Restricted (Penn State Only)
Motta-Mena, Natalie
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
February 27, 2018
Committee Members:
  • Kathyrn Suzanne Scherf, Dissertation Advisor
  • Kathyrn Suzanne Scherf, Committee Chair
  • Rick Owen Gilmore, Committee Member
  • Reginald Adams Jr., Committee Member
  • David Andrew Puts, Outside Member
  • Own-gender bias
  • sex differences
  • perception
People use the structure of the human face to form social impressions. These social dimensions of face processing have direct relevance for motivating social behavior, like selecting and competing for potential mates. Therefore, men and women may be differentially sensitive to the visual information relevant to these dimensions. For example, structural characteristics of faces that convey dominance (e.g., signals of physical strength) may be especially relevant for males when considering behavior related to intrasexual mate competition. In contrast, structural characteristics of faces that convey attractiveness (e.g. signals of youth or fertility) may be especially relevant for females when considering behavior related to intrasexual mate competition. In what follows, I evaluated several hypotheses related to the own-gender bias (OGB) in face recognition (i.e. superior recognition for faces of one’s own sex). First, I predicted that priming males to attend to dominance cues in other male faces would induce heightened sensitivity to male faces in a subsequent face recognition task. Second, I also tested the prediction that priming females to attend to attractiveness cues in other female faces would instigate heightened sensitivity to female faces in the same face recognition task. Finally, I predicted that the relationship between priming cues and the OGB would be influenced by relationship status and satisfaction, mate guarding, and individual differences in one’s own attractiveness and dominance. Adult male and female participants were tested in a series of face processing tasks including perceptual sensitivity to detect facial attractiveness, dominance, and likeability, as well as a face recognition task. In addition, participants completed questionnaires related to their relationship status and provided physical measures of attractiveness and dominance. Participants were randomized into one of three conditions and completed either an attractiveness, dominance, or likeability perceptual trait judgment task prior to a face recognition task. I predicted that only those men in the dominance condition should experience an OGB, whereas the women in the attractiveness condition should experience an OGB. No modulation in recognition performance was expected for participants in the likeability condition. Results indicate that, across all three conditions, all participants exhibited greater recognition performance for female faces than male faces, but women in particular exhibited greater accuracy than men for female faces, regardless of condition. When evaluating inverse efficiency, however, this female superiority effect was not present. In addition, all participants exhibited lower perceptual thresholds (i.e. greater sensitivity) to detect each trait in male faces than in female faces. Finally, men’s own dominance was inversely related to their sensitivity to detect dominance in male faces, and women’s own attractiveness influenced their sensitivity to detect likeability, but not attractiveness, in other women’s faces. These findings are discussed in the context of previous literature examining the OGB in face recognition.