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Sex & Vision: Spatio-temporal resolution and Color appearance of monochromatic lights

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Spatio-temporal resolution: Background: Cerebral cortex has a very large number of testosterone receptors, which could be a basis for sex differences in sensory functions. For example, audition has clear sex differences, which are related to serum testosterone levels. Of all major sensory systems only vision has not been examined for sex differences, which is surprising because occipital lobe (primary visual projection area) may have the highest density of testosterone receptors in the cortex. We have examined a basic visual function: spatial and temporal pattern resolution and acuity.Methods: We tested large groups of young adults with normal vision. They were screened with a battery of standard tests that examined acuity, color vision, and stereopsis. We sampled the visual system’s contrast-sensitivity function (CSF) across the entire spatio-temporal space: 6 spatial frequencies at each of 5 temporal rates. Stimuli were gratings with sinusoidal luminance profiles generated on a special-purpose computer screen; their contrast was also sinusoidally modulated in time. We measured threshold contrasts using a criterion-free (forced-choice), adaptive psychophysical method (QUEST algorithm).

Also, each individual’s acuity limit was estimated by fitting his or her data with a model and extrapolating to find the spatial frequency corresponding to 100 % contrast. Results: At a very low temporal rate, the spatial CSF was the canonical inverted-U; but for higher temporal rates, the maxima of the spatial CSFs shifted: Observers lost sensitivity at high spatial frequencies and gained sensitivity at low frequencies; also, all the maxima of the CSFs shifted by about the same amount in spatial frequency. Main effect: there was a significant (ANOVA) sex difference. Across the entire spatio-temporal domain, males were more sensitive, especially at higher spatial frequencies; similarly males had significantly better acuity at all temporal rates.Conclusion: As with other sensory systems, there are marked sex differences in vision. The CSFs we measure are largely determined by inputs from specific sets of thalamic neurons to individual neurons in primary visual cortex. This convergence from thalamus to cortex is guided by cortex during embryogenesis. We suggest that testosterone plays a major role, leading to different connectivities in males and in females. But, for whatever reasons, we find that males have significantly greater sensitivity for fine detail and for rapidly moving stimuli. One interpretation is that this is consistent with sex roles in hunter-gatherer societies. – Color appearance of monochromatic lights: Background: Because cerebral cortex has a very large number of testosterone receptors, we examined the possible sex differences in color appearance of monochromatic lights across the visible spectrum. There is a history of men and women perceiving color differently. However, all of these studies deal with higher cognitive functions which may be culture-biased. We study basic visual functions, such as color appearance, without reference to any objects. We present here a detailed analysis of sex differences in primary chromatic sensations.Methods: We tested large groups of young adults with normal vision,

including spatial and temporal resolution, and stereopsis. Based on standard color-screening and anomaloscope data, we excluded all color-deficient observers. Stimuli were equi-luminant monochromatic lights across the spectrum. They were foveally-viewed flashes presented against a dark background. The elicited sensations were measured using magnitude estimation of hue and saturation. When the only permitted hue terms are red (R) yellow (Y), green (G), blue (B), alone or in combination, such hue descriptions are language-independent and the hue and saturation values can be used to derive a wide range of color-discrimination functions.Results: There were relatively small but clear and significant, differences between males and females in the hue sensations elicited by almost the entire spectrum. Generally, males required a slightly longer wavelength to experience the same hue as did females. The spectral loci of the unique hues are not correlated with the spectral sensitivities of L- and M-cones (genes for these cones are on the X-chromosomes), as shown by anomaloscope matches, nor are there correlations between loci of pairs of unique hues (R, Y, G, B). Wavelength-discrimination functions derived from the scaling data show that males have a broader range of poorer discrimination in the middle of the spectrum. The precise values for all the data depend on whether Newtonian or Maxwellian optics were used, but the sex differences were the same for both optical systems. Conclusion: As with our associated paper on spatio-temporal vision, there are marked sex differences in color vision. The color-appearances we measured are determined by inputs from thalamic neurons (LGN) to individual neurons in primary visual cortex. This convergence from LGN to cortex is guided by the cortex during embryogenesis. We hypothesize that testosterone plays a major role, leading to different connectivities for males and females: color appearance requires a re-combination and re-weighting of neuronal inputs from the LGN to the cortex, which, as we show, depends on the sex of the participant. – Authors: Israel Abramov, James Gordon, Olga Feldman and Alla Chavarga. – Source: Biology of Sex Differences


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