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Helpful looks more attractive? Evidence for sexual dimorphism

posted on 2023-06-07, 19:00 authored by Beena Khurana, Ruth Hayes, Joanna Po
The ability to comprehend the mental states of others is key to successful social interactions. Essential to this 'mindreading' ability is a mechanism specialized for direction of gaze computation (Baron- Cohen, 1995) that can cause the reflexive orienting of attention to gaze directed locations (Driver et al., 1999). Do we implicitly distinguish between individuals whose eye gaze is informative versus uninformative? Does this discrimination lead to greater perceived attractiveness of helpful/informative individuals? In Experiments I and II, 24 women and 24 men viewed centrally presented frontal view faces (3 female, 3 male) for 900 ms after which the eyes looked either to the left or right. Participants responded to a target appearing to the left or right of the screen either 100 or 700 ms after eye gaze shifted. Unbeknownst to participants, faces were divided into three pairs (each pair consisted of one female and one male face) associated with a different probability with which eye gaze predicted target location: Pair I - 80% valid, Pair II - 50% valid, and Pair III - 20% valid. Faces were rated for attractiveness on a scale ranging from -100 (unattractive) to 100 (attractive) both before and after the visual orienting experiment. Both sexes were faster at detecting targets on valid trials regardless of eye gaze validity at 100 but not 700 ms indicating the presence of reflexive visuo-spatial orienting at the shorter SOA. Women, counter to existing findings responded more slowly at the longer SOA, whereas men were faster as typical. Attractiveness ratings showed no effects of validity at 100 ms SOA, but women rated the informative faces (Pairs I & III) as more attractive after the longer SOA irrespective of baseline attractiveness. When questioned afterward, no participant reported noticing a relationship between facial identity and eye gaze validity. Thus, the perceived increase in attractiveness is not due to explicit processes. In Experiment III, 6 men and 6 women, explicitly informed of eye gaze validity (20% valid), detected a target presented at SOAs of 100, 700, and 1200 ms after eye gaze shift. Both sexes revealed faster reaction times to the informative but invalid trials at only the longer SOAs. We suggest that in the absence of explicit information, women's 'sticky' attention to faces underpins their implicit pickup of eye gaze. Though this does not translate into differential target detection times, it does lead to an increase in the perceived attractiveness of helpful/informative faces.


Publication status

  • Published

Presentation Type

  • paper

Event name

9th Annual Meeting of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness

Event location

California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, USA. June 24 to 27th 2005

Event type


Department affiliated with

  • Psychology Publications

Full text available

  • No

Peer reviewed?

  • Yes

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