Gay men's bilateral brains better at remembering faces: study

Jun 22, 2010

Gay men can recall familiar faces faster and more accurately than their heterosexual counterparts because, like women, they use both sides of their brains, according to a new study by York University researchers.

The study, published in the journal, Laterality: Asymmetries of Body, Brain and Cognition, examined the influence of gender, and whether we're right-or-left-handed on our ability to recognize faces. It found that when memorizing and discriminating between faces, show patterns of bilaterality - the usage of both sides of the brain - similar to heterosexual women. tend to favour the right hemisphere for such tasks.

"Our results suggest that both gay men and heterosexual women code faces bilaterally. That allows for faster retrieval of stored information," says study lead author Jennifer Steeves, Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, Faculty of Health.

Study participants were asked to memorize photographs of ten faces, and differentiate them from 50 others, shown to them for only milliseconds each. The images were rendered in black and white and edited to remove ears, hair and blemishes, which can serve as obvious identifying cues. Participants then had to relay which faces were new, as quickly and accurately as possible.

Steeves and her colleagues also investigated the influence of hand dominance on such tasks. They found that left-handed heterosexual participants had better abilities than left-handed homosexuals, and also outperformed right-handed heterosexuals.

Hand dominance is thought to be linked with both hemispheric functioning and sexual orientation; previous studies have shown that homosexual individuals are 39 per cent more likely to be left-handed.

"Our findings are consistent with what we know about the organization and laterality of how we process faces depending on our gender, sexual orientation and handedness," Steeves says.

Anatomical studies of the corpus callosum, which facilitates communication between the left and right hemispheres of the , also indicate differences in handedness: women and left-handed men have been shown to possess larger corpus callosum and more symmetrical cortices than right-handed men.

"These anatomical differences likely contribute to the more lateralized performance results seen among right-handed and heterosexual men," says Steeves.

Explore further: Research on guilt-prone individuals has implications for workplace

More information: The study, "Sex differences in face processing are mediated by handedness and sexual orientation," was co-authored by York University psychology graduate student Caitlin R. Mullin, and York undergraduate psychology students Paul W. H. Brewster, and Roxana A. Dobrin.

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akotlar
not rated yet Jun 22, 2010
Anatomical differences? You have to be kidding me. Are they really suggesting that the root of homosexuality is an anatomical, neurological differences in the corpus callosum and intra-hemispheric communication? The results of this study are in support of the notion that anatomical difference reflect focus and effort on a particular task.

The conclusion drawn is phrenological. It would be like saying the bilateral volume differences between cab drivers and non-cabbie controls reflect genetic differences compared to the normal population, or that the greater pre-frontal cortex activity, larger brains, and vastly different gene expression on roughly 400 genes related to stress response in long-term meditators is the cause of their practice, and not the result of it.

There's also no control for personality variables other than "being gay". If they studied the brains of sensitive heterosexual and bisexual men, or even bilingual individuals, they may find similar differences.
lengould100
not rated yet Jun 22, 2010
So akotlar. Are you saying that there could never be a statistically significant relationship between sexual orientation and handedness or rate of face recognition?
Objectivist
5 / 5 (1) Jun 22, 2010
Anatomical differences? You have to be kidding me. Are they really suggesting that the root of homosexuality is an anatomical, neurological differences in the corpus callosum and intra-hemispheric communication?

That was your conclusion. To me it seems that they're merely presenting a parallel between hand dominance and sexual orientation. Nowhere was "the root of homosexuality" mentioned. It's data; you're free to do whatever you want with it. You may choose to rant about it -- but that's not going to change the data.
MichaelExe
not rated yet Jun 22, 2010
akotlar, the brain can be both a cause and an effect. Babies with larger brains are more vulnerable to schizophrenia. Autism and schizophrenia are linked with CNVs (copy number variants, genetic mutation). Einstein was a late talker, because he didn't have a parietal operculum (in which Broca's area is linked with speech) or the Sylvian fissure. "To compensate, the inferior parietal lobe was 15 percent wider than normal."
Guys are more likely to be gay with each older brother, which isn't linked to social environment, but to the conditions in utero (testosterone). Do you ignore fundamental differences between men and women's innate behaviour and brains, too?
Where does discipline come from? It's the result AND cause of a more efficient prefrontal cortex. Someone with ADD would have a hard time meditating.
Cab drivers: not everyone makes it. Of course, they'd all improve, but some start with advantages over others.
IQ and antisocial personality disorder are at least half genetic.
akotlar
not rated yet Jun 22, 2010
I wasn't able to edit my post quickly enough.

Essentially the largest problem with this study is a lack of variable control, although a clear slant toward the theory that brain morphology is largely the result of genetic programming is personally an issue.

Meaning that this study neglects to study co-morbid personality traits that may be more prevalent in gay men, for instance sensitivity, greater openness, or maybe even the tendency to be more observant/"neurotic" (being more aware of dangers & threats present in society for them).

If this study simply correlated sexuality with brain morphology that would be one thing, and the conclusion could mention the possibility of co-morbid factors. Instead, it has a positive control - gender - and clearly the female gender was studied, rather than male, because the researcher started with the premise that there would be similarities between women and gay men. Hence, an unstated personality co-mobrbidity
petedskier
not rated yet Jun 22, 2010
Meaning that this study neglects to study co-morbid personality traits …

… clearly the female gender was studied, rather than male, because the researcher started with the premise that there would be similarities between women and gay men. Hence, an unstated personality co-mobrbidity

Does left handed heterosexual men having better facial recognition than righties count?

While Physorg provides an opportunity to comment on papers, they also don't provide statistical details. Indeed, I frequently suspect stories are written to inflate results to make them more appealing than they actually are. If that is the point that akotlar is making, then I would agree.

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