I picked this up from Jezebel. They used the headline of “Depressing Study: Men Look More At Your Body Than Your Face” and said:

“I’m not a boob man or a butt man or a leg man, I’m a face man,” say LIARS. According to new research, no matter what a woman’s build, men spend more time looking at women’s bodies than they do their faces, …But it’s not only men who are focusing on women from the neck down; women do it to each other, too

they cited USA Today, which is our first tip that they didn’t bother to read the study in the first place. This lack of reading may have gotten them further into trouble since Jezebel even had the nerve to criticize the design.

here’s a grain of salt to take with this: the study involved 29 women and 36 men, a group so small that it would be almost impossible for it to be at all representative of the population. If subjects were drawn from a pool consisting of a public university community, the results would only reflect the attitudes and behaviors of a tiny slice of American culture and not a boob staring epidemic. And a lot of college kids are kind of awful.

While college sophomore psychology students (see below) are notoriously used in Psych studies and equally notoriously poorly representative of many populations of interest…they are not dismissible as entirely meaningless. Often times results from such studies do indeed hold up when replicated in other populations of interest. Nevertheless, this Jezebel comment is pretty hilarious considering how completely backwards they got the story on the actual findings. Which is in large part due to simply passing on the bit from USA Today instead of reading the paper.

From the USA Today article titled “Yes, men really do ogle women’s bodies“:

The eyes don’t lie: Men really do look at women’s bodies more than their faces, according to a new study that used eye-tracking technology to prove what many women have long observed.

But it’s not just men who do it — the study found that women look at other women’s bodies, too.

Both sexes fixed their gaze more on women’s chests and waists and less on faces. Those bodies with larger breasts, narrower waists and bigger hips often prompted longer looks.

Truthy! Just what we always suspected and now here it is in peer-reviewed scientific format!

Let’s go to the article, shall we? The study by Gervais and colleagues (2013) is pretty simple. The authors recruited some subjects from the traditional “Psychology Department Participant Pool” (aka, students enrolled in Psych classes) and fitted them with eyetracking devices. They showed them some pictures of women and asked them to rate them for either appearance or personality (separate groups for each of these conditions).

Gervais13-appendixThe stimuli were photographs of 10 real women which were modified slightly. Here is the figure listed as the Appendix in the article so you can see how the photoshopping of the visual stimuli worked out. The major dependent measure was “dwell time”, i.e., how long the subject spent with their dominant eye focused on one of three zones of the picture (face, chest, waist). They also measured “first-fixation” but this was somewhat contaminated by the fact the fixation cross used to start a trial was in the center of the screen where the chest would appear. So a missed opportunity there. The dwell time is the major outcome measure for discussion.

One of the main goals of the study was to determine if “High, Average and Low” concordance with what they describe as the “cultural ideal” body shape affected the distribution of gaze time. Also to determine if men and women subjects differed and if the type of rating being requested of the subjects altered dwell time.

The results could not be any clearer. Both men and women spent more time gazing on the Face region then they did on the Chest or Waist region. By a lot. Whether asked to assess Appearance or Personality. In the Appearance condition, women spent 1158 ms on the Face, 463 ms on the Chest and 331 ms on the Waist. Values for men were 1296, 448 and 301 ms respectively. When divided out by the three categories of “cultural ideal”, Men’s dwell times were 1520, 456, 280 ms for the High ideal and 1628, 366, 246 ms for the Low ideal. The same relationships held for the women viewers.

The authors note in the Results:

A main effect of body part, F(1.09, 66.25)=215.68,p < .0001, ηp 2 = .78, revealed that women’s faces
(M=1486.61, SE =64.17) were gazed at for longer durations than their chests (M=381.68, SE =23.33) and their waists [DM-pretty sure this is a typo and meant to be ‘faces’] (M=266.62, SE =16.04) and women’s chests were gazed at for longer durations than their waists, ps<.0001.

So. The lede of both USA Today and Jezebel is completely false.

Now, there IS a portion of blame for the authors because they are at pains to emphasize their findings; again from the Results:

consistent with Hypothesis 1a, participants gazed at women’s faces for shorter durations in the
appearance-focus condition than the personality-focus condition. Participants also gazed at women’s chests and waists for longer durations in the appearance-focus condition than the personality-focus condition.

…and perhaps more tellingly from the first part of the Discussion:

Despite the importance of the objectifying gaze to objectification theory (Fredrickson and Roberts 1997) and the adverse consequences of the gaze on women recipients, no published studies to date have empirically documented the nature of the objectifying gaze—less focus on faces and more focus on sexual body parts—in perceivers. Regarding dwell time, participants gazed at women’s faces for shorter durations and chests and waists for longer durations when they were asked to objectify the women by evaluating their appearance (vs. personality, consistent with Hypothesis 1a) and this effect was exacerbated for women with bodies that fit cultural ideals of beauty (i.e., hourglass shaped women, consistent with Hypothesis 1b).

Very careful phrasing there indeed and I can see how “participants gazed at women’s faces for shorter durations and chests and waists for longer durations” would be very easily misinterpreted in the reader’s mind as suggesting that faces were receiving less gaze time than were the other regions of the pictures.

But really. A cursory look at the Tables makes the fact that both men and women spent more time gazing at faces than at chests or waists pretty dang obvious. It almost pops out, thanks to the convenient fact that dwell time differed across the 1,000 ms mark. I just don’t see how you could miss this if you read the article.

Of course, the journalists didn’t read the article.

And this is considered perfectly acceptable within the profession of Journalism.

Scienceblog.com barely escapes by sticking close to the authors words without extraneous interpretive phrasing. “The researchers found that participants focused more on women’s chests and waists and less on faces when they were asked to objectify the women by evaluating their appearance rather than their personality.

ScienceCodex screwed it up, “When asked to focus on a woman’s appearance, study participants largely looked at women in “that way” – they quickly moved their eyes to and then dwelled on a woman’s breasts and other sexualized body parts.“.

The South Jersey Courier-Post fell entirely into the trap, “Men really do look at women’s bodies more than their faces, according to a new study“, just like USA Today and Jezebel.

as did CBS Philly, “scientists concluded that participants focused more on the female’s chests and figure when asked to evaluate their appearance than they did on the women’s facial features.“.

UPDATE 2: Aha! found the press release from the authors’ University. OOOOO, Bad authors! BAD! “When asked to focus on a woman’s appearance, study participants largely looked at women in “that way” — they quickly moved their eyes to and then dwelled on a woman’s breasts and other sexualized body parts.“. So Science Codex just stenographed this. But the blame lies with the authors who should have reviewed the PR. And given how very precisely this is written I suspect them of willing complicity. The impression is given via “and then dwelled on” that this is gazing more than on the non-“sexualized” body parts, i.e., the face. Or hey, maybe I’m wrong and they include face as sexualized and waist as nonsexualized? In which case this is accurate-ish.
Sarah J. Gervais, Arianne M. Holland and Michael D. Dodd. My Eyes Are Up Here: The Nature of the Objectifying Gaze Toward Women, Sex Roles, in press DOI: 10.1007/s11199-013-0316-x

The news is chattering over a new paper by Smet and Byrne entitled “African Elephants Can Use Human Pointing Cues to Find Hidden Food” [link]. The lede is frequently the typical one for comparative cognition studies. Take this example from VOA:

Elephants are able to recognize human gestures without any sort of training, new research shows. Scientists believe the finding indicates that elephants are able to understand humans in a way most other animals do not.

They might be excused for this since the authors themselves write, in the Results and Discussion section “Here we found elephants capable of responding spontaneously to pointing gestures that require attention to subtle differences in the position of the forearm and hand.“. This is, however, a tired and old problem with this type of study.

Even Carl Zimmer, writing in the NYT, makes most of his post about this wonderous “spontaneous” property of all elephants. Still, to his credit he does include the critical caveat.

Diana Reiss, an expert on elephant cognition at Hunter College, wondered if the elephants had already learned about pointing by observing their handlers pointing to each other.
“In these elephant camps such opportunities can easily go unnoticed by their human caretakers,” said Dr. Reiss.

The authors themselves point this out, although they try to handwave it away:

All of these elephants have lived in captivity since infancy: they have had the opportunity to witness pointing used between humans. However, observation of human interactions does not automatically translate into aptitude at interpretation of these interactions.

Whoa dude. Whoa. Hold up. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Except, apparently, in comparative cognition when we are just sooooo keen to believe findings that show species X is “just like humans” in some cognitive or behavioral property.

I have at least one observation in the archive that points out where not thinking hard about the study design can lead to unsupported conclusions being widely disseminated. This post was originally published Feb 25, 2008.

In the midst of World War I, Wolfgang Köhler conducted a famous series of experiments to investigate problem solving ability in chimpanzees. The lasting impression of these experiments, reinforced by just about every introductory Psychology text, was Köhler’s assertion that the chimps demonstrated “insightful” learning.
Did they now?

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There’s a great review of a new book (Are Dolphins Really Smart?,  by Justin Gregg) penned by Jessa Gamble at LWON. Go read because it is incredibly important to realize:

A disproportionate amount of dolphin research time has been devoted to teasing out any potential for language – the science-fictional myth of dolphinese – from their vocalizations. If dolphins had language, we would almost certainly have found it by now. When their vocalizations turned out to be rote and inflexible, “I’m scared!” “I’m mating!” “I see food!” pretty much covers it, the research turned to echolocation clicks. Perhaps dolphins were sending each other 3D holographic messages encoded in their clicks. Nope.


[waccaloon terrorist AR org]’s lawsuit against SeaWorld challenges dolphin captivity under anti-slavery legislation, citing exceptional intelligence as evidence of their “non-human personhood.” When advocacy for the ethical treatment of animals is based on exaggerated claims of their intelligence, it fails to recognize the inherent worth of animals regardless of their similarity to humans. And in dolphins, that similarity is easily refuted. It’s time relieve the dolphins of all our human baggage and realize that evolution has produced all kinds of intelligence, and it’s all around us.

Gamble notes that the book by Gregg systematically dismantles many popular myths about dolphins and, of course, points out that dolphins are total dicks

Adult male dolphins routinely kill porpoises, not for food — or even out of competition for food – but because the porpoise is similar in size to a dolphin calf. The killings serve as practice for their regular infanticidal behaviour, a sure way to ready mothers for mating.

Sounds like a good read.




Repost: Insightful Animal Behavior: A “Sufficiently Advanced Technology”

Jane Goodall, Plagiarist


an interesting segment from the PBS NewsHour:


April 16, 2013

From Adweek:

Gil Zamora is an FBI-trained forensics artist with over 3,000 criminal sketches under his belt. Dove and Ogilvy Toronto hired him to interview and draw seven different women—two sketches of each. The first sketch was based on each woman’s personal description of herself. The second was based on a description provided by a stranger the woman had just met. Of course, the differences are vast.


Of course they are. This stuff has psychology graduate student work written all over it. Imagine the diversity of studies to be done! Me, I bet I’d describe myself in my 20s rather than the way I look now…

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because it strips away all the confident predictions about what you would do if some shit was going down…

Go Team!!!!!

February 3, 2013

I’ve decided I am rooting for neuronal survival during the NFL SuperBowl today.

Go #teamneuron!