but read more...
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Written by Roland Piquepaille, Inactive on

My monthly award for the best news release title goes to Brown University. It says that two of its researchers have discovered a difference in skin tone associated with gender. 'They determined that men tend to have more reddish skin and greenish skin is more common for women.' And don't think it's just another exotic research project. According to the research team, this 'information has a number of potential industry or consumer applications in areas such as facial recognition technology, advertising, and studies of how and why women apply makeup.' Interesting, but read more...

Male or female?

You can see on the left some results of this project. "Test subjects tended to confirm subtle color differences associated with gender. Even when viewing pixelated or distorted images, subjects identified redder images as male and greener images as female. Top left: gender-ambiguous face; top-right: random noise over the ambiguous face; bottom-left: reconstructed male face; bottom-right: reconstructed female face." (Credit: Michael Tarr, Brown University)

This research project has been conducted by Michael Tarr, Professor of Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences in his TarrLab. For this particular work, he was helped by Graduate Student Adrian Nestor.

Here is a description of the "Structure and color in face recognition" project (Source: the TarrLab research page). "Face recognition is sensitive to the featural and configural properties of human faces. We examine this sensitivity to structure for both human and automatic recognition in a variety of tasks and with a variety of methods. One aspect of structure less investigated is the variation of color, specifically hue, over face surfaces. Its diagnosticity for categorization, e.g. gender discrimination, and identification is examined and compared with other types of structural information."

Now, let's look at the Brown University news release to see how the study was done. "Tarr needed plenty of faces. His lab analyzed about 200 images of Caucasian male and female faces (100 of each gender) compiled in a data bank at the Max Planck Institute in Tübingen, Germany, photographed using a 3-D scanner under the same lighting conditions and with no makeup. He then used a MatLab program to analyze the amount of red and green pigment in the faces. Additionally, Tarr and his lab relied on a large number of other faces photographed under similar controlled conditions." You'll find links to all these faces here and there.

So what kind of results did the team obtain? "Men proved to have more red in their faces and women have more green, contrary to prior assumptions. [More on that below.] 'If it is on the more red end of the spectrum (the face) had a higher probability of being male. Conversely, if it is on the green end of the spectrum (the face) had a higher probability of being female,' Tarr said. To test the concept further, Nestor and Tarr used an androgynous image compiled from the average of the 200 initial faces. Trial by trial, they randomly clouded the face with 'visual noise' that either included more red or green. The “noise” was not unlike static that can appear on a television screen with no signal."

This research work has been published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science (APS) under the name "Gender Recognition of Human Faces Using Color" (Volume 19, Number 12, December 2008). Here is a link to this technical paper (PDF format, 17 pages, 48 KB)

Another paper by the same authors attracted my attention. It has been published in the Journal of Vision under the name "The segmental structure of faces and its use in gender recognition" (Volume 8, Number 7, Article 7, Pages 1-12, published May 23, 2008).

Not only it contains very interesting pictures, it carries some comments that seem to contradict the one I've highlighted above in bold characters. "The categorization results above draw on global and local differences between male and female faces. To examine the nature of these differences, we compared color properties across genders. First, for global properties, we found that male faces were darker and redder than female faces -- both results consistent with earlier findings." Now, read again the above comment from the Brown University news release: "Men proved to have more red in their faces and women have more green, contrary to prior assumptions."

So are the results obtained by the same research team "consistent with earlier findings" or "contrary to prior assumptions"? Troubling...

Sources: Brown University news release, December 8, 2008; and various websites

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