A new study may have modern women up in arms as it tends to strenghthen the gender stereotype that all men are tough and all women are soft.
In the experiment, people were given either a hard or a soft ball to hold, then told to squeeze it continuously while looking at pictures of faces on a computer.
Each face was exactly gender-neutral, so it was neither male nor female. For each face, the volunteer had to categorize it as male or female.
People who were squeezing the soft ball were more likely to judge faces as female, while people who handled the hard ball were more likely to categorize them as male.
Results suggest that when people look at a gender-neutral face, they are more likely to judge it as male if they're touching something hard and as female if they're touching something soft.
"We were really surprised," said Michael Slepian, a graduate student at Tufts University.
"It's remarkable that the feeling of handling something hard or soft can influence how you visually perceive a face."
The study is published in Psychological Science.