Women outperform men when it comes to distinguishing between emotions, especially fear and disgust, says a new study. The research has been published in the online version of the journal Neuropsychologia.

As part of the investigation, Olivier Collignon and a team from the Universite de Montreal Centre de recherche en neuropsychologie et cognition (CERNEC) demonstrated that women are better than men at processing auditory, visual and audiovisual emotions.

To reach the conclusion, the Universite de Montreal researchers hired actors and actresses to simulate fear and disgust.

"Facial movements have been shown to play an important role in the perception of an emotion's intensity as well as stimulate different parts of the brain used in the treatment of such information," says Collignon, who also works as a researcher at the Universite catholique de Louvain's Institute of Neuroscience in Belgium.

As part of their study, the research team exposed subjects to bimodal stimuli or the facial expressions of live actors combined with recordings of human emotions. Twenty-three men and 23 women, aged 18 to 43, were tested and none had any recorded history of neurological or psychiatric problems.

Participants were asked to quickly categorize emotions they identified as fear or disgust. Emotions were based on auditory stimuli, visual stimuli, followed by compatible audio-visual stimuli and contradictory audio-visual stimuli (i.e. a face that expressed fear with a voice that expressed disgust). The study found that women were superior in completing assessments and responded quicker when emotions were portrayed by a female rather than a male actor.

Compared to men, women were faster at processing facial and multisensory expressions. "The aim of such a study isn't to prove the superiority of men or women - contrarily to what some people believe," says Collignon.

"These gender studies are necessary for researchers to better understand mental diseases which have a strong gender component. That means they affect men and women differently. Autism is a good example, because it affects more men than women and one of its features is the difficulty in recognizing emotions," the expert added.

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