Something in the way we move: Motion dynamics, not perceived sex, influence head movements in conversation

Steven M. Boker, Jeffrey F. Cohn, Barry John Theobald, Iain Matthews, Michael Mangini, Jeffrey R. Spies, Zara Ambadar, Timothy R. Brick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)874-891
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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