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The Boston Red Sox David Wells pitches to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in the first inning of their American League baseball game at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts May 26, 2006. Wells made his first start for the red Sox since going on the disabled list April 12.

Brian Snyder/Reuters/Brian Snyder/Reuters

An angry throw is masculine. A sad throw is feminine.

At least that's how people tend to judge baseball tosses, according to a new study from the University of California, Los Angeles, and University of Glasgow that examined gender stereotypes.

The title of the study, published in the current issue of the journal Cognition, summarizes its findings: "He throws like a girl (but only when sad): Emotion affects sex-decoding of biological motion displays."

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Researchers asked 93 college students to guess the moods and gender of male and female actors, whose body movements were captured in 3-D computer-animated videos as they tossed a ball. From the videos, the participants were unable to see the actors faces, clothing or physiques.

While the participants showed a high degree of accuracy in judging the emotions conveyed by the actors, they were much less successful guessing their genders. Even though the participants were shown an equal number of male and female actors displaying each mood, they believed those performing "sad" throws were female about 60 per cent of the time, and "angry" throws were performed by males more than 70 per cent of the time. Researchers interpreted these results as an effect of long-standing stereotypes of masculine and feminine behaviour.

"It's okay - even expected - for men to express anger," the study's lead author Kerri Johnson said in a release. "But when women have a negative emotion, they're expected to express their displeasure with sadness. … Here, we found that these stereotypes impact very basic judgments of others as well, such as whether a person is a man or woman."

A previous study had found that people who heard a baby's cry were more inclined to think the baby was male if the cries were made out of anger, while they guessed the baby was female if the child let out cries of sadness.

"Here, we applied a similar logic to the perception of emotions as expressed in body language," Dr. Johnson said. "We found that prior beliefs and stereotypes can lead to systematic errors in the perception of body motions, which otherwise tend to be fairly accurate."

What do you think? Do women have a harder time expressing anger without being perceived as unfeminine? Can men convey sadness without appearing unmanly?

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About the Author

Wency Leung is a general assignment reporter for the Life section. Before joining The Globe in early 2010, she has worked as a reporter in Vancouver, Prague, and Phnom Penh. More

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