Action Sounds Informing Own Body Perception Influence Gender Identity and Social Cognition

Sensory information can temporarily affect mental body representations. For example, in Virtual Reality (VR), visually swapping into a body with another sex can temporarily alter perceived gender identity. Outside of VR, real-time auditory changes to walkers’ footstep sounds can affect perceived body weight and masculinity/femininity. Here, we investigate whether altered footstep sounds also impact gender identity and relation to gender groups. In two experiments, cisgender participants (26 females, 26 males) walked with headphones which played altered versions of their own footstep sounds that sounded more typically male or female. Baseline and post-intervention measures quantified gender identity [Implicit Association Test (IAT)], relation to gender groups [Inclusion of the Other-in-the-Self (IOS)], and perceived masculinity/femininity. Results show that females felt more feminine and closer to the group of women (IOS) directly after walking with feminine sounding footsteps. Similarly, males felt more feminine after walking with feminine sounding footsteps and associated themselves relatively stronger with “female” (IAT). The findings suggest that gender identity is temporarily malleable through auditory-induced own body illusions. Furthermore, they provide evidence for a connection between body perception and an abstract representation of the Self, supporting the theory that bodily illusions affect social cognition through changes in the self-concept.


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© 2021 Clausen, Tajadura-Jiménez, Janssen and Bianchi-Berthouze

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