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Journal Article

Multisensory determinants of orientation perception: task specific sex differences


Barnett-Cowan,  M
Department Human Perception, Cognition and Action, Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, Max Planck Society;

Dyde RT, Thompson,  C
Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, Max Planck Society;

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Barnett-Cowan, M., Dyde RT, Thompson, C., & Harris, L. (2010). Multisensory determinants of orientation perception: task specific sex differences. European Journal of Neuroscience, 31(10), 1899-1907. doi:10.1111/j.1460-9568.2010.07199.x.

Cite as:
Females have been reported to be more ‘visually dependent’ than males. When aligning a rod in a tilted frame to vertical, females are more influenced by the frame than are males, who align the rod closer to gravity. Do females rely more on visual information at the cost of other sensory information? We compared the subjective visual vertical and the perceptual upright in 29 females and 24 males. The orientation of visual cues presented on a shrouded laptop screen and of the observer’s posture were varied. When upright, females’ subjective visual vertical was more influenced by visual cues and their responses were more variable than were males’. However, there were no differences between the sexes in the perceptual upright task. Individual variance in subjective visual vertical judgments and in the perceptual upright predicted the level of visual dependence across both sexes. When lying right-side down, there were no reliable differences between the sexes in either measure. We conclude that heightened ‘visual dependence’ in females does not generalize to all aspects of spatial processing but is probably attributable to task-specific differences in the mechanisms of sensory processing in the brains of females and males. The higher variability and lower accuracy in females for some spatial tasks is not due to their having qualitatively worse access to information concerning either the gravity axis or corporeal representation: it is only when gravity and the long body axis align that females have a performance disadvantage.