Science Briefs: Women and men really do see things differently

Pedestrians carrying shopping bags while crossing the street in Oxford Street in London on Oct 27, 2016.
Pedestrians carrying shopping bags while crossing the street in Oxford Street in London on Oct 27, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

Women and men really do see things differently

Men are from Mars and women are from Venus, or so the saying goes.

Well, science has confirmed there is an area apart from biology and habits where the sexes differ: the way they look at faces and absorb visual information.

The finding suggests there is a gender difference in understanding visual cues, according to the team of scientists behind the discovery that included psychologists from Queen Mary University of London.

The researchers used an eye-tracking device on almost 500 participants at the Science Museum over a five-week period to monitor and judge how much eye contact they felt comfortable with, while looking at a face on a computer screen.

They found that women looked more at the left-hand side of faces and had a strong left-eye bias, but that they also explored the face much more than men.

The team observed that it was possible to tell the gender of the participant based on the scanning pattern of how they looked at the face, with nearly 80 per cent accuracy.

Given the large sample size, the researchers suggest this is not due to chance.

In a statement from the university, lead author Antoine Coutrot, from the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, said: "We are able to establish the gender of the participants based on how they scan the actors' faces, and can eliminate that it isn't based on the culture of the participants, as nearly 60 nationalities have been tested.

"We can also eliminate any other observable characteristics, like perceived attractiveness or trustworthiness."

The team described their findings in the Journal Of Vision and suggested that the gender difference in scanning visual information might impact many research fields, such as autism diagnosis or even everyday behaviour, such as watching a movie or looking at the road while driving.


Scientists have found that dogs probably remember what their owners do even when training is not going on, suggesting that a dog's memory is more similar to ours than we expected.

First Antarctic ground beetle discovered

American scientists have discovered the first Antarctic ground beetle.

Fossilised forewings (above) of the first ground beetle known from the southernmost continent were discovered on the Beardmore Glacier. It is also the second beetle of the Antarctic insect fauna with living descendants.

The new species is the sole representative of a new genus and is to be commonly known as Ball's Antarctic Tundra Beetle.

Dr Allan Ashworth of North Dakota State University and Dr Terry Erwin of the Smithsonian Institution published their findings in the open access journal ZooKeys.

The insect fauna in Antarctica is so poor that today it consists of only three species of flightless midges.

The authors believe the beetle inhabited the sparsely vegetated sand and gravel banks of a meltwater-fed stream that was once part of an outwash plain at the head of a fjord in the Transantarctic Mountains.

The closest modern relatives to the extinct species live in South America, the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and Tasmania, Australia. They were once widely distributed in Gondwana, the supercontinent that used to unite what today is Antarctica, South America, Africa, Madagascar, Australia, the Arabian Peninsula and the Indian subcontinent.

Ball's Antarctic Tundra Beetle is also evidence that even after Gondwana broke apart, the tundra ecosystem persevered in Antarctica for millions of years.


Scientists have found that dogs probably remember what their owners do even when training is not going on, suggesting that a dog's memory is more similar to ours than we expected.
Scientists have found that dogs probably remember what their owners do even when training is not going on, suggesting that a dog’s memory is more similar to ours than we expected. PHOTOS: ALLAN ASHWORTH, SAMANTHA BOH

Your dog remembers more than you think

Once again, science has confirmed the suspicions of dog owners that their beloved pets know more than they are letting on. In this case, it has to do with memory.

No one doubts that dogs can be trained to remember commands and names of objects. They also remember people and places.

But Dr Claudia Fugazza and her colleagues at the Family Dog Project at Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest set out to see whether dogs share a more complex kind of memory.

In people, it is called episodic memory, and it involves a sense of self. In animals, it is called episodic-like memory because it is difficult to plumb something as elusive as self without the aid of language.

The team developed a technique that depends on something called "Do-As-I-Do training".

In this training, dogs learn to imitate any action the trainer takes. First the trainer does something like touch an open umbrella with his hand. Then he says "do it". The dog then taps the umbrella with its paw.

Dr Fugazza and her colleagues studied dogs that had learnt the do-as-I-do command. They then switched to a different kind of training, teaching the dogs to lie down on a mat as a response to a new action by the trainer, rather than wait for a "do it" command.

Finally, they added one more step. After a trainer did something a dog had not seen before, such as tapping an umbrella that lay near the mat, he took the dog behind a screen for a minute.

Then he came back to the mat and, presumably to the dog's surprise, said "do it". The dogs in the experiment imitated the umbrella tap or whatever the trainer had done before.

Dr Fugazza and her colleagues reported online in Current Biology that this showed the dogs remembered an event they had not been concentrating on - the trainer's action.

What does this mean for the dog owner? Dogs probably remember what their owners do even when training is not going on. And, it tells us that the dog's memory is more similar to ours than we expected.

NYTIMES

Compiled by Samantha Boh

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 02, 2016, with the headline 'Science Briefs'. Print Edition | Subscribe