Researchers - body language says it all

RESEARCH aimed at understanding how our brains interpret body language and movement has led to an exciting world-first discovery by Southern Cross University researchers.

The study led by Associate Professor Rick van der Zwan and Dr Anna Brooks, from the Department of Psychology at the Coffs Harbour campus, has found that how we perceive human motion has direct connections to gender.

The results of the study have been published in Current Biology, one of the world's leading science journals, prompting a wave of international media attention.

The researchers combined with scientists from Belgium, Canada and Switzerland to use models of walkers, representing the gaits of around 100 people, illuminated with a series of point lights.

This technique removes all other identifying elements such as colour, hair-line, facial features and clothing.

They found that the observers perceived that the masculine models were walking towards them, while the models with a characteristically feminine gait were often perceived to be heading away from the observer.

Professor van der Zwan said while the factors affecting the perceptions were the subject of ongoing work, it was interesting to speculate on the reasons behind this pattern.

“The difference is not about the gender of the observer. It shows that there is something about the way people move that affects how people see them,” he said.

“It's possible the results might be linked to our evolution. There clearly are some differences between the ways females and males move that affects our perceptions.”

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