motion, gender, expertise

Science friends sent me this article:

Gender recognition depends on type of movement and motor skill. Analyzing and perceiving biological motion in musical and nonmusical tasks

Basically, it says people can reliably identify men and women based on their walk because of idiosyncratic differences in gait.  Some of those idiosyncrasies of movement appear in beginning conductors, but expert gesture is more standardized, free from gender-specific idiosyncrasies.  

Of course.  Because it’s all about the music.

In their Discussion session, the authors say

Gender was not reliably detected in visual presentations of orchestral conducting gestures. Subsequent analyses revealed an effect of motor expertise such that the group of expert conductors did not afford cues for gender recognition in skilled movements, while the gender of novice conductors was recognized above chance across conditions. Analyses of observers’ response bias indicated that conductors were more often judged to be male. Explanations for these findings are discussed with regards to skill-related availability of
motion cues and observer-related utilization of motion cues for gender recognition, as well as constructs of gender biases in responses. (84)

See?  People assumed more often that a conductor was male just because it was a conductor.  So, it’s possible that people just assume better conductors are more likely to be male.  But that’s only possible is, as they believe, expertise reduces the gender-specific idiosyncrasies.

They measure the amount of signal relative to noise in gestures of novice and expert conductors, and found great efficiency and consistency in experts REGARDLESS of sex.  Of course.  A good golf swing is a good golf swing, regardless of your potential role in reproduction.  A legible cue or cutoff has nothing to do with body morphology or any other gender characteristics.

So, as they say:

From a social-psychological perspective, the prevalence of gender stereotypes may have shaped observers’ responses to some extent… In the current study, gender stereotyping may have affected recognition accuracy for conducting movements. Analysis of the observers’ response bias revealed that conductors were more often judged to be male, regardless of their level of expertise. On the other hand, since erroneous gender judgments outnumbered correct judgments for visual displays of expert conductors, it may well be that observers associated the movement skill present in point-light displays of experts more frequently with maleness. In this regard it can be speculated that conductors are more often taught by male instructors or have a male biased prototype as an example, given the domination of males in the field of conducting. (85-86)


They cite the Cambridge Companion to Conducting (Edwards, 2003) in stating that

Among various musical professions, conducting appears to be one of the last fields principally dominated by males. (80)

So, basically, this is a study that suggests two things that are true that my experience has also suggested was true:

1. Conducting gesture has to communicate the music clearly, and clarity of gesture is dependent on training.  Clarity of gesture is independent of sex.

2. People expect conductors to be male.

They also expect conductors to be white and old.  And to have shaggy hair.  But none of that has any bearing on quality conducting.  Only training and artistry do.

Thank you, scientists, for helping measure us and how people see us!

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One Response to motion, gender, expertise

  1. Pingback: feminism: it’s still news?! | Thoughtful Gestures

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