Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Meta-Analysis Reveals Adult Female Superiority in "Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test"

Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Meta-Analysis Reveals Adult Female Superiority in "Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test"

Article excerpt

Across the past two decades a growing interest in measuring individual differences in mental state understanding among adults has given rise to the development of new instruments (e.g., Abell, Happe, & Frith, 2000; Dziobek et al., 2006). Toward this effort, Baron-Cohen, Jolliffe, Mortimore, and Robertson (1997) developed the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test (henceforth the Eyes Test). In this task, participants examine photographs of the eye region and make a forced choice among four descriptor words to match the eyes. Since its development, the Eyes Test has been used in over 250 studies across at least fifteen countries. Some studies report a female advantage (e.g., Carroll & Yung, 2006), others report no significant gender differences (e.g., Mar, Oatley, Hirsh, dela Paz, & Peterson, 2006) and yet other studies report gender effects favoring males (e.g., Nettle & Liddle, 2008). The majority of the studies do not report gender results (e.g., Spek, Scholte, & Van Berckelaer-Onnes, 2010). In these cases, it is not clear if gender was not examined in the first place or if no gender differences were found. The purpose of the current meta-analysis is to investigate the gender effect on the Eyes Test in healthy adults. Meta-analytic investigations provide a statistically appropriate method of combining studies to capitalize on the large total sample size (N = 4290 in the present investigation) in order to reduce measurement error and provide a precise estimate of the true effect size (Borenstein, Hedges, Higgins, & Rothstein, 2009). In our review below, we first examined the general evidence for female superiority in decoding nonverbal behavior and then we discussed the development of the Eyes Test in order to make clear its contribution to the current literature and the value of the present meta-analysis.

From birth, females are more likely than males to attend to social stimuli (i.e., faces versus inanimate objects; Connellan, Baron-Cohen, Wheelwright, Ba'tki, & Ahluwalia, 2001). Female infants maintain eye contact more frequently and for longer durations than males (Argyle & Ingham, 1972; Hittelman & Dickes, 1979; Leeb & Rejskind, 2004; Lutchmaya, Baron-Cohen, & Raggatt, 2002; Podrouzek & Furrow, 1988). Between 9 and 12 months, females are more likely to initiate and respond to joint attention (Mundy, et al., 2007; Olafsen, et al., 2006). In regards to facial expression processing, McClure (2000) conducted two meta-analyses and found small effects in favor of females in both infant and child samples (d = .18 and .13, respectively).

The first unequivocal evidence of enhanced social cognition for female adults was borne out of Hall's (1978) meta-analysis on decoding non-verbal behaviors. The effect was demonstrated in both visual and auditory modalities (d = .32 and .18, respectively), with a very large effect when both modalities were combined (d = 1.02). In a second, larger meta-analysis, Hall (1984) found similar effects in favor of females over males in decoding nonverbal behavior in nine countries. In the decades since the earliest nonverbal behavior studies began, the evidence for female superiority in decoding nonverbal behavior remains robust (Rosip & Hall, 2004; Schmid, Schmid Mast, Bombari, & Mast, 2011).

Analogous to the infant and child findings, differential gender effects have been observed in adults both in the amount of eye contact as well as the ability to glean information from eye gaze (Alwall, Johansson, & Hansen, 2010); males do not process, orient to, or utilize eye gaze as efficiently as females (Deaner, Shepherd, & Platt, 2007). Hall, Hutton, and Morgan (2010) used eye-tracking technology to investigate the relationship between fixations to the eye region and emotion expression recognition. Females demonstrated significantly more fixations as well as longer dwell time to the eye region than males and were more accurate in emotion expression recognition. …

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