Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Salk research suggests the existence of specialized neurons that distinguish swagger from sway

29.05.2006
It doesn’t take John Wayne’s deliberate, pigeon-toed swagger or Marilyn Monroe’s famously wiggly sway to judge a person’s gender based on the way they move. People are astonishingly accurate when asked to judge the gender of walking human figures, even when they are represented by 15 small dots of light attached to major joints of the body.

And not only that, when human observers watched the walking motion of a male so-called "point light walker," they were more sensitive to the female attributes when watching the next figure in the sequence. This suggests that the human brain relies on specialized neurons that tell gender based on gait, report researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in the May 21 advance online edition of Nature Neuroscience.

"Our judgment of gender can adapt within seconds," says senior author Gene Stoner, a neuroscientist in the Vision Center Laboratory at the Salk Institute. "The gaits of males and females may vary geographically or culturally and this mechanism allows us to adapt very quickly to local ways of walking," he adds.

How humans move reflects, in part, gender-specific differences in shape such hip-to-waist ratio and the like. Such inherent differences in gait might then be exaggerated by an individual to emphasize their gender. "Our new data suggests that there are neurons selective for gender based on these motion cues and that they adjust their selectivity on the fly," Stoner explains.

Although much work has been done on how the brain represents so-called low-level features, such as "redness" or "left-moving," scientists have been unable to put their finger on more abstract concepts such as gender. "We wanted to know whether gender is represented in a similar way to low-level visual features such as color, or if it is a more semantic concept such as good and evil," says experimental psychologist and first author Heather Jordan, a former post-doc in the Vision Center Laboratory and now an assistant professor at York University in Toronto.

Individual neurons in the visual cortex are finely tuned to certain attributes of visible objects such as the color red, a certain shape or objects moving in a specific direction. These specialized neurons reveal their existence through a telltale effect called adaptation. For example, if you stare at a red patch and then look at a neutral color you tend to see green. This "adaptation" reflects a mechanism in the brain that exaggerates differences between objects to increase the sensitivity and optimize the output of individual neurons.

"In the past, when adaptation in behavior was observed for specific features, neurophysiologists have subsequently been able to find individual neurons which fire only when they encounter this feature," says Jordan. "We think that the same is true for maleness and femaleness - that there are neurons in the brain that fire if, and only if, they ’see’ a male gait and others that fire if, and only if, they ’see’ a female gait, explains Jordan.

"We know lots about individual neurons that are sensitive to the direction of moving objects. But in this case, motion provides information about the structure of what is moving," says Stoner.

For their experiments, the Salk researchers morphed the gait of averaged male and female walkers -- resulting in varying degrees of "maleness" and "femaleness" .When the figure consisted of less than 49 percent male contribution, the observers reported seeing a figure that appeared female. Once there was more than 49 percent maleness in the figure, they reported seeing a figure that was mostly male. But these numbers were not stable: Viewing the gait of one gender biased judgments of subsequent gaits toward the opposite gender. "If you want to appear particularly feminine you should walk behind a very masculine-looking male and vice-versa," jokes Jordan.

In addition to Stoner and Jordan, the Salk research team included neuroscientist Mayzar Fallah, a former post-doc in the Systems Neurobiology Laboratory and now an assistant professor at York University in Toronto.

Mauricio Minotta | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.salk.edu

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Study suggests oysters offer hot spot for reducing nutrient pollution
17.10.2017 | Virginia Institute of Marine Science

nachricht World first for reading digitally encoded synthetic molecules
17.10.2017 | CNRS

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Breaking: the first light from two neutron stars merging

Seven new papers describe the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational wave source. The event, caused by two neutron stars colliding and merging together, was dubbed GW170817 because it sent ripples through space-time that reached Earth on 2017 August 17. Around the world, hundreds of excited astronomers mobilized quickly and were able to observe the event using numerous telescopes, providing a wealth of new data.

Previous detections of gravitational waves have all involved the merger of two black holes, a feat that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics earlier this month....

Im Focus: Smart sensors for efficient processes

Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).

When quality testing uses time-consuming destructive test methods, it can result in enormous costs due to damaging or destroying the products. And given that...

Im Focus: Cold molecules on collision course

Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.

How do chemical reactions proceed at extremely low temperatures? The answer requires the investigation of molecular samples that are cold, dense, and slow at...

Im Focus: Shrinking the proton again!

Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, using high precision laser spectroscopy of atomic hydrogen, confirm the surprisingly small value of the proton radius determined from muonic hydrogen.

It was one of the breakthroughs of the year 2010: Laser spectroscopy of muonic hydrogen resulted in a value for the proton charge radius that was significantly...

Im Focus: New nanomaterial can extract hydrogen fuel from seawater

Hybrid material converts more sunlight and can weather seawater's harsh conditions

It's possible to produce hydrogen to power fuel cells by extracting the gas from seawater, but the electricity required to do it makes the process costly. UCF...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ASEAN Member States discuss the future role of renewable energy

17.10.2017 | Event News

World Health Summit 2017: International experts set the course for the future of Global Health

10.10.2017 | Event News

Climate Engineering Conference 2017 Opens in Berlin

10.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Study suggests oysters offer hot spot for reducing nutrient pollution

17.10.2017 | Life Sciences

Breaking: the first light from two neutron stars merging

17.10.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

World first for reading digitally encoded synthetic molecules

17.10.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>