Sexual dimorphism (i.e., masculinity in males and femininity in females) is known to affect social perceptions that are important for both mate choice and intrasexual competition, such as attractiveness and dominance. Little is known, however, about the neurophysiological underpinnings mediating sexual dimorphism's effects on face processing. Here we investigate the neurological correlates of processing sexually dimorphic faces using event-related potentials (ERPs). We employed image transformation techniques to enhance and reduce the sexually dimorphic shape features of male and female faces viewed by women performing a sex categorization task. Sexual dimorphism modulated superior-central N250 magnitude and the peak latency of the N170 and P200. The sex of the face further modulated the amplitude of the P200. These findings extend prior work linking the superior-central N250 to social categorization processes triggered by face shape, and strengthen its functional interpretation in terms of coarse- versus fine-grained categorical judgements. We conclude that ERPs can illuminate the cognitive mechanisms (i.e., mental processes) underlying behavioral responses to sexual dimorphism.
- sexual dimorphism
- event-related potentials