Saturday, October 24, 2009

New study says women better at reading emotions, implications for autism research

From The Telegraph in the UK:

Women are particularly good when it comes to distinguishing between fear and disgust, according to new research published in the online version of the journal Neuropsychologia.

Live actors were asked to simulate facial expressions in front of 23 men and 23 women aged 18 to 43, who were asked to identify the emotions.

The research found that women were better than men at processing facial expressions and completing assessments, something that had always been suggested but never conclusively proved.

Olivier Collignon, from the University of Montreal, who led the research, said the research was not a gender competition but a means of better understanding "mental diseases which have a strong gender component."

"That means they affect men and women differently. Autism is a good example, because it affects more men than women and one of its features is the difficulty in recognizing emotions," he said.

Previously, other researchers have suggested that autism and Asperger's syndrome are an extreme in male interpersonal behaviour characterized by impaired empathy and enhanced systematizing.

"Seeing as our results show that men identify and express emotions less efficiently than women, it supports this theory to a certain extent", Mr Collignon added.

Evolutionary psychologists have suggested that females, because of their role as 'primary caretakers', are effectively wired differently to detect distress in young infants

"However, these studies should not rule out the fact that culture and socialization do play a powerful role in determining gender differences in the processing of emotional expressions", Mr Collignon said.