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Something in the Way We Move: Motion Dynamics, Not Perceived Sex, Influence Head Movements in Conversation

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JEPHPP Volume 37, Number 3, ISSN 0096-1523


During conversation, women tend to nod their heads more frequently and more vigorously than men. An individual speaking with a woman tends to nod his or her head more than when speaking with a man. Is this due to social expectation or due to coupled motion dynamics between the speakers? We present a novel methodology that allows us to randomly assign apparent identity during free conversation in a videoconference, thereby dissociating apparent sex from motion dynamics. The method uses motion-tracked synthesized avatars that are accepted by naive participants as being live video. We find that 1) motion dynamics affect head movements but that apparent sex does not; 2) judgments of sex are driven almost entirely by appearance; and 3) ratings of masculinity and femininity rely on a combination of both appearance and dynamics. Together, these findings are consistent with the hypothesis of separate perceptual streams for appearance and biological motion. In addition, our results are consistent with a view that head movements in conversation form a low level perception and action system that can operate independently from top-down social expectations. (Contains 7 figures and 11 tables.)


Boker, S.M., Cohn, J.F., Theobald, B.J., Matthews, I., Mangini, M., Spies, J.R., Ambadar, Z. & Brick, T.R. (2011). Something in the Way We Move: Motion Dynamics, Not Perceived Sex, Influence Head Movements in Conversation. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 37(3), 874-891. Retrieved August 22, 2019 from .

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