Men’s faces make people more uncomfortable than androgynous faces, study finds

Androgynous person staring intently at the camera
Photo: Shutterstock

A new study has found that people have a positive bias toward androgynous faces and are not bothered by the difficulty of categorizing such faces based on the gender binary.

The study, published in the European Journal of Social Psychology and reported on by PsyPost, showed participants – all from Italian and Spanish-speaking populations – a series of faces and asked them to categorize each as male or female as quickly as they could. The photos provided included several androgynous faces that had been artificially created by blending male and female faces.

Participants were also asked to rate the faces based on their perceived moral values, trustworthiness, and creepiness. Researchers asked about creepiness to assess whether an inability to easily categorize someone makes people uneasy.

The results: Folks struggled to categorize the androgynous faces, but it didn’t bother them. It took participants significantly longer to select a category for the blended faces, yet they also rated these photos more trustworthy, less creepy, and more aligned with their moral values than the male faces.

“We did not expect to find a positive bias towards androgynous faces at all!” Antonio Olivera-La Rosa, a researcher and professor at Luis Amigó Catholic University in Medellín, told PsyPost. “Indeed, previous research suggested that the opposite side of the coin would be expected. All things considered, I think that these surprising findings motivated us to go the ‘extra mile’ in this research.”

Olivera-La Rosa emphasized, however, that facial perception is merely one piece of a complex puzzle humans use to make judgments.

“It’s very important to emphasize this point: Face perception and first impressions are just parts of our complex social cognition mechanisms, though they are significant ones. As such, we don’t rely solely on faces to infer people’s morality.”

They further explained that the study does not at all imply that androgynous folks don’t experience discrimination.

“In this study, we analyzed physical androgyny in a somewhat idealized setting. However, in real life, physical androgyny can be accompanied by gender identity androgyny, along with some of its behavioral connotations. We hope that our research will not be interpreted as evidence against the existence of prejudices towards individuals whose gender identity includes an androgynous appearance and/or behavior.”

They called for an increase in cross-cultural research on facial perception to provide more understanding of how “these silent cognitive shortcuts work in real life.”

Don't forget to share:

Support vital LGBTQ+ journalism

Reader contributions help keep LGBTQ Nation free, so that queer people get the news they need, with stories that mainstream media often leaves out. Can you contribute today?

Cancel anytime · Proudly LGBTQ+ owned and operated