Men Are From Cars, Women Are From Birds?

by Erika W. Smith


Vanderbilt psychologists have recently found that women are better than men at recognizing living things, and men are better than women at recognizing vehicles.

The psychologists didn’t set out to study sex differences: the discovery was the surprising result of an analysis of a series of visual recognition tasks collected in the process of developing a new standard test for expertise in object recognition.   

Researchers had 227 subjects – 75 male and 82 female – take an object recognition test with eight categories: leaves, owls, butterflies, wading birds, mushrooms, cars, planes, and motorcycles. They found that there was a large sex difference: women were significantly better at recognizing living things, and men were better at recognizing vehicles.


Some of the images used in the object recognition test. (Gauthier Lab)

But don’t think this means that women are born wanting to “put a bird on it.” Vanderbilt Professor of Psychology Isabel Gauthier, who directs the lab where post-doctoral fellow Rankin McGugin conducted the study, says:

“Everyone is born with a general ability to recognize objects and the capability to get really good at it. Nearly everyone becomes expert at recognizing faces, because of their importance for social interactions. Most people also develop expertise for recognizing other types of objects due to their jobs, hobbies or interests. Our culture influences which categories we become interested in, which explains the differences between men and women.”

So, society is probably the reason men are quicker to recognize cars and motorcycles, and women are quicker to recognize birds and butterflies. Makes sense.  You can read more about the study here, or watch a video of Gauthier discussing the study below:



Images from Flickr user Burp Hammie and

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