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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Gender differences in face-based trait perception and social decision making


Despite recent progress in promoting gender equality, gender bias continues to post challenges to women's career advancement. Here, we use a statistically grounded framework to investigate how face-based social perception may contribute to gender biases in political and job application settings. By analyzing a large face dataset and performing a novel behavioral experiment, we find that: 1) female faces exhibit stronger anti-correlation between perceived trustworthiness and dominance, 2) this anti-correlation is due to distinct sets of facial features humans utilize to assess female and male faces for trustworthiness and dominance, 3) perceived dominance positively contributes to social decision preferences for female faces, contrary to prior suggestions that perceived dominance affects female candidates negatively, and 4) the anti-correlated perception of trustworthiness and dominance put females at a disadvantage in competitive environments. More generally, our findings reveal the important role of face-based trait perceptions underlying gender biases in social decision making.

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