Perceiving emotion and sex from the body: evidence from the Garner task for independent processes
The appearance of the body signals socially relevant states and traits, but the how these cues are perceived is not well understood. Here we examined judgments of emotion and sex from the body’s appearance. Understanding how we extract these cues is important because they are both salient and socially relevant. Participants viewed body images and either reported the emotion expressed by each body while ignoring its sex, or else reported the sex while ignoring its emotion. Following Garner’s logic, two types of blocks were compared. In control blocks, the task-irrelevant dimension was fixed (e.g. all male in an emotion judgment task), whereas in orthogonal blocks it varied orthogonally to the task-relevant dimension (e.g. male-female). Where two dimensions draw on shared processes, interference results in relatively slower responses during orthogonal blocks. In contrast, a finding of no Garner interference – efficient selection of the task-relevant dimension – is taken to reflect independent processes. Bayesian analyses revealed evidence of no Garner interference between sex and emotion judgments, showing that extraction of these distinct signals from the body’s appearance proceeds along largely parallel processing streams. These findings are informative about the mental architecture behind our perception of socially relevant characteristics of other people.