You’ll hear a lot of people claim women are more expressive than men. But according to a new paper published by researchers at Microsoft who used a facial algorithm en mass, this doesn’t seem true at all. Instead, the gender pattern is actually more nuanced. For instance, some emotions are displayed more by men than women.

Credit: Pixabay.

Credit: Pixabay.

The team led by Daniel McDuff, a scientist working at Microsoft Research, Redmond, recruited online 2,106 people from France, Germany, China, the US, and the UK. The participants were asked to watch a series of ads from their own countries on everything from cars to fashion to manufacturing which elicited various emotional responses. They had to film themselves with their own webcams while doing so.

Each video was analyzed by Microsoft’s facial recognition machine which understands emotional patterns from facial expressions. Here’s a glimpse of how it works. The fact that this whole process is automated is a huge advantage, especially for something as subjective as assessing emotions. Since a machine did all the facial analysis, instead of multiple human researchers, we can at least get an objective, unified review.

According to the findings:

  • women do seem to smile more, mirroring previous research. They also raise their inner brow more which generally reflects fear or sadness. However,
  • men frowned more. Frowns are usually indicative of anger, though it can reflect a state of confusion or concentration.
  • otherwise, there were no gender differences in other facial expressions.

If we’re to believe emotions and facial expressions are closely associated, the obvious implication is that women are more prone to feeling happy but also to feel more anxious. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to feel angry and, maybe, confused. If this is the case, why? What evolutionary mechanisms could have supported this gender difference?

chart-men-women-expressivity

The mean fraction of videos in which inner brow raises, outer brow raises, brow furrows, lip corner pulls and lip corner depressors appeared. Credit: PLOS ONE.

The researchers believe that some of the findings can be partly explained by cultural and social expectations. For instance, in many countries happiness is considered more desirable for women than for men. The paper highlights the observed data from the UK where the smallest difference in gender variation was seen.

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Nevertheless, apart from some differences across countries in smiling and frowning, the gender difference in expressivity was far less pronounced than the stereotype might have us think.

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