A team of German researchers asked male test subjects to look at 36 pairs of eyes — 18 male and 18 female — and, for each pair, to choose from one of two terms meant to describe the emotional or mental state of the person they were seeing. They found that the test subjects “had twice as many problems in recognizing emotions from female as compared to male eyes.” The results appeared this week in the online journal PLOS ONE.
What’s the Big Idea?
During the testing, the men’s brains were scanned using fMRI technology, and what occurred there led the team to an explanation for the behavior: They noticed that when the men were looking into the eyes of other men, there was an increase in activity in the amygdala, which is the brain’s emotional processing center. In ancient times, say the team, “accurate interpretations of other men’s, rather than women’s, thoughts and intentions—especially threatening cues—may have been a factor contributing to survival.” In other words, the fittest of the species—or, specifically, the male gender—would have been those who were best able to read an enemy’s face and anticipate their actions.