Men are perceived to angry and dominant and women smiling and caring. But why? The answer may lie in the interpretation of facial expressions, a study says.

Researchers in Canada have based their findings on an analysis of two experiments carried out to identify the sex of a series of faces.

In the first experiment, androgynous faces with lowered eyebrows and tight lips (angry expressions) were more likely to be identified as male, and faces with smiles and raised eyebrows (expressions of happiness and fear) were often labelled feminine.

The second experiment used male and female faces wearing expressions of happiness, anger, sadness, fear or a neutral expression. Overall, subjects were able to identify male faces more quickly than female faces, and female faces that expressed anger took the longest to identify.

“The present research shows that the association between anger and men and happiness and women is so strong that it can influence the decisions about the gender of another person when that person is viewed briefly,” said Prof Ursula Hess of the University of Quebec at Montreal.

Hess said that the same cues that make a face appear male -- a high forehead, a square jaw and thicker eyebrows -- have been linked to perceptions of dominance. Likewise, features that make a face appear female -- a rounded, baby face with large eyes -- have been linked to perceptions of the individual being approachable and warm.

“This difference in how the emotions and social traits of the two sexes are perceived could have significant implications for social interactions in a number of settings.

“Our research demonstrates that equivalent levels of anger are perceived as more intense when shown by men rather than women, and happiness as more intense when shown by women rather than men. It also suggests that it is less likely for men to be perceived as warm and caring and for women to be perceived as dominant,” he said.

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