Gender equality advocates, I've got some unsettling news: Your brain may be a little sexist. No, not you, silly (unless, of course, you are). Your brain—well, half of it, anyway.
A new study published in the journal Laterally (literally) found that people are much more likely to quickly categorize a face as "male" when an image is shown to the left side of the brain.
To conduct their experiment, researchers at the University of Surrey asked 42 participants to focus on a cross in the middle of a screen. The researchers then flashed images of faces that were morphed from 100 percent male to 100 percent female. When the images were processed by the left side of the brain (by flashing them on the right side of the cross), the participants were more likely to identify a face as male, even when it was more traditionally female. When images were processed by the right side of the brain (by flashing them on the left of the cross), the participants were more likely to identify them accurately.
What was going on? The researchers believe the finding actually reflects an engrained gender bias in the way we talk: English speakers typically put men before women in sentences. His and hers. Boys and girls. Nick and Nora. And since the left side of the brain controls language and speech production, the researchers think this androcentric language bias is influencing the way perceive faces. Our left brain basically favors men.
Being aware of this tendency can help us become more sensitive to gender's fluidity. (In a recent poll, Fusion found that fifty percent of millennials believe gender exists on a spectrum.) Lead author Sapphira Thorne warns against unconsciously categorizing others: “In a society that increasingly recognises transgender people's rights to define their own gender identities," she said, "relying on our stereotypes to judge others' genders could lead to discrimination."